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18.05.17 - National Memorial Arboretum Provides Thought-Provoking Backdrop on the Ethics of War

Year 9 students recently embarked on an inspiring and thought-provoking visit to The National Memorial Arboretum (NMA) in Staffordshire. The visit supported studies on the ethics of war, symbolism and remembrance in Religious Studies.

During the visit we took part in a guided tour of the arboretum, which is on the site of a former quarry. Our tour included reviewing over 150 memorials dedicated to a range of battles and wars, from World War I and II to more recent conflicts including Afghanistan and Iraq.

One particularly poignant memorial was the statue of Private Herbert Burden, who was shot at dawn, aged 17. It is situated at the far eastern corner of the NMA and is the first part of the arboretum to witness the sun rising in the east each day. Private Burden represents the 306 British Army and Commonwealth soldiers executed for cowardice or desertion.

Six conifers face Private Burden, representing the firing squad, while the 306 stakes behind him each bear the name and details of the man they represent. These are arranged to bear witness to the tragedy of these deaths. Gathered around the statue, we listened to three moving readings; a letter home from a condemned soldier; a letter written by a member of the firing squad and finally, the famous poem ‘The Fallen’ by Laurence Binyon.

We also visited the interactive ‘Landscapes of Life’ exhibition, offering a journey through a history of remembrance from ancient burial mound rituals to contemporary social media tributes. It was here that Tamsin Worthy picked symbolic features and created her own memorial landscape. She said: “The memorials weren’t just for those that had died but also for people to come and remember happy times. As part of our visit we added a stone to the memorial cairn.”

Head of Religious Studies, Mrs Fletcher-Eaton said: “The National Memorial Arboretum was an ideal opportunity for students to place in historical context the work they have been doing in the classroom on the ethics of war and symbolism. It was a thought-provoking visit, which concluded with exceptional feedback from the group, and really helped to stimulate learning responses, such as creative writing and visual art.”

The National Memorial Arboretum is the UK’s year-round centre of remembrance; a spiritually uplifting place which honours the fallen, recognises service and sacrifice, and fosters pride in our country. The educational visit was organised by our Religious and History department to support the current Year 9 scheme of learning.