Friday, 18 September 2015

National Arboretum

Well, today we walked to the National Arboretum, and it is a beautiful place - carefully set out, staffed by caring and passionate volunteers.

As we first entered I thought about buying a plaque/a tree to the memory of my mum and dad who were both in the RAF during WWII, mum was a balloon operator in the WAAFS (mostly in Oxon) and Dad was an armourer (marched back and forth across the top of the African continent and ran through Crete and Greece and into Italy). They met at Weston on the Green in 1945, got engaged within 12 days and married within 3 months.

But after a short time at the arboretum, I realised that my dad would have objected strongly to being memorialised there. While he joined up voluntarily early in September 1939, he soon decided it was a fool's game. He often talked about it being 6 years of his life wasted. He was 18 when he joined up and 24 when demobbed - and he was (along with thousands of others like him) such an old young man. When I think about what he saw and experienced during those years when he should have been young and carefree I feel so sad for him and all the others of his generation.

So David and I found it very disturbing - rightly or wrongly, our impression was that it glorified the 'ultimate sacrifice' and therefore it glorified how these innumerable people died. It was moving, yes, no doubt about that. After all, most of those who died in combat were young people. And we vividly remember being in France back in 1990 and visiting combined war graves there - at the time our son was in his early 20s and I cried a lot thinking about the grief of the parents of the young people of all nationalities whose graves were marked there.

I had a similar feeling at the arboretum. But to be truthful, the only area that moved me to tears today was the Shot at Dawn memorial - the memorial to the 300+ young British men who were shot for cowardice or desertion in WWI. I am aware that my dad suffered from shell shock at Monte Cassino in WWII, and that trauma never truly left him. So, while I am pleased we went to the arboretum today, I cannot see it as it was probably designed and envisaged. Maybe our view of it would have been different if we had walked around it on our own; instead we took the road train, and I think it was the commentary that we found disturbing. And the huge number of British service men and women who have died in war since the end of WWII made us feel hopeless - a peaceful future seems so out of reach.

And the thing that seemed the most incongruous to us, as the grandparents of a lovely baby girl who died at 6 months, is the inclusion of a memorial garden to Sands, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society charity. We just don't know how that fits in such a place.

But on a more cheerful note, England is currently beating Fiji in the opening game of the RWC.


Lesley Bateman said...

Is that sentiment because I threatened you with a full body cavity search if you didn't support England? Much better today, am able eat, although have been careful about how much and what I do eat. Certainly more than one egg scrambled and a banana that I had yesterday.

Lesley Bateman said...
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Marilyn McDonald said...

Nah! Although I did hope for better things from Fiji. Was absolutely delighted with Japan's win over the Boks.
Glad you are feeling better today, ODS. Am planning the menu for when you are with us and it is slightly more than a scrambled egg and banana!!