Address for the Dedication of the Tigers’ Memorial, National Arboretum
Saturday 27 September 2014
The Very Revd David Monteith, Dean of Leicester
‘Every man will sit under his vine and under his fig tree and none shall make them afraid.’
Captain Bob Allen has just read these words from Micah. Micah lived around the same time as the prophet Isaiah, about 150 years before the great city of Jerusalem was destroyed by the invading Babylonians. He was a prophet who spoke his mind as he looked at his community suffering from a degree of forgetfulness. They were forgetful of the God who made them, forgetful of their true vocation to worship and service and forgetful of the great visions they once knew. So they had settled for a ‘less than’ kind of existence which dreamt no dreams and hoped no hopes and remembered nothing worthwhile.
And yet into such lethargic and forgetful times the prophet dreamed a dream where every person could have their little place in the world. Coming from the Middle East, that meant having a fig tree or a vine which certainly produced some fine fruit but which also produced some vital shade. Those of you who have served in the strong heat of the day will know what it is to crave refreshment and to crave some shade and respite. Those of you who have served their country defending and upholding justice and peace will know how precious a piece of land is, if it can become a place of safety and belonging.
We gather today in very difficult times in our world. The summer which has just passed has day after day been full of yet more terrible news, reminding us of all the learning about peace we find so hard to do. It seems even more poignant having begun our commemoration of the so called ‘war to end all wars’. I used to have a portrait of Woodbine Willie in my office in London because it used to be his office. He and the other World War 1 poets make sure there is no false glamour in the remembrance of such times. His little poem ‘War’ sums it up well:
There’s a soul in the Eternal standing stiff before the King.
There’s a little English maiden sorrowing.
There’s a proud and tearless woman seeing pictures in the fire.
There’s a broken battered body on the wire.
We are surrounded in these gardens by memories and stories of so many people and places who have found themselves caught up in conflict and war, trying very often to bring it to an end so that a just peace may be enjoyed. Michael Goldsmidt’s preface to the history of the Royal Leicestershire Regiment speaks of this regiment as ‘ordinary men doing extraordinary things in extraordinary places extraordinarily well’ (p9).
This story, which is so proudly told by the Regiment and all those associated now with the unveiling of this simple, yet elegant and evocative memorial, further puts the Tigers’ story into the evolving narrative of our nation. Already the National Arboretum is not just a space in the English Midlands but it has become and is ever more becoming a place. Place is different to space. Space is just geography but place is geography marked with meaning and full of memory.
Comradeship which is so true of this Regiment lies behind the activity of today. The Regimental family, with the City and County Councils, the Mercury Appeal and many other supporters so quickly responded to this imaginative challenge and here we are dedicating Theodore Gillick’s moving and evocative memorial. Tigers as creatures evoke powerful memories for human beings; we yearn for their survival; we witness their power and strength; we admire their beauty and prowess. All this and more informs this work of memorial art.
This memorial is another way for us to remember. It is a contra-indicator to our forgetfulness. Forgetfulness takes us away from the places which recall us to our vocation as human beings made by God to serve each other in peace. Losing our memory seems like losing part of us. So here memory is cherished.
The charity which runs this Arboretum speaks of it as ‘a spiritually uplifting place which honours the fallen’. We sense that here. The Tigers’ story now joins in with this arboretum story so that generations to come will not be tempted to forget. Instead we will be recalled to remembrance, embracing the pain of that as well as the joyful memories of friends and comrades so that we can discover our deeper, hopeful selves.
That self can dream and pray with Micah that in our day ‘every person will sit under their vine and under their fig tree and none shall make them afraid’.
The Very Revd David Monteith
Dean of Leicester
27 September 2014