On the 3rd of October over 100 members of the nuclear community gathered at the BNTVA Memorial in the National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas to remember all those who have passed as a result of the British Nuclear Testing program. Commemorating this very special NAVAD in a place also special to our community.
The National Memorial Arboretum is over 150 acres containing 30,000 trees and more than 300 memorials. The brainchild of Commander David Childs CBE who wished to see established a national focus for Remembrance. Following a meeting with Group Captain Leonard Cheshire VC, an appeal was launched in 1994 by the then Prime Minister, John Major.
The future of the NMA was assured when three proposals were agreed. These were: for the site to be the location of the Armed Forces Memorial; for the Ministry of Defence to pay a significant grant-in-aid to allow for free entry and that The Royal British Legion would accept the gift of the site as the focus for the Nation’s year-round Remembrance.
Planting began in 1997 and the Arboretum was officially opened to the public in May 2001.
Following the passing of Bob Smith’s great friend and fellow nuclear veteran Peter Williams and inspired by memories of his Grandfather, Bob, a long-standing activist within the nuclear community, embarked on a campaign to erect a memorial to all our British Nuclear Test Veterans.
Bob’s connection to remembrance and memorials comes from his Grandfather who, following the cessation of hostilities became involved in the recovery and reburial of bodies from the battlefields of the Great War. Working to the designs of Charles Holden, Bob’s Grandfather also helped construct the Messines Ridge British Cemetery and memorials. He also continued the same work after World War 2.
Sharing the desire to ensure those lost could never be forgotten Bob was tireless in his efforts, raising funds, organising the design for the new memorial and securing a plot at the NMA. In 2006 his efforts were rewarded as along with Mrs ‘Gron’ Williams, Peter’s widow, he unveiled the memorial and the benches bearing brass plaque messages of remembrance.
As time passed the NMA grew in size, trees matured and more memorials were erected. The BNTVA memorial, simple in stature and slightly off to one side of the final nuclear veterans plot was gradually being dwarfed by its surroundings. Its construction of rendered brickwork also suffered the ravages of time and began to crumble.
As the BNTVA evolved into a charity Bob again took up the challenge of upgrading the memorial. The new board of trustees gladly put time and effort behind the project and Derek Heaps, longest serving executive member of the BNTVA was tasked with selecting the stone for the new memorial. Sadly this was to be Derek’s final job for the BNTVA, he never got to see the finished memorial as he passed away shortly after picking the stone.
On the 3rd October 2012 Bob was invited to unveil the new memorial. Hewn from Ancaster limestone bearing the marble plaque carefully removed from the original memorial, with footings containing the rubble also from the old memorial, The new memorial carried its heritage forward. BNTVA Chaplain, the Very Reverend Nicholas Frayling again conducted the dedication service.
Whilst being interviewed shortly after he had unveiled the stone Bob said:
“I wanted to make sure there is a permanent reminder of our lives and struggles, they can’t just airbrush us from history”Bob Smith
The old benches had fallen into disrepair and were to be destroyed. Nigel Heaps visited the NMA, removed the brass dedications and kept them safe until they could be found a suitable home.
Produced by Natural Cut Stone from Calverton, Nottinghamshire the new memorial stood out alone on a tree-lined avenue in the NMA and was visited by members of the nuclear community time again. In 2014 Nigel escorted a party of nuclear community members from Australia and France around the NMA, the whole site made a lasting impression on them but we still felt there was more to be done.
In 2016 we secured monies from the Aged Veterans Fund. This meant we were finally able to fund the expansion of the memorial to accommodate the brass dedications and tell more of the story of the nuclear tests. After a number of planning sessions, enhancements were finally approved by the NMA and we returned to Jason and the team at Natural Cut Stone to construct the new additions to the memorial.
Echoing the central memorial, the satellite Ancaster stones also bear marble plaques which contain graphical details of all the British Nuclear Test Sites.
Completing the memorial and providing a talking point for the many thousands of visitors who pass through the NMA every year.
The two new stones were unveiled by Derek Hickman Royal Engineers and Terry Washington Royal Navy during a moving dedication ceremony presided by the Very Reverend Nicholas Frayling, BNTVA Chaplain. Following the ceremony, guests were invited to an afternoon tea in one of the NMA Marquees.
The Brass dedication plaques are fixed to the rear of the memorials and there is space for more. If you would like to have a plaque mounted on the memorial please contact the editor, we are currently trying to obtain the best price for the brass and engraving so are unable to advise a price at the moment.
The memorial is now an impressive sight: As you walk down Market Garden Way from the Millennium Avenue, to your right is an unnamed tree-lined avenue. Our memorial sits proudly in that avenue, in front of the Nuclear Veterans garden, just at the commencement of Yeomanry Avenue. If you visit the NMA just ask one of the many guides and they will happily direct you.