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Last Updated: Friday, 7 March 2008, 04:09 GMT
Artist campaigns for stamps war tribute
Caroline Wyatt
Defence correspondent, BBC News

Major Matthew James Bacon, Intelligence Corps, Died 11 September 2005, aged 34
Major Matthew James Bacon is one of those depicted on the stamps
UK charity The Art Fund is backing a campaign calling for Royal Mail to issue a series of postage stamps created in memory of the 175 British servicemen and women killed in Iraq over the past five years.

The charity says a survey suggests two-thirds of Britons think not enough is being done to recognise the sacrifices of personnel and 70% believe the stamps, by official war artist Steve McQueen, would be a fitting tribute.

His inspiration for the artwork, currently on display at London's Imperial War Museum, came after a trip to Basra as official war artist in 2003.

Frustrated by his lack of access to front-line troops, he was nonetheless inspired by their camaraderie and bravery.

Unbearable youth

Sticking a stamp onto the envelope of his tax return after coming back home, he was struck by the idea of stamps as a powerful memorial to the war dead that could reach out to a wider public.

The work as it is now looks deceptively simple: a wooden cabinet, made of sturdy British oak, with 200 slim drawers that the visitor can pull out to reveal a large sheet of stamps.

Each stamp bears the face of one of the men and women who have lost their lives serving their country in the Iraq war.

The pain is there all the time, and it remains with you every day
Roger Bacon

Most are unbearably young - many gaze out smiling, or standing proudly in their uniform. Down the side is inscribed their name, their rank and the date they died.

Mr McQueen has spent the past year trying to persuade Royal Mail to take up his work and put the stamps into circulation.

"It's important because my intention originally was not to make this artwork," he said.

"The idea of the artwork was always to have the stamps in circulation throughout the UK, so that people could go to the post office and be involved, to pick up an envelope with the stamp on it, to meditate and reflect on the sacrifice - not just to have something gathering dust in a museum.

"I think putting the stamps into circulation is the most fitting way to honour the troops who died."

Roger and Maureen Bacon with the artist Steve McQueen
Roger and Maureen Bacon with artist Steve McQueen

The families themselves chose the picture they wanted their son or daughter to be remembered by and 137 families have so far taken part.

Among the pictures is the smiling face of 34-year-old Major Matthew Bacon, who was killed by an improvised explosive device on the 11 September 2005 as he served in Basra with the Intelligence Corps.

His father, Roger Bacon, has often visited the artwork and believes the images should be turned into real stamps for the public to see and use.

"It is a really good idea, a way to create a lasting memory. At the moment it is only if people come to the Imperial War Museum that they are going to see it," he says.

"It's very powerful and if more people could see it, it might give them pause for thought. These are real flesh and blood, real people who died and they made that sacrifice for you and I.

"And when you lose a son or daughter, life comes to a stop. The pain is there all the time, and it remains with you every day."

The work, entitled "Queen and Country", has indeed had an emotional impact on those who have gone to see it.

I think many people have little idea of the realities of what happens when someone dies
Sally Ann Logan

Museum visitors Sally Ann Logan and her husband Tony are friends of the widow of Marc Taylor, who was killed in Iraq on 28 September 2004 at the age of 27, and whose image is also on display.

Mrs Logan finds it hard to hold back her tears as she looks at his familiar face on the stamp.

"I think the whole fight to make them into Royal Mail stamps is worthwhile," she insists.

"We should be celebrating these men and what they've achieved and what they've died for.

"I think many people have little idea of the realities of what happens when someone dies. In Marc's case, he left behind a widow and two children - one of whom never got the chance to meet their daddy."

Queen and Country by Steve McQueen
A petition has been launched to turn the stamps into a reality

The Royal Mail has so far declined the idea of issuing the stamps, saying it believes a period of reflection is needed.

A Royal Mail spokesman said that the role and sacrifice of Britain's servicemen and women played a key role in its special stamps programme every year.

But he said Royal Mail believed that "a period of reflection would be required to do justice to a subject of such gravity as the current and ongoing conflict in Iraq, and any other conflict".

However, The Art Fund, which bought the work for the Imperial War Museum, is asking the public to sign a petition in an attempt to turn the stamps into a reality at www.artfund.org.

VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Artist Steve McQueen on his memorial project



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