A visit to the National Memorial Arboretum

On the way home from the garden holiday in the Peak District, (see earlier post), we passed The National Memorial Arboretum near Lichfield, Staffordshire and called in for a quick visit. What an inspiring and emotive place! We only had just over an hour and it really is worth more than a quick visit; a full day would have done it justice.

Opened in May 2001, the 150 acre site has over 30,000 trees, almost every tree has a dedication plaque, and 300 memorials recognizing service and sacrifice. We mistakenly thought that it was solely war memorials, how wrong could we be. There are memorials to the armed forces, civilian organizations and voluntary bodies who have served the country.

The recently opened Remembrance Centre has 3 galleries, a restaurant, cafe and shop. As much as I have searched I can't find out who designed the gardens outside but they are planted in the prairie style and are quite impressive.

The majority of memorials have their own dedicated gardens, and the ones we saw had wreaths and little wooden crosses on them. The day before, 31 July, had been a commemoration of the Battle of Passchendaele and I think a number of events had been held but clearly crosses and wreaths are left throughout the year by family, friends and colleagues.

If I had been more aware, I would have bought one of the small crosses on sale in the entrance, because the next memorial we came across was to the Auxiliary Territorial Service. The ATS was the women's branch of the British Army during the Second World War. It was formed on 9 September 1938, initially as a women's voluntary service, and existed until 1 February 1949, when it was merged into the Women's Royal Army Corps. My mum, who died in June this year, was a member of the ATS and I have photos of her in her uniform, seeing this statue really bought a lump to my throat and I had a few tears.

The next monument was to the Woman's Land Army. I loved this and stood in front of it for quite a while, thinking about all those hard working women. The sculpture by Denise Dutton and unveiled in May 2014.

The emotional, tearful, walk around the Arboretum was not intentional. However, the next onslaught of emotion was the Royal Artillery memorial garden dedicated to all those who have served in the Royal Artillery. My Dad, who sadly at 93 has advanced Alzheimer's, was a long term serving officer in the RA and he would have loved to have seen this.

Although the Arboretum is mainly to commemorate service men since 1945, there are some for the First World War. Above is the memorial for all those who lost their lives in Gallipoli, Italy, between 1915 and 1916.

Coming right up to date, the photo above is the SANDS Garden in remembrance of Stillbirth and Neonatal Deaths.

In the middle of the grounds is the spectacular Armed Forces Memorial, dedicated in October 2007. Made out of Portland Stone, the memorial is a tribute to over 16,000 men and women who have been killed on duty or as a result of terrorist action since 1948 to the present day. It is designed so that at 11:00 am on the 11th of November each year a shaft of sunlight beams between the two walls on to the wreath in the middle.

The life sized bronze statues were created by Ian Rank-Broadley. This one is a Serviceman raised aloft on a stretcher by comrades as family members look on. The information about this statue says: "It bears witness to the cost of armed conflict to those left behind – the families, loved ones and friends who live with the pain and consequence of their loss for the rest of their lives."

This one is the body of a warrior being prepared for burial by female and Gurkha soldiers. The figure before the double doors points to a world beyond where the warrior will rest as another figure chisels the name on the memorial.

During the Falklands war, I received an early morning phone call from my father in May 1982 to tell me that the son of close family friends had been shot and would not be returning home. As I looked on the memorial I found his name J A Barry – he was only 24.

There was so much to see, as I said earlier we only had an hour or two, but will certainly return. Not for morbid reasons, it isn't like walking around a graveyard, but to stand, recollect and pay tribute to lost lives. The whole place has a sense of serenity about it. There is so much to look at and in the new centre there are various exhibitions such as Victory over Blindness, an exhibition inspired by the Blind Veterans UK. Also there are audio guides you can take with you recounting snippets of history.

The National Memorial Arboretum is open daily, except Christmas Day, from 9am to 5pm and dusk in the winter months. It's an excellent day out and children would love it, there is lots for them to do and history learn.