My partner Ross and I are fans of last minute day trips, so when he suggested the National Memorial Arboretum (or NMA for short), I said yes and within an hour we were off in the van!
I’ll be honest – despite living in the West Midlands all of my life, I’d never once heard of the NMA. Obviously I figured there would be lots of trees, but I wasn’t expecting much else since the only other arboretum I’d been to was the one in York, which was just trees and a lovely quaint cafe.
So I was blown away when we arrived in a large car park overshadowed by a huge visitor’s center! We wandered in, after finding a suitable parking space for the van (which I’m quickly learning is going to be a bit of a ball ache when we travel around Europe in it), and at once I realised I had misjudged the place. The focus of the NMA is definitely not trees – it is people.
The NMA is a place of remembrance, not just for the military (although they do feature heavily in the NMA) but there were also trees and statues in memory of children who had passed on, and other men and women not necessarily involved in the armed forces.
It was hard to walk around the arboretum without a somber face. My brain, as it always has, struggled to come to terms with the sheer scale of death represented there. It’s hard to talk about death – it’s something we all know about, but it’s hard to put it into words. That is why I think that the NMA is the perfect place for remembrance – just a short sentence displaying love and loss and a name and a tree.
But the NMA is not just a place of loss – it is also a place of learning. They have exhibitions and sections dotted around the site which simply exist to educate. The exhibition I really loved was one we stumbled on by accident on our way out and it was about the roles and rights of women in the armed forces over the last century. It ended with a message about how much we’d improved but how far we still had to go to gain equality with men. It was a lovely end to our afternoon at the NMA – with a real message of hope for the future.
I feel honoured to have been able to walk around the arboretum and, in my own way, pay my respects to those strong men and women who are recorded there. If you have a chance to go, I recommend it. It is a beautiful place.