Former PM Sir John Major moved during visit to National Memorial Arboretum
The nation's place of remembrance was graced with a visit by a former prime minister who helped to create it.
Sir John Major KG CH visited the National Memorial Arboretum on Monday to observe how the site has evolved since he launched the appeal in 1994 to create it.
His early endorsement proving crucial in establishing the legitimacy of the project and helping to secure the funds necessary to bring to life the vision of Arboretum founder Commander David Childs CBE Rtd.
Sir John was shown the Arboretum’s award-winning Remembrance Centre, opened in 2017 by the then Prince of Wales and learned that the facility had been desperately needed following a five-fold increase in visitor numbers following the dedication of the Armed Forces Memorial in 2007.
Philippa Rawlinson, director of the National Memorial Arboretum, accompanied Sir John during the tour, highlighting examples of how the Arboretum’s pledges to sustainability, accessibility, and inclusion are reflected throughout all aspects of the visitor experience.
These included the locally sourced homemade food offered in the restaurant, the specialist Changing Places toilet facility, and how an advisory group and Inclusion Champion are helping to remove potential barriers to participation, ensuring the Arboretum remains freely open to all.
Sir John had a chance to explore the Armed Forces Memorial at the heart of the Arboretum.
Richard Thorpe, an Arboretum volunteer with 25 years’ experience, delivered the Armed Forces Memorial Talk, which is offered to all visitors on a daily basis, describing how the gigantic Portland stone walls of the memorial carry the more than 16,000 names of service personnel who have been killed whilst on duty, died in operational theatre or were targeted by terrorists, since the end of the Second World War.
The lack of weathering of the recently inscribed names was a stark reminder of how the blank panels stood ready to carry thousands of additional names in years to come.
The former prime minister was also given a buggy tour of the 150-acre garden and woodland site and was taken to the Tree of Cherished Memories, a four-metre-tall bronze sculpture inspired by a hawthorn tree from the Arboretum that had been felled at the end of its natural life.
The sculpture is adorned with ornate leaves and figures inscribed with personal dedications, each commissioned in memory of a subscriber’s loved one or to commemorate a special occasion.
Sir John was then presented with a leaf celebrating his friendship with the Arboretum, carrying the inscription; “A true friend who shared our vision” and was invited to present leaves to Richard Thorpe and Sue Elliott, commemorating their 25 years of service to the Arboretum.
Visiting for the first time almost 30 years later, he said: “I did not know quite what to expect when I arrived at the National Memorial Arboretum, except in the most general of senses.
"Moving across this 150-acre site, one is taken in, not only by its sheer scale and all it represents, but also by the obvious love and attention lavished upon it by all those who care for its upkeep throughout the year.
“It is impossible not to be moved by a visit to the National Memorial Arboretum, and I found my own visit immensely poignant and reflective, yet also inspiring. It truly is the most remarkable place.”
Reflecting on Sir John’s visit, Philippa Rawlinson said; “During his visit Sir John saw how the National Memorial Arboretum continues to grow and evolve, providing a space where families can forge new memories together as well remembering those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the Nation.
"It was fantastic for him to see first-hand how we have realised the vision sketched out by David Childs many decades ago; today we welcome more than 300,000 visitors every year, including over 20,000 young people, preserving the stories encapsulated within the memorials and passing the baton of Remembrance to future generations.”