May 10, 2021 5.47 pm This story is over 14 months old

Flying high: Operation Manna memorial sculpture complete at IBCC

A grand unveiling event will be held in June

A sculptor who created a special memorial celebrating Operation Manna for the International Bomber Command Centre spoke to The Lincolnite about his emotional six-month journey of drawing, making and completing the project.

Phil Neal, who is originally from Suffolk and has a studio on the Welbeck Estate in North Nottinghamshire, was commissioned by the IBCC to create the sculpture.

The sculpture recycled the Corten cylinder that was built by local company, Micrometric, for the Poppies of Peace artwork that was unveiled in November 2019 at the IBCC in Lincoln. The inspiration was Operation Manna which was the first humanitarian airborne mission.

The scaffolding was recently taken down from the sculpture. An unveiling event was due to take place last weekend, but had to be postponed due to the unseasonal weather.

The unveiling would have marked the 76th anniversary of the end of the operation, which saw over 7,000 toons of food aid dropped over the West of Holland. It is estimated to have saved nearly a million people from starvation.

The new rearranged grand unveiling event will take place on June 5. Two veterans will be in attendance – Coby van Riel, whose life was saved by Operation Manna, and one of the crew members Jack Cook.

The sculpture recycled the Corten cylinder that was built by local company, Micrometrics, for the Poppies of Peace artwork at the IBCC. | Photo: Phil Neal

Phil trained in medical prosthetics and has been sculpting in one form or another since he left school, more recently working in various engineering environments.

He told The Lincolnite: “The IBCC contacted me out of the blue! I seem to have a bit of a reputation for ‘memorials’, both private and public and had recently finished the restoration of a marble WW1 statue which required carving a new head and rifle.

“It’s always nice to be asked to come up with an original design though and in this case I had to work around the Corten steel cylinder which was already in place from a previous project.

“The story of Operation Manna was inspiration enough, but the painting of the air-drop on the IBCC website I thought captured all the action and atmosphere, so this became the base idea behind the whole sculpture.

“Getting the Lancaster into place and finally seeing the scaffolding down was very emotional after a six month journey of drawing and making. It actually took longer to design and draw the whole piece than it did to make it!”

A concept drawing before the sculpture was constructed.

The sculpture project took around six months to complete. | Photo: Phil Neal

The sculpture was part funded by the DCMS Cultural Recovery Fund, administered by the National Heritage Lottery Fund.

Nicky van der Drift, CEO at Lincolnshire Bomber Command Memorial and International Bomber Command Centre, told The Lincolnite: “It has been wonderful to work with Phil Neal to publicly highlight this vital but little known mission undertaken by Bomber Command by adding this sculpture to the IBCC.

“Seeing the piece come to life over the last six months has been really exciting. We are so grateful to the support given by the Cultural Recovery Fund, for helping us with this stunning tribute.”

Phil has two other projects in the pipeline. He will construct a life-size woolly mammoth in tubular steel for Creswell Crags World Heritage site on the border between Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

He will also be working on a stone carving of a Roman Centurion helmet for the entrance to an estate in Derbyshire. See more examples of Phil’s work here.