My Visit to The National Memorial Arboretum

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to visit the National Arboretum in Staffordshire, which holds over 300 memorials to those lives that have sadly been lost in conflict and civilian life. The Arboretum stands as a place which honours the fallen and recognises their service and their sacrifice for their country. It was first opened in May 2001 and provides a vast open space for reflection and contemplation. Family members, friends and fellow comrades of those remembered here can pay their respects in a beautiful and tranquil place.

It’s a very humbling place to visit, but if you are looking for a really memorable day, then I highly recommend that you visit the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. It’s a tranquil and serene place to pay your respects to those that have fallen both in peacetime and during various conflicts, with so many touching stories built around some wonderful statues of remembrance. Be prepared to do a lot of walking because it covers a vast area and the gardens and ground are immaculately kept. There are also plenty of volunteers, only too willing to help and answer any questions. There are too many memorials to mention them all individually, but I have singled out three that I found particularly moving and ones that really brought home the sense of loss that these memorials represent.





The Armed Forces Memorial is huge and the impact and the enormity of the Wall and what it represents is an extremely powerful reminder of the huge losses our armed forces have suffered since the end of World War 2. At first sight, it’s almost too much to comprehend, 16,000 names carved in stone, each one representing a life lost. It was created to remember and recognise those who have given their lives in the service of the country since the end of the Second World War. Since 1948 the men and women of the Armed Services have taken part in more than 50 operations and conflicts around the world. From the jungles of Malaysia to the South Atlantic seas the Armed Forces Memorial remembers those who have lost their lives around the world. It is particularly important for many, who have no grave to visit, or who remember those who are buried in far-off places. Over 16,000 names are recorded on the memorial including those who have been killed whilst on duty, died in operational theatre or were targeted by terrorists. The names on the hundreds of panels that you will see are recorded in the same way, first by year, then by service, Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force, and then in date order. Colleagues who died in the same incident are remembered together. Over 15,000 names were originally carved, when the memorial was created and there is space on the empty panels for 15,000 more names. Behind every name on the Memorial, there are the wives, husbands, partners, parents, children and colleagues who have loved them and who live with the pain and consequences of their loss every day.


The Shot at Dawn Memorial is one of those that makes you stand in silence. It literally takes your breath away. During World War One 309 British and Commonwealth soldiers were shot for desertion, cowardice, striking a senior officer, disobeying a lawful command, casting away arms or sleeping at their post. Most of these were sentenced after a short trial at which no real defence was possible. The remembrance statue is modelled on Private Herbert Burden of the 1st Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers, who was shot in Ypres in 1915, aged just 17. The wooden posts are arranged like a Greek amphitheatre, each of the 306 wooden stakes are marked with the name, age, regiment, rank and date of execution. Many of the posts say “age unknown” and this is because many young men lied about their age in order to enlist in the Army. Many of those shot had no representation at their Court Martial because a vast majority of the Officer’s had been killed “going over the top”. The average life expectancy of an Officer on the front line was just 10 weeks. The location of this particular Memorial is particularly poignant, its location on the eastern side of the site was chosen specifically as this is where dawn rises first. The six conifer trees opposite the memorial, (sadly I don’t have a picture here), represent the six members of the firing squad and we must not forget the trauma they would have also been faced with, shooting “one of their own”.

After the 75 year secrecy act had passed, members of The Shot at Dawn organisation started campaigning for pardons for those that were killed. We must also remember that the families back home also suffered not only from the loss of their loved ones but also from the shame and stigma attached to their family members for being shot for perceived cowardice. Campaigner Janet Booth representing her Grandfather, Private Harry Farr, took the Ministry of Defence to the High Court and won. In 2006 a posthumous pardon was granted to Harry and all the other men.




Those of you that have been following my blogs, will already know that my 2 x great-grandfather, John Edwin Barnes sadly died at Gallipoli on 25th April 1915 and visiting the NMA enabled me to pay my respects to him. The ill-fated Gallipoli campaign is always associated with Anzac Day and the vast losses suffered by the Australian and New Zealand Armies on the Gallipoli Peninsula, but we must always remember that a vast number of British and French troops died here as well. The monument here includes a sculpture of dead oak trees which represent the arms and hands of the injured soldiers reaching upwards in hope of being rescued as they lay in the mud among the unburied dead, one of who was my great-grandfather.

Of course, there are many many more memorials and each one is different and each one remembers the lives of those that gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country. If you have not visited before, then I urge you to make a visit to pay your respects to those that are remembered here, whether in conflict or civilian duty. There is a comfort to be taken from remembering those lives lost here and marked in various ways by the memorials and paying your own respect to the fallen.

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10 thoughts on “My Visit to The National Memorial Arboretum

  1. Thanks for that account, Paul. Living so far away, I doubt I will ever get there but your article gave me a very vivid picture of what I would see is I did and made me feel particularly sad for those shot for perceived cowardice. All loss in war is regrettable but that particularly so.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jane it is well worth a visit if you ever get the chance and is a full day trip as there is just so much to see. With so many memorials it was difficult to single out just a few but the memorial for those Shot At Dawn was certainly an extremely emotional one


  2. Those really are moving memorials. It’s so hard to imagine the young men shot for desertion. I’ve seen it depicted in movies and have some understanding why, but it seems unjustly harsh and counterproductive. Especially since war is such a sick thing anyway.

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