I spent the day at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire yesterday with the guys from Coalville’s Hero Project.
The site is a twenty-year-old, 150-acre ‘centre of remembrance’, much of it planted with nicely maturing trees which extend the wildlife corridor of the National Forest surrounding it.
There are lots and lots of memorials there, too, designed and paid for by the many groups who applied to have their comrades, workmates, friends and townsfolk commemorated forever on the site. Including those who served in the Armed Forces.
Coalville Hero’s are currently working on a project – the Famous Fifty Exhibition – to honour the memory of the Coalville men who served in World War I. The trip to the Arboretum was to find out more about their experiences and about post-conflict acts of remembrance in general.
I’ll be honest and admit I didn’t think I’d enjoy the place much. I’d imagined it would be aggressively patriotic, applauding the sacrifice of dying for your country instead of highlighting the sadness of such needless loss. That sadness was over-whelming at times, it’s true – there’s nothing like seeing rows and rows of trees and knowing that each represents one lost life (or, in the case of the wooden stakes of the Shot at Dawn memorial, one life that never reached its full potential).
But the whole thing was dealt with very tastefully and I came away with an understanding of the place as somewhere for the grieving to focus their grief, to share it with others who have experienced loss as they have, and to ease the pain a little. For many, it seems, parking the weight of it there lightens the burden they must carry elsewhere in their day-to-day lives.
There’s something life affirming about trees, too, isn’t there? They’re a fantastic metaphor of the cyclical nature of life. Leaves fall, but spring brings new growth. Seeing the trees of the Arboretum in autumn, with their leaves turning to such beautiful colours, was very special.
I’m very grateful that Coalville Hero’s invited me to go along for the visit, and very honoured to be involved in their wonderful remembrance project.