Shot At Dawn Memorial
Inspired by a television programme which featured the cases of British and Commonwealth soldiers (a number of them under-aged) who were shot at dawn during World War One, artist Andrew DeComyn, crafted the statue of a blindfolded boy soldier awaiting execution. It was accepted for inclusion within the National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas, Staffordshire to form a section uniquely dedicated to the memory of these men.
The National Memorial Arboretum lies at the eastern edge of the newly-designated National Forest in Central England. It is a 150 acre site where planting began in 1997 and is dedicated as 'a living tribute to the wartime generations of the twentieth-century and as a gift in their memory for future generations to reflect upon and enjoy'. There are currently 56 individual areas commemorating many branches of armed and civilian services, as well as a Millennium Chapel, a Visitor Centre and restaurant.
Lying at the eastern end of the Arboretum, close to the River Tame, the Shot at Dawn Memorial Grove is, symbolically, positioned where dawn first breaks on the site.
The sculpture of Northumberland Fusilier Private Herbert Burden fronts a semi-circle of 306 wooden posts, each bearing the name of an executed British or Commonwealth soldier. At 16, Private Burden lied about his age in order to 'join up' and was executed for desertion, having lost his nerve during heavy fighting at Ypres. He was 17 years old.
The unveiling and Dedication of this unique Memorial took place in beautiful sunshine on Thursday 21 June 2001. Hundreds of relatives, sponsors of the executed men and school-children gathered at the grove and the occasion was honoured by two World War one veterans; Mr Fred Bunday and Mr Jack Davis, aged 100 and 106, respectively. One of these gentleman had narrowly escaped becoming a member of a firing-squad during his time in the trenches.
A lone piper fronted a parade of British Legion standard-bearers who marched to the site, where the service was led by Commander David Childs, Director of the Arboretum. David Childs welcomed all present and asked for a collective effort towards a peaceful new century. He followed a reading from Genesis 23 with Wilfred Owen's powerful re-interpretation of the ending in The Parable of the Old Man and the Young. Prayers, including the Jewish Prayer for the Fallen, were followed by the The Last Post, a short Silence and Reveille.
A poignant and emotional moment followed when Mrs Gertrude Harris, the 87 year old daughter of Private Harry Farr, unveiled the statue, assisted by Andy DeComyn. Mrs Harris was three years old when her father was shot by firing squad but did not discover the truth until she was in her forties.
John Hipkin, leader of the Shot at Dawn Campaign, called for the government to grant pardons to the executed soldiers.
Andy DeComyn, the sculptor, watched by Mrs Harris, presented a cheque representing donations to assist with the upkeep of the grove.
Two performances of Rough Justice, a play by Bob Ashmore took place. Based on the last letter sent home by Private Albert Troughton who was shot at dawn on April 22, 1915, aged 22, the play was performed by Cofa's Fayre players.
This was an occasion of special unity where justice went some way to being acheived, when many people met for the first time and shared a feeling of great satisfaction, combined with frustration and anger; a need to continue the campaign to fight for pardons for these young men.
The extensive media coverage of the event can only serve to further the cause of those who reacted to the appalling circumstances of warfare and paid the ultimate price at the hands of their own side.
The National Memorial Arboretum is at Alrewas, Staffordshire, off the A513, just past the junction with the A38. It is approximately 15 minutes drive to the north-east of Lichfield and is now open daily from 10am to 7pm or DUSK if earlier. Entry is free. Tel: 01283 792333.
Although, through public generosity, all soldiers have now been adopted at least once, those wishing to make a donation should send payments to: The National Memorial Arboretum, Croxall Road, Alrewas, Staffordshire DE13 7AR
T E Lawrence
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