This week 8 members of Veterans For Peace have been at a retreat in the village of Alton. It has been a great opportunity to get to know each other better and to share experiences and ideas.
On Wednesday we left the seclusion of our dis-used railway station and headed to the National Memorial Arboretum. The arboretum styles itself as “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. It is a living and lasting memorial”. If you are thinking, that sounds like the voice of the Royal British Legion (RBL), you would be right, because the arboretum is a part of the Royal British Legion.
The culture of the RBL brings more than just its language to the arboretum. It has also invited their friends in the arms industry along to fund this “centre of Remembrance”; Boeing, Rolls Royce and BAE Systems. Once inside the entrance any doubt that the RBL is running the show is removed by the sight of the Legion’s holy symbol, the poppy. Poppies on the walls, stuffed into vases on the cafeteria tables and on sale in every way imaginable in the visitor shop.
If you would like to read more about why the RBL is a problem and the role they play in promoting militarism you can check out a report that we published back in November; My Name is Legion: The British Legion and the Control of Remembrance explores how the Royal British Legion’s status as the self-appointed “national custodian of Remembrance” has been compromised through its collaboration with some of the world’s most controversial arms dealers, its increasingly militarised presentation of Remembrance, and its commercialised and trivialising corporatisation of the poppy “brand”.
Our intention had been to head up to the The Armed Forces Memorial in which over 15,000 names were carved by computer when the Memorial was created, with space on the empty panels for an additional 15,000. The causes of death are not recorded next to the names carved into the stone. Most of those deaths were sudden and brutal. But probably not obvious to a visitor are the proportion of those deaths that resulted from road traffic accidents, friendly fire, illness, helicopter and plane crashes. Not many of those deaths could be honestly described as sacrificing life for country. However it is the empty panels that are of interest to us. Those empty panels represent the wars of the future. The wars that maybe are children or grand children will kill and die in.
We were not able to climb the small mound up to the Armed Forces Memorial due to ongoing construction work and so we headed off to find the memorial to soldiers executed by British Army firing squad’s during the First World War. To get to the memorial we were directed down a potholed muddy track, into the far reaches of the arboretum. Shot At Dawn is the name of the memorial, it is modeled on the likeness of 17-year-old Private Herbert Burden, who lied about his age to enlist in the armed forces and was later shot for desertion. It is surrounded by a semicircle of stakes on which are listed the names of every soldier executed in this fashion. Unlike the 15,000+ names on the Armed Forces Memorial these men had prior knowledge of their deaths, which were the result of cold blooded decisions made by their own officers. We stood alongside the statue in silence in an attempt to be in solidarity with those poor souls, shot by “their own side”.
How cruel and pointless that war was.
How cruel and pointless war is.