National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire – beside the river

Our next amble was from the Naval area up beside the River Tame to the railway, then back in the direction of the ‘Shot at Dawn’ memorial, which we’ll do in the next blog. Here are a selection of the memorials we passed. I ought to know more about the trees and the wildlife.

‘Every which way’ is the British Evacuees Association Memorial. It was unveiled in 2017 and the sculptor was Maurice Bilk. “Through the deliberate distortion of the figures; reversed hands and some torsos twisted 180 degrees, the memorial conveys some of the anxiety and confusion the child evacuees felt. The split open luggage clutched by the figures represents how families were torn apart by the evacuation process.” Apparently 3.5 million people were displaced, the greatest social upheaval in British history. We forget that some of them never saw their families again. There is some good film of them (and also of Land Girls) on this dvd – well worth buying.

‘Posted’ is a memorial to the JHQ at Rheindahlen, Germany, and the Ark School, both of which closed in 2013 – I remember being at school governors’ meetings in Northumberland when we got some of the youngsters from Germany (they were moved to the Albermarle Base on Hadrian’s Wall). The birds on the sculpture represent the dispersal and regrouping of families due to military postings. The post boxes were used at British army bases abroad. The children worked with the blacksmith Melissa Cole – she set up her forge on the school playground. Almost all of the metal was salvaged from redundant stocks on the base.

The Royal Army Chaplains’ Department has the Chi-Rho, the combination of the first Greek letters of ‘Christ’. “In this sign conquer” is the motto of the department. Military veterans assisted the blacksmiths of Fire and Iron in Surrey in the creation of the memorial. Chi (X) is rendered as swords beaten into ploughshares, representing soldiers in both wartime and peacetime and recalling the hope of Isaiah and Micah. Rho is rendered as a shepherd’s crook, representing the padre as a pastor. One of my fellow students from Lincoln Theological College, Mark Christian, served as a chaplain in Afghanistan. I remembering hearing him being interview on Radio 4 one day after a major attack in which several of our troops had died – it put my parish woes into some sort of context. Hundreds of army chaplains have died into the conflicts of the C20.

‘Free Spirit’ is a statue which commemorates horses which died during World War One. It was designed by Georgie Welch, and was put on display here after years of fundraising. Tracey Francis, from the Free Spirit Memorial Appeal, said they wanted to highlight the “huge difference” horses make “in all walks of life” – over a million horses and mules served in WW1.

When you walk round a place like this, you start to muse on why we fight. You see memorials from long-lost conflicts and wonder why we go to War. One of the first conflicts I really remember was the Falklands War. We were at Cambridge – the story goes that this conflict took everyone by surprise, and the MoD phoned Cambridge University Library to ask if they had any maps of the islands. It was described as a conflict of two bald men fighting over a comb, and us students were some of those who felt we should not be involved. This wonderful bird, and the orchard that surrounds it, is a memorial to those who refused to be subjected to the enemy force after the islands were invaded on 2 April 1982. These brave islands spied on, sabotaged, and disrupted enemy activities before the British Task Force landed. Islanders than helped the troops by fighting with and alongside them, supplying vehicles, food and clothing, gathering vital intelligence and offering comfort to injured troops, all often under fire.

This is the memorial to the attack at Pegaseus Bridge, the longest day attack on D day. Capturing these bridges was a major victory on D day, so important for the start of the battle to liberate Europe.

Going back to WW1, this is the memorial to the Christmas Truce and the playing of football in No man’s land. It was designed by 10 year old Spencer Turner from Newcastle in response to the Football remembers competition in 2014. It was created by sculptor Georgie Welch.

The final memorial in this section is the Rail Industry Memorial which was commissioned by the British Transport Pensioners Association. A class 8F locomotive of the LMS stands on the top, and there are pictures of men and women at work. I can’t find details of the sculptor/engraver, which is a shame. It is rather good.

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