Happy New Year!
We hope you all had a fantastic Christmas break with your family and friends.
Following a busy festive period ourselves, we managed to eventually venture out for our first full day of filming for the first episode of the WW2 Nation video magazine.
Having previously visited the National Arboretum Memorial in Staffordshire earlier in December but failed to film any shots owing to it being very busy, we decided to head out even earlier this time and get there before the crowds arrived.
As you can see from Ross trying to balance his two and half legged tripod, he is clearly a professional
I thought our first visit to this fantastic place was cold enough, but this day was even colder, with a fresh bout of snow, frost and ice covering the ground as temperatures reached -4 degrees. Which of course meant wrapping up warm, forcing Ross to crack out the beanie and for me to test out the new snood I got for Christmas.
But despite the cold, we were rewarded with some amazing scenes as the sun stayed with us for the whole day and made the grounds look even more spectacular, glistening and gleaming in the light.
I must say that both Ross and I were really impressed by the number of people we saw visiting the National Memorial Arboretum on the days we went and also the different age ranges of those visiting.
Such is the vastness of the National Arboretum that it was amazing how many things we actually missed on the first trip and I was determined this time to make sure I visited the Far East Prisoners of War Memorial and the Merchant Navy Convoy Memorial.
The Far East Prisoners of War Memorial
I was very keen to find out more about an area and aspect of the war that I know relatively little about and I feel is often easily overlooked.
When the Japanese invaded South East Asia they took almost 200,000 Allied servicemen prisoner as well as 130,000 European civilians, men, women and children. They endured terrible conditions, starvation, barbaric treatment and many were literally worked to death.
The Japanese apparently refused to ratify the 1929 Geneva Convention which meant that prisoners of war were used as slave labourers to help with the construction of things like railways etc. to help support Japan’s war effort.
More than 40,000 FEPOWs died in captivity.
On the final canvas in the museum, it states a statistic that really hit home the reality of the terrible conditions that these FEPOWs had to endure:
The death rate for Allied prisoners of war held by Germany was 4%. The death rate for prisoners of the Japanese was 25%
A section of the rail and sleepers from the Burma / Thailand railway was transported to the National Memorial Arboretum as a dedication to those that gave their lives constructing the Kwai Railway (photo below).
Known as the ‘Railway of Death,’ over 16,000 Allied prisoners of war died during its construction between September 1942 and October 1943.
At the end of this incredible exhibit there is a selection of items such as canteens and cigarette boxes from the FEPOWs. It was incredible to think that these items are artefacts to us now, but 70 years or so ago these were lifelines and essentials to those that were there.
The FEPOW Memorial / mini-museum is quite easy to miss if you do not know where it is, located on the far side of the car park away from the entrance. But I would really recommend to anyone visiting the Arboretum to make sure you visit this section of the site. It is a really moving testament and powerful dedication to those that went through this horrible ordeal and I feel I learnt a lot from my visit about the Far East Prisoners of War during the Second World War.
The Merchant Navy Convoy Memorial
There are 2,535 trees planted in perfectly aligned rows to commemorate those 31,908 seafarers of the Merchant Navy Convoy that perished during the Second World War. I later found out, that the number of trees apparently represents the number of British vessels lost at the time – a very sobering thought indeed.
Whilst walking through these corridors of perfectly aligned trees, you notice little plaques with dedications to the names of those vessels lost. And right at the centre and heart of this memorial wood is a clearing with an anchor from the R.F.A. Sir Percivale.
The Sir Percivale was a Royal Fleet Auxiliary landing ship manned entirely by men and women of the Merchant Navy. She saw service in the 1982 Falklands War as well as during the 1991 Gulf War. Her history epitomises the finest traditions of the Merchant Navy.
Following a long day filming…
I cannot wait to see what Ross does with the footage we took from the day’s visit. It was another thoroughly interesting and enjoyable visit to the National Memorial Arboretum that certainly never disappoints. I just hope Ross can work miracles with my ugly mug.
With the day’s filming concluded it was time for a quick ‘selfie’ before heading to the canteen to help us warm up with a slice of cake, bowl of chips and hot cup of tea! (Maybe not quite in that order though…)