Friday, 12 March 2010

Basra Memorial Wall rededicated at Arlewas

The Basra Memorial Wall was rededicated yesterday in a service alongside the National Armed Forces Memorial at Arlewas.

The Memorial Wall, on which inscribed the names of the 178 British servicemen and women and one MoD civilian who died in Iraq during operation TELIC, had originally been set up outside the UK HQ in Basra by British soldiers in remembrance of their fallen comrades.

With the withdrawal of British forces from Iraq, the families and friends of those named on the Memorial Wall began what was to be come a three-year campaign to get the government to agree to bring the monument to their loved ones back to the UK.

It was a hard-fought campaign since labour ministers were reluctant to agree to the repatriation. However after much public and service pressure, an agreement was eventually dragged out of them and the Basra Memorial Wall now stands in its place of honour in the grounds of the National Arboretum at Arlewas.

What is particularly significant about this Memorial is that it was conceived, set up and maintained by British soldiers themselves who added a new plaque, bearing name and regiment, each time one their comrades was killed. At the service Stephen Robbins, Chaplain General to the Armed Forces recalled how members of 37 Armoured Engineer Squadron had built the Wall on their own initiative and in their own time, often in darkness after a day’s work.

It was fitting therefore that the dismantling, transportation and re-erecting of the Wall were all carried out by current members of 37 Armoured Engineer Squadron.

Almost 500 family and friends attended the re-dedication service along with leading members of the Armed Forces; political leaders were also present.

Carol Jones, whose son Sergeant John Jones from 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, was killed in 2005 when a roadside bomb blow apart his Snatch Land Rover, said at the ceremony: “It’s the closing of a book for me. I’ve cried more today than I have in all the last four and a half years..... [John] was a good lad, a very good lad. .... They hadn’t even a medications box with them, they could do nothing.” Carol, who had been refused permission to visit the Wall when it was in Basra, played a leading role in the campaign to bring the Wall home.

Another leader of the campaign was Brian Tanswell who laid a wreath on behalf of all the familes. Brian, whose son Lieutenant Tom Tanswell was killed in Iraq in 2006, said: "I feel honoured to lay the wreath on their behalf and take comfort from knowing this memorial is here for us, in its rightful place in the UK, an everlasting tribute to our loved ones, where families, friends and comrades can come and remember them."

“There is the national memorial but this is the military one. This was the one made by the boys for the boys,” explained Roger Bacon, whose son Major Matthew Bacon, 34, of the Intelligence Corps was killed by a roadside bomb in 2005.

As Carol Jones pointed out, this is not the government’s wall. “It was put up by our sons’ friends, in honour of our sons. It belongs to us.”

MoD: Basra memorial wall rededicated in UK
The National Arboretum: Basra Memorial Wall rededication

Aquilavictrix: Basra Wall begins its journey home
Aquilavictrix: Basra Wall is coming home