We will remember them

National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas  (about 6 miles on foot)

The National Memorial Arboretum is on a 150 acre site, just north of Lichfield, Staffordshire.  Boatwif had spotted the Arboretum on the modern Geo waterways map, had picked up a flyer at the weekend at Sawley Marina and found directions by road and by foot on the Alrewas Parish notice board last night.  This morning Boatwif and the Captain set off from the canal, clutching their written directions – but neither had a clear visualisation of what they were looking for. About 45 minutes later, after more than bargained for roadside trudging, they arrived.

It’s ten years now since the Arboretum was dedicated. The idea originated with Lord Leonard Cheshire, inspired by the Arlington Memorial in the USA, and with the help of John Major, Prime Minister in the eighties, gained agreement for a national site in the middle of the country – hence, Staffordshire. Now, alongside a working quarry and the River Tame a huge expanse has been planted with native and symbolic trees in clearly marked areas. About 60% of the memorials and memorial planting areas are dedicated to military associations, about 40% are civilian memorials.

The site is not a cemetery – yet names of individuals whose lives were lost in service abound. Prominent is the Armed Forces Memorial, white walls engraved with names, arranged by Service and Year – and if you have a name and a year of someone’s death on military duty since 1945 there you will find it. So there was the name of a wedding usher, killed in 1971. There too was the name of another contemporary of flying training, who went missing in 1990. No more names were searched for, although there are many…

Then there are memorials to those who had no choice – such as men who were conscripted into National Service between  1939 and 1963,  and the”Bevin Boys”, conscripted to work in the coal mines until 1948.

But the Arboretum is about more than the military: yes, there are memorials to the Civil Defence forces of the Fire and Rescue Services,  Police, Red Cross , RNLI  (beautiful Chris Beardshaw designed garden) and so on  but also to the Inner Wheel and to SANDS (Stillbirth and Neonatal Deaths Syndrome). Further out there is a children’s playground, close by the area of trees remembering individual children.  This is a place of great tranquillity, contemplation and remembrance.

Boatwif and the Captain walked back, in warm September sunshine, deep in their thoughts, past river, past quarry, alongside a railway line, over a trunk road, up a steep bank, down to the canal, past two locks, back to their mooring.

            As for boating tomorrow: through Fradley Junction towards Rugeley (and another power station!)  For any who read the names on sanitary ware please inform if you know whether Shanks Armitage refers to Mr Shanks of Armitage or Mr Armitage of Shanks….

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