Over the many years, I have been involved with the Nuclear Community, I have visited the NMA many times. Usually for memorial events and occasionally just to have a nice walk and a look around. It occurred to me that we should publish a small guide on what you can expect from a visit. 

A short History of the NMA

The Arboretum was the idea of Commander David Childs CBE who was inspired by the need for a national centre of remembrance after visiting Arlington Cemetery in Washington USA. 

In 1994 an appeal was launched to the then Prime Minister John Major, supported by Group Captain Leonard Cheshire VC. The National Lottery granted 40% of the funds needed for the project which was matched by thousands of donations from various military, private, and corporate organisations.    

The site at Alrewas, originally a gravel works, was gifted to the charity by Redland Aggregates (now Tarmac). Planting began in 1997, with the Polar Bear Memorial placed in 1998.

The Arboretum was officially opened to the public in 2001 by Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent. The Armed Forces Memorial was dedicated six years later in 2007.

Plan your Visit

Before arriving at the NMA, It’s wise to book your visit in advance. The NMA hosts 250 events per year and tries to limit visitors on days that they know will be busy. Entry to the Arboretum is free but an all-day car park ticket is £4 and  can be booked at https://www.thenma.org.uk/visit-us/plan-your-visit/book-tickets

The Car park is situated just a short walk to the front of the Remembrance Centre, on very busy days there is an overflow car park to the west of the centre but there are parking attendants to help you find where to go.

When entering the Remembrance centre you will be greeted by a guide who will tell you where you need to go and the facilities available. I recommend picking up a map of the Arboretum here as it definitely helps navigating the large site with one, the NMA sell these for a £2 donation in the shop or reception. A guidebook is also available from this location.

Whenever I visit the NMA I always make the BNTVA memorial my first port of call as it’s an easy memorial to get to from the remembrance centre by walking through the Blesma Memorial Garden onto Yeomanry Avenue where it’s situated. 

The BNTVA memorial is currently draped with many flowers from a commemorative event held by the Office of Veterans Affairs which was attended by the Prime Minister and other dignitaries.

We have published information in the past regarding the BNTVA memorial so I won’t repeat myself. One note of interest is that all of the stones from the original memorial we placed in the foundations of the new memorial when it was redesigned and updated in 2012.

The BNTVA Memorial
The BNTVA Memorial

The Arboretum is home to nearly 400 memorials which are diverse in nature, and represent a broad population of society, from military associations and charities to the emergency services, fraternity groups and individuals. Every year, new memorials are added so there’s always something new to see. With that many memorials to look at, I have chosen a few that caught my eye as I made my way around the grounds. 

The next memorial I visited was the Naval Service Memorial, designed by a gentleman from my hometown of Castle Donington, Graeme Mitcheson. This high-concept design shows a figure facing the setting sun, head bowed in respect to Shipmates. The colours of the panels represent the 5 oceans, steel grey Atlantic, turquoise Indian, ultramarine blue Pacific; and white for the Arctic and Southern Ocean. Yellow is for the rising sun and red is for the setting sun and for the blood spilt at sea in the defence of our nation. Green for the Royal Marines and dark colours for dived submarines. The glass panels cast a shadow onto a white limestone pavement suggesting the shape of a warship.

The Naval Service Memorial
The Naval Service Memorial – Designed by Graeme Mitcheson 

Close to the Naval memorial is the Submariner Memorial. This is a 3500kg of bronze sculpted into a divided fin of a submarine with the lone figure of a submariner standing between the two halves looking to the surface. On one outer side of the fin is a frieze of families waiting for the return of their loved ones and on the other fin a Churchill quote: “Of all the branches of men in the forces there is none which shows more devotion and faces grimmer perils than the submariners.” The memorial is on a long low mound to give the idea of the rest of the boat just below the water. An interpretation board is sited by its ‘starboard bow’.  

The board has a QR code which links to this new Online Book of Remembrance gifted to the Submarine Family by the Friends of the RN Submarine Museum. https://www.rnsubmusfriends.org.uk/submarine-book-of-remembrance/

The Submariner Memorial
The Submariner Memorial – Designed by Paul Day

Continuing along Millennium Avenue I came across the Royal British Legions Poppy Memorial. All of the poppies on the memorial have been dedicated by loved ones to those they have lost. Anyone can have a poppy planted for a year by visiting https://donations.britishlegion.org.uk/in-memory-dedication/oneoff?pm=true&seg=XAYW3F

The Royal British Legion Poppy Memorial
The Royal British Legion Poppy Memorial

Next up was the impressive Royal Airforces Association Remembrance Garden. The garden is dedicated to all those who selflessly devoted their lives to their country. The statue is made from over 1,000 individually crafted feathers and stands three metres high on a black marble plinth.

Royal Airforces Association Remembrance garden
Royal Airforces Association Remembrance garden

At the end of Millennium Avenue is the South Atlantic Medal Association Memorial. The memorial was unveiled on the 20th of May 2012. Its design is very similar to the memorial at the Blue Beach Cemetery in San Carlos, where some of the British casualties are buried. 

The design is a curved wall of Cotswold Stone bricks with a central dedicatory tablet, headed by the Armed Forces emblem, and flanked by six smaller tablets with emblems of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Army to the left, and RAF, Royal Fleet Auxiliary and Merchant Navy to the right.

The South Atlantic Medal Association Memorial
The South Atlantic Medal Association Memorial

No Visit to the NMA would be complete without seeing the Armed Forces Memorial. This national memorial is a focus for remembrance and was created to recognise all who have given their lives in the service of the country since the end of the Second World War. 

The memorial’s creator architect Liam O’Connor was inspired by the ancient burial mounds of our ancestors resemble monuments like Silbury Hill.  

The memorial sits on a six-metre high earth mound, 100 metres wide at the base reducing to 50 metres at the top, which is based on early British barrows.

The Armed Forces Memorial
The Armed Forces Memorial

At the top stands a 43 metre diameter stone structure. Two curved walls and two straight walls are made from bricks covered with Portland stone panels. At the centre of the Memorial are two bronze sculptures created by Ian Rank-Broadley.

The Armed Forces Memorial
Left – The two bronze scuptures, the central bronze wreath. Right “They died serving their country we will remember them”

A gap has been left in the two southern walls of the Memorial. The structure is aligned so that at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the sun’s rays will stream through the gap to illuminate the centre of the Memorial. The light can be seen on the picture below.

Stretcher Bearers Sculpture
The Stretcher Bearers sculpture shows a wounded serviceman borne by comrades, watched by grieving family
The Gates Sculpture
The Gates sculpture group shows the body of a fallen serviceman taken into the arms of his comrades, and a figure pointing through the Great Gates of Eternity to Paradise

The names of the 16,000 service personnel are carved into the Memorials stone walls, with space for an additional 15,000 names to be added. The names of all those killed in combat, in training, on peacekeeping operations and on exercise are included. It includes the dead from operations in Palestine, Korea, Malaya, the Falkland Islands, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Northern Ireland. 

The names on the hundreds of panels that you will see are recorded in the same way, first by year, then by service – Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force, then in date order. Colleagues who died in the same incident are remembered together. Over 15,000 names were carved by computer when the memorial was created. There is space on the empty panels for 15,000 more names. Since 2007, the names have been engraved by hand on the memorial on a yearly basis. It’s an immensely impressive memorial to see and walk around. 

For those who may struggle with the steps to get to the top of the memorial, don’t worry. There is a pathway that spirals around the memorial all the way to the top which is 2m wide for wheelchair access. There is also a golf buggy at the base of the memorial for anyone who needs extra assistance. 

View to the Remembrance Centre
The view back to the Remembrance Centre from the Armed Forces Memorial – a 5 minute walk.

Aside from just walking around and discovering things for yourself, there are numerous daily activities that you are able to do. Each day in the Millennium Chapel there is an act of remembrance. Visitors need to be seated by 10.50 where an Act of Remembrance and a moving two-minute silence will be observed. 

The Millennium Chapel
The Millennium Chapel

The Remembrance Centre courtyard
The remembrance Centre courtyard adjacent to the restaurant
The Landtrain
The Landtrain guided tour with commentary
The Remembrance Centre Restaurant
The Remembrance Centre Restaurant
The Main entrance
The Main entrance

You can join one of the arboretums expert guides on a walk to discover stories behind some of the memorials that include: Far East Prisoners Of War Talk – Armed Forces Memorial Talk – Shot At Dawn Talk. Talks can be booked at the centre reception and cost £4 per person and start at 11.15 each day.

Land Train Tours on the arboretum can be booked. Each tour has a pre-recorded commentary that plays as you visit the various memorials. It takes around 50 minutes to complete a tour and costs £7 per adult, £3.50 for children or £17 for a family ticket of 2 adults and 2 children. The land train tours run between February and December but its worth checking with the NMA before travelling.

Buggy Tours are also available with one of the guides to accompany you. The tours take 40 minutes and cost the same as the Land-train tour. 

Tailor Made Tours are for groups of up to seven people and include a personal tour with your own buggy and host with a two-course meal in the restaurant. These tours need to be booked in advance with the NMA.

Christmas events consist of illuminated walks of the grounds with an outdoor trail activity which is perfect for families. There is also a festive dining menu in the restaurant.  

At the end of my visit I popped into the restaurant for tea and a mince pie and to warm up from being out in the cold. 

My next visit will be with my wife and daughter and we will be taking our dog for a nice walk around the grounds. I’ll just wait for it to warm up a bit first.

How to get to the NMA

The National Memorial Arboretum
Croxall Road
DE13 7AR

Telephone 01283 245 100
Email info@thenma.org.uk
Website www.thenma.org.uk
BNTVA memorial location What 3 words: canines.divide.reissued