THE Armed Forces Memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum (NMA) in Alrewas, Staffordshire, has closed for up to 12 months for a significant programme of improvement works.
When it was opened by the Queen in 2007, the memorial was expected to attract about 50,000 visitors a year. Instead, about 300,000 annual visitors come to pay their respects to the 16,000 members of the armed forces who were killed in action, or as the result of terrorism, since 1948. Each year, the names of those killed in the previous year are engraved on the Portland stone walls.
Before it closed, the Princess Royal joined a 400-strong congregation, including civil and military dignitaries, and current and former military personnel and their families, for the annual Armistice Day service, on Wednesday.
Led by the Anglican chaplain, the Revd Vic Van Den Bergh, and the Methodist chaplain, the Revd Tim Flowers, the service included prayers for peace and a commitment from the congregation to strive for peace, to seek to heal the wounds of war, and to work for a just future for all humanity.
The hymns “Eternal Father, strong to save” and “Jerusalem” were played by the Royal Artillery Band and sung by the Lichfield Cathedral Chamber Choir. The exhortation was read by the MP for Lichfield, Michael Fabricant, and a local councillor; and Princess Anne read St John 15.9-17. Later, she toured the memorial inspecting the newly engraved names of those killed in 2014.
The memorial was designed so that, on the 11th hour on the 11th day, a shaft of sunlight would shine through two slits in the memorial’s outer walls before coming to rest on a central bronze wreath sculpture.
“It is a fantastic venue that allows people to come and reflect on those who have given their lives in sacrifice for the country and in service of the nation,” Padre Pat Aldred said. “It’s a great place, and I think people will miss that it is going to be closed for the next year.”
The works to the memorial will include a new stone-paved surface, drainage improvements, upgraded pathways, and new lighting installed on the site. The NMA hopes that the works will be completed in time for next year’s Armistice Day service, when a new visitors centre, currently being constructed, will also be completed.
The rest of the arboretum, which contains more than 300 separate memorials in its 150 acres of wooded parkland, will remain open.