Created in 1997, the National Memorial Arboretum (NMA) is a living tribute that will forever acknowledge the personal sacrifices made by the Armed Forces, Merchant Marine, and Emergency Services. The NMA is a unique haven of peace, contemplation and hope for the future comprising of 150 acres of wooded parkland and upwards of 150 dedicated plots and memorials. It is also the site of the National Armed Forces Memorial which was opened in 2007. The NMA is situated in Alrewas, Staffordshire between Burton upon Trent and Lichfield and was officially opened to the public in May 2001 by Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent.
More information on the National Memorial Arboretum can be accessed by clicking here.
One of the plots at the NMA is the 'Halton Grove' which is dedicated to all RAF Halton Apprentices. The Halton Grove was officially opened on the 13th September 2000 by Gp Capt Ian Blunt (84th Entry) the then Chairman of the Royal Air Force Halton Apprentices' Association and is a focal point for RAF Halton Entry re-unions and personal visits. The Halton Grove is approximately 30m x 30m square, surrounded by Beech hedging and enjoys a prime location within the NMA grounds. Entrance to the Halton Grove is made through two Wrought-Iron Gates designed and manufactured by ex-Apprentices Gerry Honey (70th) and Dave Payne (216th) in 2000. Passing through the entrance gates visitors are greeted by several inlaid granite pavers showing a timeline of the Apprentice trades and a 2m tall, 6.5 ton granite block upon which is mounted a commemorative plaque reminding visitors of the sacrifices made by ex-Apprentices.
An interactive Information Board that features a range of visual, audio and written information is located just inside the Grove entrance so visitors, including schoolchildren can find out more information about the Halton apprentices and their important work.
The Interactive Information Board can be accessed by clicking here.
Moving further into the Grove visitors are met by several 'Hero and Knight' pavers. These pavers commemorate and celebrate those ex-Apprentices who have received a Gallantry award, National Honour or have been involved in an action, activity or project considered by the RAFHAA Council to deserve national recognition.
The Grove also has within its grounds 14 dedicated trees, several other shrubs and plants, 2 wooden benches, one dedicated to the opening of the Halton Grove on 13 September 2000 and the other celebrating the lives and work of the 79th Entry.
The centrepiece of the Halton Grove is a 15m diameter 'Apprentice Wheel' itself surrounded by 3500 terracotta pavers the inner circle of which is made up of 250 pavers reserved solely for the placement of 206 Entry pavers. The outer circles of pavers are solely for the placement of In-Memoriam pavers commemorating ex-Brats who have taken their 'Last Posting' which are placed adjacent to their associated Entry paver.
More information about Entry and Memorial pavers and how to purchase together with a list of the Entry Pavers now placed in the Halton Grove can be accessed by clicking here.
Halton Grove Gardening Team
The NMA have responsibility to maintain the grass and the surrounding Beech hedge but all the other work required is undertaken by a small team of dedicated volunteers of ex-RAF Halton Apprentices' with their wives, partners and family who give their time to ensure the Halton Grove is kept in the best condition and is always in the best condition, giving visitors a lasting impression of Halton Apprentices but the Royal Air Force as a whole.
Any ex-Halton Apprentice is welcome to join Halton Grove Gardeners and the team are always looking for new members. There is no restriction on the number of members so if you are interested in joining the team please email: email@example.com (Click here).
Some of the past and current members of the Halton Grove Gardening team are:
Pat 'Paddy' Argent (94th) * Brian 'Sid' Birch (79th) * Susan Birch * Richard Cook (97th) * Denise Cook * Graham Coxon (81st) * Fred Glover (53rd)
Theo Glover * Tony Green (216th) * Ernie Horton (77th) * Sheila Horton * Nick Johnson (144th) * Jane Johnson * Dave Kidd (207th) *
Ron Priest (207th) * Sue Priest * Dave Shepherd (223rd) * Ian Sloss (105th - deceased) * Viv Sloss * Dave Squires (223rd) * Graham Swinney (106th)
Congratulations Ron Priest (207th Entry)
Members will be pleased to know that Ron Priest, a volunteer member of the Halton Grove
Gardening Team at the National Memorial Arboretum (NMA), has been awarded the Royal British
Legion Centenary Award for his work over the past 15 years with NMA staff at the Halton Grove.
In response Ron has written:
'Without the support of all the volunteers, Council members and Patrons I could not have achieved
anything, it has always been a team effort. I have no hesitation in dedicating the award to everyone
who has supported Halton Grove over the years and hope this helps to raise the status of our work at
the Arboretum. This award demonstrates that as an Association we are all working together as a
team. Please pass my thanks on to Council members and Patrons for their unwavering support over
the years'. With Kind Regards, Ron.
On behalf of the RAFHAA Council the Chairman, Frank Denton-Powell has written:
'Sincere congratulations on the Royal British Legion Centenary Award. We are all very proud of the
Halton Grove and I am very pleased that your involvement in the both the Legion and NMA over the
years has been recognised. Once again, congratulations.
Best wishes, Frank.'
On 10th September 2020 at the National Memorial Arboretum, a service was arranged by Ron Priest to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Halton Grove. Our vice-patron, Sir Dusty Miller attended the event along with representation from your Council. The wives of former chairman, Ian Blunt (86th) (deceased), and former HAA activist Ian Sloss (105th - deceased) also attended this poignant event. The Halton Grove gardeners made sure our memorial looked splendid for the occasion. A full report and photograph will appear in the next issue of the Haltonian.
20th Anniversary of the Opening of Halton Grove by Ron Priest (207th)
A small group of us gathered at the Halton Grove on Sunday 13th September 2020 to mark 20 years since it was opened by Group Captain Ian Blunt the then chairman of the Association. It was a small informal event within the Covid 19 constraints of the NMA. A wreath was laid by Jean Blunt and Viv Sloss in celebration of Ian Blunt, the 3 brats who founded the Grove; Bill Woodward (40th), Jack Neville (40th) and Bill Kelley (55th) as well as Ian Sloss and Dan Blackwell and all who have contributed to our Halton Grove. Amongst those present was Fred Glover (53rd) who had attended the opening ceremony in 2000. Fred is one of our volunteer gardeners and has kindly written a piece about the 2000 event. I have also attached a few photographs of the event that Bill Woodward passed to me.
The Corona virus resulted in far fewer attending than the c 200 who attended the service in 2000. But there has been no diminishing of the unyielding determination to celebrate the heritage and achievements of some 40,000 Halton Apprentices at Halton Grove.
Bill Woodward wrote:
In 1997 some 40th Entry members gathered to see our tree being planted in a 'muster ground' because there had been no allocation of plots. Commander David Childs RN (retired) asked who we as ex-apprentices were. Having explained this to him he offered us a plot to commemorate the Apprentices' Scheme. To be part of the National Memorial Arboretum was an opportunity not to be missed! Thus, began the great adventure.
Fred Glover's Story:
The Arboretum was the brainchild of Commander David Childs CBE who wished to establish a National Centre of Remembrance at the centre of the country. He teamed up with Gp Captain Leonard Cheshire and secured a plot of land in the centre of England for a peppercorn rent of £1 per year for 999 years. It was 20 years ago on 13th September 2000 that our Grove at the National Memorial Arboretum was inaugurated by Gp Captain Ian Blunt (84th). It was the brilliant idea of ex apps Jack Neville BEM, Bill Woodward (both 40th Entry) and Bill Kelly BEM (55th) to request a plot early in the formation of the Arboretum which is why our Grove is in such a prominent position. But the opening ceremony was dogged with problems for on that day the nation's fuel tanker drivers had called a strike. One of their actions was to drive very slowly, two abreast on many of the country's main highways, almost stopping the free flow of all other traffic. The RAF party, troops, band, padre, many of the dignitaries all from RAF Cosford just couldn't get through to Alrewas in time. I was able to be there as I only live a few miles up the A38 in Derby and was joined by a scattering of others who were able to use local knowledge and short-cuts. So, being ex brats, we put together our own makeshift parade. We borrowed a vicar from nearby Alrewas, managed to find a battered old portable radio/record player with a march recorded on it and got 'Fell in'. I vaguely remember the march-past of a motley collection of bodies wearing a selection of 'civvies' and after listening to the tributes, speeches and prayers felt that we had done our best considering the circumstances.
Extracts from speeches made at this year's service:
Sir Dusty Miller recalled the many achievements of the Halton Apprentices. In his address he spoke of the unyielding determination in the fabric of the Grove speaking clearly of the character of generations of young men. Equally the simplicity and precision of the Grove articulates better than any words the clear-cut and forthright nature and honesty of every young man who became proud to be known as one of Trenchard's Brats.
Frank Denton-Powel wrote:
Those of us who have been part of Trenchard's extraordinary Apprentice scheme are testimony to one of the greatest training programmes in history. Young men taken from all walks of life, blended into a cohesive, educated, hard-working, spirited team. Men like Ian Blunt and Ian Sloss who took their final postings far too soon. A huge thank you to all those who take time and effort to maintain the Halton Grove in such splendid condition in the memory of fallen comrades.
Philippa Rawlinson, NMA Managing Director wrote:
Since taking up post at the Arboretum I have been inspired by the vision of our founder David Childs and the commitment to realising it shown by those organisations like the Halton Apprentices who dedicated our first Memorials and Gardens. Our aim is of being the nation's place to remember, an inspirational world class setting freely open to all. Thank you for giving us such an auspicious beginning.
Fred Glover read the Apprentice Prayer followed by a one-minute silence