Story 82

A tribute to all who served their nation

Towards the end of his life, Leonard became concerned with the inadequate response to the increasing number of natural disasters that were affecting large and often poor communities around the world.

The National Memorial Arboretum

Ready funding seemed to be the problem so Leonard proposed establishing a fund so large that the interest alone would be immediately available to finance emergency relief. To raise this amount, he suggested a donation of £5 for every life lost in the wars of the twentieth century, which would have raised some four hundred million pounds. To achieve this aim he created a charity called ‘The World Memorial Fund for Disaster Relief’ (WMF) with the slogan: ‘Remember a Life to Save a Life’.

At the same time, I was trying to persuade the Ministry of Defence to make personnel more readily available for deployment in emergency aid missions. Knowing little about the subject, I met Leonard to talk about his ideas and any useful common ground. He listened politely, as he always did, with that concentration that made one feel one was the most important person that he wished to meet that day. And that he, a very busy man, had all the time in the world to talk. The meeting must have gone well. A few days later I was contacted to be asked if I would leave the Navy and come and run the fund. Unfortunately, I was unable to oblige with such immediacy but I did tell Leonard I would come when I could.

Sadly, by the time I was able to do so, WMF was in serious difficulties and Leonard had died. On the day of his memorial service I met with the trustees who had decided to wind up WMF. Instead, I suggested, they could let me try and salvage something from the idea. They agreed.

So, I took each phrase of the slogan and created new projects that were achievable. For ‘To Save a Life’ we created The Leonard Cheshire Chair of Conflict Recovery, headed by an army surgeon, which provided advice to devastated post-conflict regions. To ‘Remember a Life’ we created the National Memorial Arboretum near Lichfield in Staffordshire. Here, memorial trees have been planted not only in remembrance of those who lost their lives in war but also as a tribute to all who served their nation.

Sadly, my hope that the world was becoming a more peaceful peace faded with the millennium. The names of those who have been lost in the wars of this century occupy a sizeable space on the Large Armed Forces Memorial that dominates the site. Beside it are memorials brought home from Basra and Camp Bastion. Yet these names and memorials, along with the Ash Grove which pays tribute to those killed in Northern Ireland, have made the site a place of pilgrimage for many whose loved ones have died in recent conflicts. They also draw strength sitting in quiet contemplation in the Millennium Chapel of Peace and Forgiveness.

The National Memorial Arboretum was opened in 2001 and now attracts over 300,000 visitors every year. Many gain much comfort from walking around this tranquil site: they would not do so had Leonard not realised the importance of remembering those who were prepared to give their all so that their children could live in peace.

They would not do so had Leonard not realised the importance of remembering those who were prepared to give their all so that their children could live in peace.