At the National Memorial Arboretum, a second dimension of movement in memorials to children takes the form of the Edward’s Trust Memorial (for the first dimension, follow this link). This memorial is situated in a cluster of child-associated memories including the ‘Every Which Way’ (discussed in a previous blog) memorial commemorating evacuees of the Second World War. Likewise, it is adjacent to the Children’s Wood which contains many individual trees dedicated to lost stillborns, infants and children as well as a playground. Incidentally, movement is a key ingredient here: creating a space for living children to play in an arena memorialising lost little ones.
The Edward’s Trust supports bereaved families coping with the loss of a child, and it takes a distinctive arboreal form. Situated between the River Tame and its path and the Children’s Wood, it comprises a tree sculpture framed by an hexagonal gazebo-like feature with benches for mourners to sit and reflect. Yet rather than looking out at the landscape, the seated mourners are directed inwards, to look at the arboreal memorial, and perhaps upwards towards the metallic canopy of its branches. The memorial is thus a composite feature, since from its branches are suspended metal leaves, each bearing the name of a lost child.
Now I’ve encountered this form of arboreal metal memorial before at Linköping crematorium in Sweden. Hence, I know this memorial form is not exclusive to the NMA. Regardless, movement is key to understanding its mnemonic significance: not only in terms of mourners moving around the space and reposing in it. In addition, it relates to the wind moving the delicately suspended metal leaves. Water drips down the leaves when it rains. Their copper colour evokes a sense of autumn: the ending of life: the leaves droop, dying but yet fallen, precarious and yet fixed in place. The names of the dead interact with the surrounding river and woodland, but particularly with each other as they suspend collectively. The memorial is thus a distinctive communal focus for memorialising loved ones in which wind provides aerial animation to the leaves, each symbolising one life lost.
A further kind of movement is explicitly implied. If leaves fall down due to wind, visitors are requested to deposit the leaves in a special box for re-suspension. So retrieving the leaves is as much a memorial act as their suspension, restoring memory to suspension and the affects of the breeze.
In summary, the memorial commemorates through suspending metal leaves in a sculptural setting of quiet reflection, and fostering visitors to engage with its replenishment. As such, through its links to place and space, the memorial shows the enduring power of arboreal art, and the importance of different kinds of movement in the commemoration of children in the early 21st century.