TRISH TAKES FIVE: An​ ​emotional​ ​day at the National Memorial Arboretum

The Somme En Masse art installation at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.  Photo supplied.
The Somme En Masse art installation at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. Photo supplied.
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A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Shot at Dawn memorial in the National Memorial Arboretum.

The sculptor, Andy DeComyn, had been inspired by my uncle, John Hipkin, who led the campaign to pardon the 306 soldiers executed in the First World War for cowardice or desertion.

A year-round centre for remembrance in the UK, The National Memorial Arboretum has more than 300 memorials for military and civilian organisations and tributes for individuals.

Trish Burgess

On Friday Dougie and I drove over to Staffordshire to see the memorial for ourselves. The National Memorial Arboretum is just north of Lichfield and is an extraordinary place. A year-round centre for remembrance in the UK, it has more than 300 memorials for military and civilian organisations and tributes for individuals.

Free to enter, though donations are gratefully received, it is a place of peace in 150 acres of gardens, meadows and woodland. You can easily spend a whole day here and the excellent new centre, with restaurant and coffee shop, ensures visitors are amply provided for.

One of the highlights of the arboretum is the Armed Forces Memorial which has just undergone a year of renovation. A magnificent structure, it lists the names of all Service personnel killed in operations since World War II. What is most striking about the design is the gap in two walls allowing the sun to shine through at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

We spent the whole day looking at the memorials, reading inscriptions, contemplating the loss of life. The Polish Armed Forces Memorial, the Showmen’s Guild memorial and, of course, the Shot at Dawn memorial, were particularly moving or educational.

Returning in the evening, we attended the public Sundown on the Somme event which involved placing the final additions to an art installation by Planet Art. 19,240 tiny wooden soldiers, representing the number of British soldiers killed on the first day of the battle, have been placed in the gardens since July, decorated by school children and visitors.

The highlight of the night was a short but superb piece of drama by the teenage members of the Central Youth Theatre based in Wolverhampton. It was incredibly moving to stand in the gardens, watching these talented youngsters revisit the horror of the Great War, surrounded by thousands of wooden soldiers at their feet.

Earlier that day the same group of young actors screened their own film, Goodnight My Boys, for the very first time in the arboretum’s beautiful Millennium Chapel. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, this is a superbly written account of one man’s determination to find justice for a group of soldiers shot at dawn during the World War I. That man was, of course, my uncle and I sat, in tears, watching his story come to life so vividly on the screen.

At the Shot at Dawn memorial there is new bench dedicated to my uncle John who died this summer. On the plaque it has these words: “What we do for ourselves alone dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal.”

You can follow Trish on Twitter @mumsgoneto and read her blog at www.mumsgoneto.co.uk