A National Memorial Arboretum Update

It's hard to believe, but the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas has been open to the public for 10 years. Charlie Bagot Jewitt, its Chief Executive, reminded us of this fact when he came to talk to the Society's meeting, launching our winter session. The National Memorial Arboretum is the nation's lasting memorial to those who have given their lives in the service of their country; to those who have served and possibly suffered as a result of conflict; and to others who may have not served, but who have been the victims of extreme circumstances. The Arboretum is not only there to commemorate the dead, but to support grieving friends and relatives. It aims to be a place of joy, where the lives of people are remembered by the restful sylvan setting.

Back in 1993, there was nothing but a site restored to agriculture following mineral extraction. There was no money and no staff, but the promoter of the idea of a memorial arboretum, Cmdr David Childs, was an optimist and funding from the Millenium Lottery, a national appeal and the offer of land from Lafarge at a peppercorn rent got things underway. The project has not looked back and has now been taken into the British Legion family of organisations. A major leap forward came when the Armed Forces Memorial was dedicated. Listing the names of all forces personnel who have lost their lives since 1945,it has become the iconic memorial for the site. From receiving 60,000 visitors annually, the presence of this Memorial has increased visitors fivefold. There are other notable, iconic memorials too. The Polish Forces Memorial, by an eminent Polish sculptor, is one of the most notable. Then there's the Basra Wall, a memorial to the military personnel who lost their lives in Basra in the Iraq War. It was initially erected in Basra, then taken down and shipped piece by piece to the Arboretum. With so much happening and new memorials dedicated on an almost monthly basis, it was not a surprise when Charlie said that the Arboretum had recently welcomed its millionth visitor.

Its phenomenal growth (400,000 visitors are expected annually within the next few years) has meant that the facilities on site are, on occasions, being stretched to the limit. An appeal has been launched to expand the buildings complex. New functions rooms, an exhibition hall, an education room, improvements to the cafe and toilets are all scheduled in the next few years. A complementary Landscape Strategy has been prepared to cope with the demand for new sites for memorials, yet ensure that the integrity of the landscape is not prejudiced. The design criteria for memorials have been overhauled to ensure that the quality of the site and the visitor experience is of a high standard.

We in Lichfield are indeed fortunate to have such an exciting national project on our doorstep, providing an easy opportunity to support the work of the staff and volunteers through visiting the site and perhaps even volunteering to assist.

Roger Hockney
September 2011