Wednesday, 16 March 2011

PROBUS CLUB OF COLESHILL - MARCH 2011 REPORT

THE NATIONAL MEMORIAL ARBORETUM – AN UPDATE

In 2006 members of the Probus Club of Coleshill had a talk on the National Memorial Arboretum which was followed up by many members going up to Alrewas to see for themselves. At their meeting on 1st of March this year we welcomed Mr Roger Field who is a volunteer at the Memorial and came along to bring us up to date on what has been happening there in the last four years.

Quite a lot has been achieved with twelve new memorials - not all of them of a military nature; hopes, aspirations and plans for the future were also explained that include an undercover assembly area that will eliminate the hire of an (expensive) large marquee for special presentations and gatherings which are becoming quite frequent events.

The new ‘Armed Forces Memorial’ now forms the centrepiece of the Arboretum and contains 16,000 names of servicemen and women who have lost their lives since the end of World War Two! Roger spent some time explaining the significance of the sculptures that form parts of this memorial and represent Army, Navy, Air Force and the Marines. It was easy for us to follow the details because Mr Field used numerous (projected) photographs of each object he was talking about, we also heard that the sculptor of these figures was also responsible for the Queen’s head on current coins of the Realm.

A general view of the landscape showed us an embryo forest of 2535 Oak Trees, this being the number of merchant ships sunk by the axis powers in the Second World War. Another new memorial commemorates HMS Lancastria that evacuated 8000 British Troops from the west coast of France concurrent to the Dunkirk evacuation that was bombed by the Luftwaffe with a loss of lives in excess of 3000.

Many readers may recall that when ‘we’ pulled out of Basra on the Persian Gulf recently the locally built ‘Basra Wall’ containing the names of 178 persons who lost their lives serving there (including one civilian) has been brought back to England and re-erected at Alrewas to be seen by visitors and relatives of those named. 2010 saw the erection of a memorial to the Fleet Air Arm and a new one for the Poles, many of whom fought for British Forces in WW2 that was designed in Poland and erected by four Polish workers; the memorial also includes a reference to the Enigma code breaking machine that was initially cracked by Poles who passed the information to the British and French in 1939. Another memorial is dedicated to the Household Division of the Guards and has several features of significance that were explained to us, also with aid of Roger’s photographs: amongst which were four interlocking ‘Tee’ shaped stone slabs – black slate for the Welsh, green limestone for the Irish, red granite for the Scotch and white granite for the English.

A recent memorial is for the Royal Air Force Association that features an RAF Roundel and a stainless steel sculpture of an Eagle. The RAF Police (aka the ‘Snowdrops’) and Ground Crews also have their own memorials. The Women’s Auxiliary Air Force have recently had their own unveiled – the ladies who amongst their many duties delivered new aircraft to the airfields around the country. Even the Spiritualists have their own memorial and Mr Field paid tribute to the Essex Woodcarvers who have contributed to many of the memorials that visitors can see such as the Polar Bear the Berlin Airlift Eagle by the main entrance and a Wren for the Women’s section of the Royal Navy.

Mr Field continued by telling us the details of every memorial including the ‘Shot at Dawn’, ‘Troubles in Northern Ireland/UDF’ and very many others too numerous to mention herein. It is much better to visit for yourself and go round with a volunteer guide such as Mr Field. Take the family with a picnic and make a day of it – well worthwhile but check the weather forecast there is very little cover if it starts to rain.

Opened in 2001 the Arboretum attracted 30,000 visitors in its first year a figure that has increased to 300,000 by 2007 when the Armed Forces Memorial was opened. It is easy to see why the present aim is to improve on amenities for visitors. The site is set within the ‘National Forest’ and on the flood plain of the Rivers Trent and Tame so beware at times because if walking off the paths you can be on waterlogged ground. Every day (except Christmas Day) there is a Remembrance Service at 11.00am in their chapel.

For users of the Internet just ‘Google’ National Memorial Arboretum – there are numerous web entries with photographs and all the details you require for a visit. If you do intend to pay a visit Roger Field advises would be visitors to check the Arboretum ‘What’s On’ list because on special days (e.g. the Annual Bikers Day - the ‘Ride to the Wall’ - the first Saturday of October; new memorial unveilings or Remembrance Day itself) they are inundated with visitors and parking will be a nightmare! Thank you Roger for an excellent and educational talk.

Jerry Dutton

Press Officer

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