Bringing Passchendaele to Life at The National Memorial Arboretum

Neill Hoare, Events Manager at the National Memorial Arboretum (NMA), takes us behind the scenes as the centre prepares to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele.

"Unlike the Somme, the Battle of Passchendaele generally isn’t well known," explains Neill.

"Although it’s known to historians and those who have an interest in British military history, the general public probably aren’t as aware of the battle as they were with the Somme. Our plan is to add a bit of context to Passchendaele and look at the bigger picture of 1917, and hopefully bring it to life in the process.”

The nation’s official home of Remembrance – situated on a 150-acre site in Alrewas, Staffordshire – has a full schedule of events planned to commemorate the centenary of Passchendaele, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres, in which the Allies fought an energy-sapping campaign in the mud-drenched fields of Flanders against the German Empire for three months and six days in the summer of 1917.

Running through to the centenary of the battle’s end on 12 November, the Arboretum has been meticulously planning how it will commemorate one of the key moments from the penultimate year of the First World War, with events and installations including a special Service of Remembrance and an above-ground replica trench to explore the living and working conditions of the soldiers who fought in France and Belgium.

The commemorations’ key starting date will be 31 July, when the Arboretum is marking the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle with a Service of Remembrance, before observing the government’s official ceremony in Belgium.

"We’re going to have a service in our new cloistered courtyard – Heroes’ Square – and our honorary chaplain team here have developed a service that looks at the campaign of the Third Battle of Ypres," explains Neill.

A Battle of Passchendaele Remembrance Service will be held in Heroes' Square

"It will include a specially selected reading, a hymn and prayers, before concluding with the Last Post. Once our own service has finished, we will do a live link-up on a 26-foot-wide screen that will also be in Heroes’ Square, which will relay the live BBC broadcast from the event at Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium.

"We want to be able to offer those who can’t make it to Flanders – either because they missed out on the ballot or because they’re not able to travel – the opportunity to pay their respects, just as we do for other commemorations throughout the year."

Other events include events the Arboretum’s first ever Proms, for which the King’s Military Band has been booked to perform an uplifting evening of music among the memorials in the site’s grounds, "mirroring the music that was played on the home front in 1917 to gee people up and lift spirits".

Meanwhile there will be a Creative in Residence work, where visitors will be able to help create a bigger piece based on the theme of communication between the home front and the front line; and First World War explorer backpacks will be available for young people to use during the summer holidays.

"There will be a Tommy hat, a periscope and some letters home from the front line in the kitbag," says Neill.

"We really want to bring history to life and it will hopefully be an enriching experience for young people, allowing them to explore the Arboretum, the trench and the memorials related to the home front – such as the Women’s Land Army and Women’s Timber Corps memorial, or the General Post Office Memorial Garden, which ties in to communication on the front line."

The Arboretum is making a massive effort to bring Passchendaele and the story of 1917 into the modern nation’s consciousness. “We’re really trying to make people aware of the home front and the social change that was going on at the time, as well as rightly marking the centenary of one of the key battles of the First World War,” explains Neill.

"These people put their lives on the line for their country, and it’s right that – through events at the site – we remember and educate ourselves about their contribution, with many paying the ultimate sacrifice."

Find out more about upcoming events at The NMA

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