NATIONAL MEMORIAL ARBORETUM — Wed 7th September 2016

Any visit to the National Memorial Arboretum is bound to be a day of mixed emo­tions, and so it proved for the 24 mem­bers and guests of Stumperlowe Probus Club who made the two-hour jour­ney to the 150-acre national centre of remem­brance at Alrewas, Staffordshire.

The NMA hon­ours the fallen, recog­nises ser­vice and sac­ri­fice, and fosters pride in our coun­try.

And it does it very well, with more than 300 memori­als in the beau­ti­fully land­scaped grounds, a chapel of remem­brance where we heard the Last Post before observing two minutes’ silence at 11o’clock, the Royal British Legion poppy field and what is inten­ded to be the centrepiece of the whole site, the Armed Forces Memorial.

Featuring no fewer than 30,000 trees, the arbor­etum is an evolving, matur­ing wood­land inter­spersed with long, sweep­ing grass ter­races and walk­ways and bounded on two sides by the River Trent and River Tame. It is there­fore a living, grow­ing trib­ute to those who have served and con­tinue to serve their coun­try.

Sadly for us, the Armed Forces Memorial — which was ded­ic­ated in the pres­ence of Her Majesty the Queen in 2007 — was closed for refur­bish­ment at the time of our visit, but fac­sim­iles of the 16,000 names recor­ded on the memorial have been moun­ted on dis­play boards in front of the chapel of remem­brance.

While cities, towns and vil­lages through­out the coun­try have memori­als to their men who died in the two World Wars, this is ded­ic­ated to those who have died in the ser­vice of their coun­try since the end of WWII. But I was left won­der­ing why such a stun­ning piece of archi­tec­ture should need to be closed for major main­ten­ance work less than ten years after it was built.

Of the smal­ler memori­als, each would have a spe­cial sig­ni­fic­ance depend­ing on which branch of the armed forces family mem­bers served. It might be the Far East Prisoners of War build­ing, the Russian Convoy Veterans memorial, the British Korean Veterans’ Association memorial or others hon­our­ing such groups as the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, the Merchant Navy Association, the Normandy Veterans or the Suez Veterans’ Association.

Few, how­ever, pro­voked more emo­tion than the Shot at Dawn memorial, tucked away in a wooded copse on the very east­ern fringe of the site, where dawn first breaks.

It com­mem­or­ates the 306 British and Commonwealth sol­diers who were shot for deser­tion or cow­ardice during World War I. Most were suf­fer­ing from shell shock, or what we now know as post-traumatic stress dis­order, and all were gran­ted posthum­ous par­dons by the British Government in 2006.

All 306 are rep­res­en­ted by posts, like those to which they would be tied before facing the firing squad, and each with a name plate attached. The memorial statue itself is mod­elled on Private Herbert Francis Burden, of the 1st Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers, who was shot at Ypres on 21st July 1915. He was just 17.