A Dalesman’s Diary
Dr Elaine Laycock on the frontline in Bosnia
It will not be this Christmas, indeed, it may not be next Christmas, but one day soon, Yorkshire grit and determination will mean that humanitarian aid workers lost in conflict will be remembered with a permanent memorial.
That such a monument to them will be erected is down to many people – but none moreso than the remarkable Dr Elaine Laycock.
As we told in the November edition of The Dalesman, Dr Laycock, who originally hails from Idle in Bradford, has led something of an extraordinary life.
Working as a doctor in London she became involved in helping provide medical supplies, treatment and aid to all sides during the horrific conflict which ripped through Bosnia.
As such, she was one of the driving forces behind the charity SOS Bosnia which has, over the years, raised thousands of pounds for the innocent victims of the war and provided vital help to them.
Along the way, Dr Laycock lost three close friends who were with her on her humanitarian missions and she made a personal vow to herself not to let their passing go unnoticed.
And so, with typical Yorkshire tenacity, she has been quietly, but forcefully, working behind the scenes to get a permanent memorial erected in their honour.
Now, on the verge of a new year, she may be about to succeed in her near decade-long odyssey.
Elaine, on the left, attends the scattering of the ashes of her friend Tony, killed on an aid mission
Throughout this time, Dr Laycock has worked closely with Their Royal Highnesses The Crown Prince Alexander and Crown Princess Katherine of of Serbia, and Sir Nick Young, former chief executive of the British Red Cross and Macmillan Cancer Relief, and many others to try and persuade the authorities to erect the memorial.
“I have been working for over nine years to get this done, what with lockdown and one thing and another,” said Dr Laycock, from her home in north London.
Initially, she hoped to have a plaque to the humanitarian victims of worldwide conflicts placed in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey, and talks were ongoing.
Dr Laycock was put in touch with Dr Paula Gooder, Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral.
“We spoke and I explained what we would like to do and and she told me what would have to happen to achieve that.
“I invited her to our service at Westminster Abbey on August 17 this year, UN World Humanitarian Day, and she very kindly said to me that she thought she had found a place for our memorial.”
That place turned out to be in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral by the memorial to Florence Nightingale, ‘The Lady with the Lap’.
“She invited us to visit her at St Paul’s and took us around and showed us this place right in the middle of the crypt next to the Florence Nighingale memorial.
“She explained that’s where our memoria would go, and one to Mary Seacole, the pioneering nurse – we are delighted. I really cannot imagine a more fitting place for it to go.”
Dr Laycock has since met with renowned sculptor Charlotte Howarth, who is to create the memorial.
Elaine speaking at this year’s World Humanitarian Day
“She made us feel so welcome when we visited her in Norfolk and showed us some of her work.
“She took us on a tour of her studio to look at various types of stone she uses.
“It will have to be a light coloured stone as the crypt of St Paul’s is quite dark, and Charlotte is looking at Portland stone and a honey-coloured one.
“In fact, she’s looking for the stone right now, and it may take four to six months to locate the right piece.
“The memorial will be three feet by two feet, and we’ve discussed the lettering, whether it should be white, or golden and so on, and whether she can carve a forget-me-not flower, which I would dearly love to see – she will do so if St Paul’s authorities agree to it.
“We’ve agreed the wording and it will read: ‘In celebration of humanitarian aid workers, helping those in need, whoever and wherever they are. In remembrance of those who have died in pursuit of their calling.’
“This is something that I started nine years ago, after losing three friends. One of them, Tony, had driven me across the frontline just weeks before he was killed, and then I heard that two other aid workers had been killed.
When I discovered there was not a memorial to humanitarian aid workers, I just thought there should be.”
Ever tireless, Dr Laycock is now hoping to organise the annual service, held at Westminster Abbey every August 19, to be held at St Paul’s Cathedral.