The WMT is a charity that focuses its efforts on the protection and conservation of war memorials in the UK. There are over 100,000 memorials throughout Britain and looking after them is a great task to say the least. Working with regional volunteers and local communities, the trust is fighting against reduced funding, neglect, vandalism and the inexorable passing of time – not to mention the logging of many hidden or, dare I say it, forgotten memorials.
What caught my eye was their new initiative, In Memoriam 2014. By 2014, the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, the trust in partnership with Smartwater, are hoping to cover as many memorials as possible with a colourless forensic liquid that will deter criminals, or at worst allow greater traceability to stolen plaques. The high-tech ultra-violet solution will not only withstand burning and sandblasting but will also rub off on the clothes of those pitiful enough to attempt any form of desecration.
Late last month I approached Frances, the director of the WMT, with the intention of putting together both a photographed and written piece on In Memoriam 2014. They were very keen and have since been invaluable – and wonderful.
I want to bring to light the many colourful characters involved in the care of memorials and their many motivations for doing so. Already, the project is moving at a fantastic pace and I am meeting more and more brilliant people each and every week.
My visit to the National Memorial Arboretum was my first attempt at putting pen-to-paper and my eye to the viewfinder. It was great. Frances had set-up a meeting with a member of the Burma Star Association , Charles Wall. Mr Wall is the most vivacious of characters and at 91, surprised all of us with his get-up-and-go and dedication to the Burma Star memorial. He is one of the aforementioned regional volunteers who gives up an enormous amount of time to care for and develop the memorial.
Charles goes by the nickname, ‘Wagger’, and upon meeting him the name becomes quite clear – he’s a fantastic talker. He served in the Royal Navy as a leading stoker (or engineer) from 1940 until 1945. ‘Wagger’ was 19 when he joined and saw action in the Pacific, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and survived being torpedoed twice – very unlikely for an engineer. When a ship is struck by a torpedo the engine compartments are usually sealed immediately – to allow other sailors the time to abandon ship before the torrents of water force the vessel to capsize, sink and/or break in half .Very scary stuff.
While at the arboretum I noticed some soldiers grouped around two tents. In one tent they were taking it in turns to row the 91.1 miles that separate Kandahar airport from Camp Bastion in Afghanistan; outside the other they were doing five pull-ups for every British serviceman and woman killed in the conflict – 1,900.