16 November 2010

National Memorial Arboretum

At 150 acres, the NMA is a small but important element of the National Forest. Work on the latter was commenced in 1990, the aim being to join up Needwood Forest in the west with Charnwood Forest in the east to provide a central England forest of 200 square miles in extent, with an average of 33% woodland cover. In just 20 years the percentage of cover has grown from 6% to 18%, with 7.8 million trees having been planted so far.

Near Alrewas and on the banks of the River Tame, the NMA commemorates all those service personnel killed in action, or as a result of terrorist activity, since 1945. Upon the five metre high Portland stone walls of the Armed Forces Memorial (top), designed by Liam O'Connor and dedicated in 2007, are engraved their names. Through a slit in the circular outer wall the sun shines at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. In the centre of the memorial is a large bronze wreath, flanked with striking bronze sculptures by Ian Rank-Broadley.

The gardens and fledgling arboretum, laid out on land once quarried by Lafarge, who still quarry the adjoining land, are home to numerous individual and group memorials. Particularly striking is Shot at Dawn - 307 plain wooden poles, one for each soldier known to have been executed by British firing squads for 'cowardice,' ranged around Andrew DeComyn's marble statue (below). This represents 17-year-old Private Herbert Burden, executed for leaving his trench to reach the transport column and console a friend that had just lost a brother. In November 2006 the British Government finally pardoned all those shot at dawn. By implication, it apologised for their murder.

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