During the last week, over two separate days, Footsteps members Rainer, Simone and Simon, accompanied by our partner Thea Haimovitz-Kabbalah and other friends, visited the U.K’s National Memorial Arboretum at Arlewas in central England. This is a vast complex covering some 61 hectares in the National Forest. The main memorial commemorates British military personnel who have died in combat since the end of the Second World War. The rest of the site is too big to see in one day. There are memorials to British, Commonwealth and Allied forces from the First World War up to the present day. There are also memorials to fallen police officers, ambulance and fire services, veterinarians, entertainers and many others who died and served during times of conflict. A memorial to the Far East campaign vividly depicts the brutality of the war against Japan, the dreadful conditions of slave labour, torture, suffering and murder, the starvation and the death marches.
The Arboretum and all the memorials displayed does not glorify war. It provides a place of quiet, respectful and peaceful remembrance where loved ones can reflect on lost relatives, and visitors can contemplate the inhumanity and occasional necessity of war. All of the memorials – large and small – are impressive, but one in particular moved us all greatly. It is called Shot at Dawn. It commemorates those British and Commonwealth soldiers – often aged only 17 or 18 – who were executed in the First World War for the ‘crime’ of being terrified, mentally or physically unwell, or merely just unable to fight. The main statue is a blindfolded soldier about to be shot. His face vividly depicts his fear. He is surrounded by wooden posts, each of which has the name and personal details of comrades who were also executed in this brutal way. Shockingly, it was not until 2006 – ninety years after the War – that these men were posthumously pardoned. For all those years until then, they were viewed as criminals.
Writings: Simon Bell