MT VISIT TO THE NATIONAL MEMORIAL ARBORETUM
On the morning of the 15 Apr, as most of RAF Coningsby’s personnel were about to commence the Station Training Day, a group of 31 Service and civilian personnel from the MT Flight were leaving the camp to begin the journey to the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.
For many, this would be their first visit to the Arboretum and hopefully not the last. After our well-driven 3 hour journey across the Midlands we arrived at our destination. Immediately noticeable was the Armed Forces Memorial sitting atop a high plateau and bathed in the sunshine we had been blessed with that day. As we entered the memorial we were given a brief from WO Clayton and FS Shippey on the day’s events. First up was a trip into the Arboretum Chapel and a quick history on how the Arboretum came to be.
We took our seats and were greeted by a member of staff; he welcomed us all and we all began the Remembrance Service by observing a 2 minutes silence at 1100 hrs. This service is carried out everyday of the year and is accompanied by the playing of the Last Post and Reveille. It is a poignant reminder of the many civilians and personnel in the Armed Forces who have lost their lives in service for their Country. After the service we were given a brief history of the Arboretum.
The Arboretum was the brainchild of Commander David Childs CBE, who after a visit to Arlington War Cemetery and the American National Arboretum, wished to see a National focus for Remembrance in the UK. The site was developed on reclaimed gravel works thanks to French company Lafarge who agreed to rent the land for a pound a year. Work began in 1997 and with large donations from the Millennium Commission and Lottery Funds the Arboretum was completed and opened in May 2001.
Next up was a guided tour of some of the Memorials from the staff at the Arboretum. The memorials are not just military as there are many civilian and other public service memorials including the Fire Service, Police and even the Post Office. At one of the memorials there was even a piece of the actual Burma Railway which was built by British Prisoners of War after their capture by the Japanese in WW2. After our guided tour it was time for a lunch break. We were given instructions on the next part of the visit which would include visits to the RAFA Memorial, The Armed Forces Memorial, The Basra Wall Memorial and Polish War Memorial.
At the RAFA Memorial SAC Basudev delivered a brief on the history and work of RAFA, which has the largest Single Service membership in the UK with around 74,000 members. The RAFA Memorial commemorates all those who served in the RAF and Commonwealth Air Forces. This was followed by the laying of a wreath at the foot of the memorial by members of the Flight. Next up was probably the most looked forward to part of the day; The Armed Forces Memorial. As we climbed the steps up to the memorial you could see the 16,000 names of the personnel who have given their lives in service of the country since the end of WW2. Most notably for the visiting group this included two MT Drivers; Sgt Baz Barwood who died in Basra in 2008 and SAC James Smart who died whilst on Op ELLAMY in 2011. There were also a few members of the Flight who had friend’s names on the wall who died on Op HERRICK; a very humbling experience for many members of the Flight. There was also a brief given by LAC Frankland on the history of the wall and its significance to the people of the UK.
We moved on to the Basra Memorial Wall where Sgt Barwood also had a place on the wall. The wall was returned from Basra and reconstructed at the Arboretum following the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. The wall contains 178 names of UK Service personnel and one MOD Civilian who lost their lives during the Iraq war and Op TELIC. A brief was then delivered by SAC Smith on the history of the wall and how it came to be back in the UK.
Last up was a visit to the Polish War Memorial where a briefing from SAC Barlow was given on the history of the Polish people and the Servicemen and women who were an integral part of the UK’s Operations in WW2, with many of them having served in the Royal Air Force.
As we walked back to the main entrance there was a chance for the MT Flight to have a photo taken with the Armed Forces Memorial as a backdrop which was kindly taken by the Photo Section who accompanied us on the visit. The visit was a poignant reminder of how many people have sacrificed their lives in the name of their Country, not just Servicemen and women but also members of the public and Civil Servants.
I hope many other personnel from RAF Coningsby get the opportunity to visit the Arboretum as I believe it is a fantastic experience and a perfect way to remember all those who have given so much.