Monday 9 July 2018
The National Memorial Arboretum located in Alrewas, Staffordshire, is a remarkable site consisting of 150 acres of about 50,000 trees, plus memorials, all devoted to the theme of remembrance. It was established in 1997 on former gravel and sand pits within the National Forest of Staffordshire, as a gift from asphalt, concrete and aggregate company, Lafarge Aggregates.
With over 130 memorials within the grounds, the Arboretum remembers those who have lost their lives and all who served their country, as well as those who suffered from conflict.
You cannot fail to be moved by the number of tributes encountered when exploring the vast grounds. They act as a marker to history and ensure that future generations will never forget the pain and suffering of those defending their country.
The most recent memorial is the impressive Armed Forces Memorial, dedicated to those who have given their lives in service since the two World Wars. The names of all who have been killed whilst on duty since 1945 are recorded on stone panels, an important reminder to visitors that conflict is still an ongoing problem throughout the world.
As well as a bleak reminder of the past, the Arboretum represents a haven of peace and tranquillity, contemplation and hope for the future. It is also a fantastic place to learn about the different variety of trees planted, many of which are relevant to the memorials within the grounds. For instance, the wood dedicated to the Merchant Navy has approximately 2,535 oaks, representing the number of British flagged merchant vessels lost to enemy action during World War II, whilst the Golden Grove celebrates the couples who married at the end of the war and who marked their 50th anniversary by dedicating trees.
The British Woodcarvers Association has played a key role in the history of the Arboretum. In 1998, a team including Peter Benson, Ted Jeffrey, John Pace, Jim Morgan and Ken Willoughby from the Essex region carved a full-sized polar bear in yellow hardwood (Neonauclea) to represent the 49th West Riding Infantry Division – nicknamed the Polar Bears. This now proudly sits in the grounds of the National Memorial Arboretum.
The team, including new member Maureen Hockley, were again asked for their services. A full-sized golden eagle in iroko (Chlorophora excelsa) commissioned by the British Berlin Airlift Association sits at the entrance to the Arboretum, and is dedicated to the 39 British and Commonwealth personnel who died on the Berlin Airlift.
Key to the future
The Story Teller was the third project for the team and was their gift to the Arboretum chapel. The theme for this carving involved looking forward with an emphasis on keeping the stories of war alive – this would depend on generations passing down their stories to their children and so on, with the past being the key to the future.
Other projects include characters from The Wind in the Willows which are found in the children's garden, and a cross by Ken Willoughby in the chapel. The cross is a replica from a church in Cavendish and is commemorated to Leonard Cheshire and Sue Ryder who were instrumental in setting up the Arboretum.
A memorial to the Wrens who were lost on board the SS Aguila in 1941 is also in the pipeline so watch this space for news as it unfolds.