Ordinary People… Extraordinary Times
Landscape designer John Everiss includes stunning sculptural elements in his work, with many of his award-winning installations inspired by war veterans, who bravely fought for their country
Sculptor and landscaper John Everiss has done some amazing work, which can be seen in public spaces across the UK and which also features in private collections all over the world.
Recent private projects have involved creating a female figure that appears to be standing on the surface of a lake in the grounds of a large Sussex house and a commission from an Australian client asking John to make a sculpture of a wartime Spitfire.
“We do get to work in some fabulous properties and meet some very interesting people,” he says.
“But it is the work I do for public spaces that I enjoy the most, as it makes a connection and resonates with people.”
Born in London, John moved north originally to study agriculture at Myerscough College but had a change of mind when he realised landscaping would combine his love of hands-on ‘making’ with his passion for creative design.
In 1993 he took over Bezza Nursery in the Ribble Valley, which he ran for many years. Three decades later he is now an award-winning landscaper and sculptor, with installations in public spaces across the UK and in France: “Had I not gone into garden design I probably would have been an illustrator or graphic designer.
“But for me, building things with my hands is just as important as the design side. I love making things come to life.”
Much of John’s sculptural works have an intrinsic link to wartime – he has worked on sculptures to commemorate the D-Day landings and the Battle of Britain, alongside working with many national charities including the RAF Benevolent Fund.
His wartime sculptures are inspired by war veterans including his late father Stan Everiss, who was a navigator in Bomber Command during World War II.
“My father and the crew flew a short Stirling called White Squirrel – the Stirling is bigger than a Lancaster bomber,” says John, who still has his father’s log book: “He was a great keeper of information and all his missions are logged, their destinations and how many bombs the plane was carrying,” he says, pointing to inserts in the log book, noting Berlin, Ruhr and Dusseldorf among the many missions.
One of the hand-written inserts notes an operation to Turin, ‘Engine failure, jettisoned load, crash landed.’
“That was on February 4th – he was back flying on February 7th,” says John, who adds that the final insert in the log, in April 1943, simply reads, ‘Missing’.
John explains: “In 1943 he and the crew were shot down in France – the plane crash landed between two trees, which knocked off both wings leaving the fuselage, which set on fire.
“All seven men survived. My father was badly injured but hid in a ditch until the French Resistance came to help. He always had a camera with him, and he took a picture of the crash site and buried the camera along with his RAF service watch in the ditch.”
John’s father was taken by the Resistance to a nearby village, where he stayed for a number of weeks with a mechanic in his garage.
To convince the world that each crew member had perished, the Germans held a funeral with seven coffins: “The ‘funeral’ was held in the village where my dad was hiding!” says John, whose father when sufficiently recovered, was taken to the Pyrenees, which he crossed eventually arriving at the British consulate in Spain and from there he was taken to Gibraltar and flown back to England.
“When he knocked on the front door my mum fainted when she saw him as he had been logged as missing.”
After the war, in 1947, John’s father went back to the crash site in France and found the camera and his Omega service watch, which was still working: “The film in the camera was still viable and I still have the picture of the tail section of the aircraft, still burning.”
Due to his injuries in the crash, his father retired from the services and went on to become an eminent, post-war zoologist, who worked with David Attenborough. He also continued to give presentations to the RAF Escaping Society – a UK-wide group of airmen that made daring escapes or who bravely, evaded capture during the war. The money they raised went to those who had helped rescue them in France.
“As a family we still keep in touch with the people who helped my father. I recently met with the lady, who, as a 16-year-old farmer’s daughter, heard the Stirling crash and ran to help.”
Among the wartime memorabilia John has kept, are his father’s leather, silk-lined flying gloves: “The name of the previous pilot who wore them is inscribed on the inside of the glove,” says John, poignantly.
“Before the war my dad was an academic working as a teacher – his rear gunner on the Stirling was a crofter from the Shetland Isles – imagine going from being a remote crofter to a rear gunner. These were incredibly strong, amazing men.”
In 2015 John went to the Chelsea Flower Show with a garden inspired by his father featuring bomber crew airmen kneeling in a church – an installation that is now in Astley Park, Chorley.
Four years later in 2019, he created D-Day Revisited – an award-winning installation created for Chelsea to commemorate the D-Day landings, which features a series of sculptures of soldiers made of stainless steel washers: “The washers give the sculptures a transparency – almost like a memory,” says John, who worked alongside acclaimed fellow UK sculptor Thompson Dagnall, who created a solid stone sculpture of a present-day D-Day veteran, looking at the ghostly sculptures of the young men staggering out of the water.
After Chelsea the garden was donated to Arromanches in France to be installed on a clifftop overlooking Gold Beach – one of the sites of the landings: “We transported it over to France in three articulated lorries. I loved doing that sculpture and working with the veterans. I wanted it to be very respectful and wanted to capture the ‘memory’ aspect so that it would resonate with people. It’s a great way to tell a story.”
Behind each piece of work John completes are hundreds of hours of research and technical design.
At last year’s Chelsea Flower Show he created a sculpture of a wartime pilot to commemorate the Battle of Britain. Featuring 241 layers of laser-cut stainless steel, the figure, which is modelled on his own son George, portrays a young pilot looking up to the skies. The seven-ton, 14.5ft high statue, surrounded by a garden of red, white and blue azaleas, has now been relocated to London Biggin Hill Airport, a former RAF base used by pilots who fought and won the Battle of Britain.
“My father’s story is just one of thousands told by many brave people who fought in the war,” adds John. “There is definitely an element of ‘ordinary people in extraordinary times’ and I hope that’s reflected in my work.”