Growing in peace

All ideas have to start somewhere and mine began with an hour or so to spare en route to the north. I had seen the sign for the National Memorial Arboretum every time I headed up that way and thought it would be a good place to while away a little time, so I turned the car towards Alrewas with no idea what to expect.

The Arboretum was the born from an idea of Commander David Childs CBE. An appeal was launched after he discussed the idea with Group Captain Leonard Cheshire VC, a one time commander of the legendary 617 ‘Dambusters’ squadron and philanthropist. Childs wished to create a national place of Remembrance,  to honour the fallen, recognising their service and sacrifice.

Yet it is not simply  military monument and all those touched by conflict are remembered here, from those who were shot at dawn to the children whose lives were extinguished before they had begun.

“The project,” says their website, “began with no money, no land, no staff and no trees.” An appeal was launched to fund the arboretum, land was donated by Lafarge Aggregates and volunteers began to make up the staff of thousands who have come together to make a garden of life to remember the dead. Over 30,000 trees have been planted, creating a green space beside the lakes. Wildlife flourishes amid the hundreds of memorials and a chapel of peace provides quiet place of contemplation. War and militarism is not glorified here, in spite of the regimental badges. It is the human cost of conflict that is highlighted, both by the almost surreal, created landscape and the straight-shouldered figures paying their respects.

There is a Garden of the Innocents with an elder tree at its heart, dedicated to Anne Frank. Each spring its flower buds are removed, to symbolise the lost childhoods never allowed to grow to maturity. The Polar Bear, that six men spent a year hand carving, contains within it a capsule holding the names and documents of the men of the 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division… a Yorkshire regiment who spent much of the Norwegian campaign of WWII buried under 20 feet of snow. The ‘Shot at Dawn’ memorial commemorates the 306 servicemen executed for cowardice during WWI, many of whom we would now recognise as suffering from PTSD.

At the centre of the arboretum is a huge, circular monument that reminded me forcibly of the henge monuments and stone circles that still mark our landscape. The ‘standing stones’ here are living trees and the walls of the memorial bear the names of the sixteen thousand service men and women whose lives have been lost to conflict or terrorism since WWII. In a further echo of the great stone circles, the sun plays a part in this memorial; at 11 am on 11th November every year the sun shines through the gaps in the walls of the memorial, casting a shaft of light across the centre.

I do not know how many hundreds and thousands of names are recorded and remembered here. I do know that behind each one of them is a story. That every single name belongs to a son or daughter, spouse, parent or sibling…. that each one holds a memory of grief and a life given with honour and courage, perhaps, but nonetheless lost senselessly to the inhumanity of war. In this place of light and cleanliness, the contrasts are stark, the very aseptic order seeming, somehow, to bring home the dark, bloody chaos of horror.

Somewhere in the arboretum, the names would be those of my own family… not so very distant in history. I was heading north to a weekend of standing stones and ancestors… it seemed somehow fitting to link the ancient with the more recent past in this unexpected oasis of green growth.


About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email:
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32 Responses to Growing in peace

  1. Mary Smith says:

    Fascinating, Sue. I’d never heard of this place before today. A visit there must be a very moving experience.


  2. Bernadette says:

    I don’t think I have ever heard about a memorial quite like this one. Yes, so many innocents are touched and hurt by the madness of war and all should be remembered. The practice of picking off the buds from the tree really moved me.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. quiall says:

    What a beautiful place and a beautiful ideal.


  4. What a wonderful way to honor the lives affected by war.<3


  5. Running Elk says:

    What an incredible site. Had no idea whatsoever. Thanks for sharing. 🙂 xx


  6. Running Elk says:

    Reblogged this on Shamanic Paths and commented:
    One of these places you have vaguely heard of, yet never, for a second, considered could have affected such a level of tribute to those to whom it is dedicated. (And not just because of the bear… 🙂 )

    “There is a Garden of the Innocents with an elder tree at its heart, dedicated to Anne Frank. Each spring its flower buds are removed, to symbolise the lost childhoods never allowed to grow to maturity.”


  7. willowdot21 says:

    It is a beautiful place 💖💝💜


  8. Lyn Horner says:

    Amazing memorial to all the victims of war. Very moving! It makes me think of the Viet Nam memorial in Washington, D.C. My husband and I visited “The Wall” some years ago. It was a spiritual experience. When I touched the black surface, it felt warm and almost alive. Seeing all the names engraved upon it brought back terrible TV images from the war that flooded our living room each night for years. All wars are vile!


    • Sue Vincent says:

      I too found the names, freshly cut, to be a very moving experience… especially as there were very recent ones amongst them. I agee with you, violence in never the answer, but those who serve their countries do not do so for the violence but for the service.


  9. paulandruss says:

    I had heard about the national memorial arboretum… may be I saw somethign years ago on television, but I never realised it was so beautiful and inspiring. Thanks Sue for making us aware of it,


  10. Reblogged this on Musings on Life & Experience and commented:
    A remembrance post by Sue Vincent.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Places like these always bring up such feelings of loss. Your descriptions are moving, Sue. And the place only captures a sliver of the tens of millions lost to war over the course of human history. It’s staggering.


  12. Intriguing, Sue. I’d never known about this place today. A visit there must be an extremely moving background…


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