The four-metre bronze sculpture has been unveiled at the National Memorial Arboretum as an opportunity to celebrate individuals from all walks of life.
One of the dedications already on the ‘Tree of Cherished Memories’ is a bronze figure chosen by Mark Richmond and his daughters Alice and Kelsey to celebrate the life of his wife Liz Richmond , who served in the Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service for over 32 years until she died last year, aged 52.
Liz, from Halesowen in Dudley, had an impressive Royal Navy nursing career which took her and her family around the UK and beyond, after completing her training at RNH Haslar in Gosport.
In addition to a family posting in Gibraltar as an intensive care specialist, she also completed tours of Iraq (2003, RFA Argus and 2007, 34 Field Hospital, Camp Bastion) and Afghanistan (2009, 202 Field Hospital), and supported UK Armed Forces humanitarian missions in Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis (2014) and the West Indies after Hurricane Irma destroyed many people's lives in 2017.
"The dates only represent Liz's military career, not how many lives she touched with her work and the people she supported," her husband Mark explains.
"She was also a wonderful wife and mother, despite all the challenges posed by a military career and successive deployments."
Soon after Liz was promoted to Warrant Officer in February 2019, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent intensive treatment for much of the year.
When the pandemic struck in 2020, Liz was desperate to get back to work and was given a support role handling patients at the Nightingale hospital in Birmingham before joining the military liaison team with the NHS.
In January 2021 she was diagnosed with metastatic terminal cancer and passed away just weeks later.
"We all miss her incredible warmth, charm, smile and laughter – she has left a gaping chasm which will not easily be filled," Mark added.
"The Arboretum is a peaceful resting place for those who have given their lives in service, something that represents Liz perfectly."
The 'Tree of Cherished Memories' Remembrance sculpture is steeped in symbolism.
"The branches intertwine and connect, representing the support systems and loving relationships of our families and friends. The roots of the tree represent the departed, yet remind us of strength and survival,” explains sculptor Jill Berelowitz.
The sculpture, created by artist Ms Berelowitz, will allow supporters to remember a loved one or mark a special occasion by commissioning a bronze-sculpted leaf or figure dedication to adorn the sculpture for years to come.
The money raised will help the Arboretum to keep stories of service and sacrifice alive for future generations through its inspirational landscape, public programme and learning activities.
On another branch of the Tree of Cherished Memories, sits a bronze leaf in memory of Dean 'Deano' Spruce from Wednesbury in Sandwell, who passed away on October 9 2021, aged just 57.
"As a child, I couldn't have asked for someone cooler to look up to. Dad rode motorbikes, drove big trucks, had tattoos, and played guitar. He was like a rockstar," remembers his son, Tom.
"But as I grew up, I came to know him as a selfless man who would do anything, for anyone, for nothing in return, often at the expense of himself. He was also always game for a joke, even at the darkest of times. He has continued to be a role model for me in these regards, into adulthood, and I can only hope that I'll keep these values dear."
Dean and Tresa, his wife of 30 years, had always been avid supporters of the Armed Forces, visiting the Arboretum together on countless occasions and Dean had taken part in every Ride To The Wall since 2013. At his funeral, a motorbike cortege led him on his final ride.
To find out more about commissioning a dedication, people can visit thenma.org.uk/tree-of-cherished-memories