Several months ago I visited the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire on the edge of the National Forest. The Arboretum is the UK’s year-round centre of Remembrance. The maturing woodland landscape is home to over 300 memorials including the Armed Forces Memorial.
The centrepiece of the Armed Forces Memorial is two large bronze sculptures, representing loss and sacrifice, on either side of a central bronze laurel wreath. Created by Ian Rank-Broadley, the sculptures bear silent witness to the cost of armed conflict.
To the north, a Serviceman is raised aloft on a stretcher by comrades. On either side family members look on – a mother clasped by a child and an older couple clutching each other in anguish. It bears witness to the cost of armed conflict to those left behind – the families, loved ones and friends who live with the pain and consequence of their loss for the rest of their lives.
Opposite, the body of a soldier is being prepared for burial by a female and a Gurkha soldier. The figure before the double doors points to a world beyond where the he will rest as another figure chisels the name on the memorial.
The alignment and axis of the Memorial portray a greater meaning. At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month the sun’s rays stream through the door of the sculpture, illuminating the wreath in the centre of the Memorial.
The memorial records the names of members of the armed forces killed since 1945 to the present and over 15,000 names were carved by computer when the Memorial was created, with space on the empty panels for an additional 15,000. New fatalities are engraved by hand on the Memorial on a yearly basis. Conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Balkans, Cyprus, Malaya Korea and many others are remembered, as well as Northern Ireland.
If you get the opportunity I would encourage you to visit the Arboretum and view not just the Armed Forces Memorial but the many others on the site, they are all very moving.
At the entrance to the Arboretum is the Millennium Chapel of Peace and Forgiveness, situated close to the Visitor’s Centre and is the only place in the country where an Act of Remembrance is observed daily at 11 am. I was struck by the chapel’s title “Peace and Forgiveness”. In conflicts in communities, families and even the Church of Jesus Christ, true peace only comes to us when we deal with the issue of forgiveness. Too often we live by the maxim – forgive but not forget! Yet forgiveness in conflict means letting go of hurt. Jesus has left us many hard sayings, on Remembrance Sunday we focus on one that speaks of the sacrifices of the Armed Forces; especially in the First and Second World Wars – John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. We thank God for the bravery and selfless commitment of those who died in past conflicts to ensure freedom. I finish with a few of Jesus maxims that might impact your remembrance and your living.
Luke 6:31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Matthew 5:44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
John 8:7 Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.
John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you are
also to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Your friend and Rector
IAN R GAMBLE