Allied Special Forces Association Memorial Grove

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The Grove entrance gates in June 2010. Situated in the north-east corner of the National Memorial Arboretum (NMA) the Grove is a large, curved plot of land set between a lake and wetlands on one side and the River Tame on the other. In the photo above the Grove curves away to the right, out of view. The changes in the Grove, brought about by an Association of intrepid volunteers, have been simply amazing and a comparison overview can be seen in the series of photos below.

The Memorial Grove is being created as a tribute to the courage of many groups of Special Forces from across the world. Their operations continue to be among the most dangerous undertaken by military forces, requiring the bravery, resilience, skill and ability to cope with extreme conditions that is demanded as routine of the elite troops of armed services.

There are many volunteers for the British Special Forces such as the Special Air Service (SAS) and the Special Boat Service (SBS) but few make it through the rigorous selection process. Many of those who are chosen have gone on to achieve extraordinary successes and results, often unsung and frequently in conflicts about which the public know little or nothing.

The Grove commemorates actions from World War Two onwards and highlights the sacrifices of men and women who gave their lives in the service of their country.

The official website of the Allied Special Forces Association can be found by following this link here: http://memorialgrove.btck.co.uk/

 

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Spring 2005, looking towards the entrance of the Grove and the rest of the Arboretum, with recently planted trees either side of the grassland.

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The lower end of the Grove as it appears in 2011, with one of the five tree seats in the foreground. The seat is known as ‘Old Knobbly’. The trees lining the Grove are flourishing. In a few years’ time they will be an avenue of mature woodland.

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The lower part of the Grove as seen in spring 2006, with tree plantings on either side. Wichnor railway viaduct can be seen in the background.

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A similar view in 2009 showing the Vince Phillips tree seat memorial in place on the left and a woven willow goose in the centre, on what has become known as Goose Green. The trees have grown considerably in just three years.

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The lower part of the Grove as it appeared in 2010 with fresh planting on both sides since 2006. On the left is part of the Soldiers of 22 SAS Garden, in line with the tree seat. In the foreground is an area marked out for a new installation called the Sun Room, which will be a place for ‘reflection, remembrance, commemoration and education’ as well as a shelter. There are many more memorials than are shown here, all of which can be seen at the official website or in the Grove of course.

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Just inside the entrance in November 2010. The garden of mixed heather in the foreground, with four plaques set around it, is a tribute to the role of Canadian troops and Allied commandos who took part in a raid on the French port of Dieppe during World War Two. The raid was an Allied attack on German-occupied territory and the aim was to capture and hold the port for a short time to gather intelligence and destroy port structures. Of 6,000 troops, mostly Canadian, 3,379 were killed or wounded. 2,000 men were taken prisoner. Although the day saw a German tactical victory, the lessons learned from it prepared the way for the Normandy D-Day landings two years later.

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Further down the Grove is the tribute to Popski’s Private Army. Vladimir Peniakoff (known as Popski because most people could not pronounce his name) was in his middle years when WW2 broke out and he was initially regarded as too old to fight. Undeterred, he led his own unit within the British Army, fought a guerrilla war and inflicted some heavy casualties and destruction of enemy equipment. He was later awarded the Distinguished Service Order and the Military Cross for his war efforts and survived the war, living in the UK until he died at the age of 54 in 1951.

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Just beyond the PPA memorial is a Garden dedicated to Soldiers of 22 SAS. The area stretches from the plaque and wreath seen on the left to the tree seat on the right.

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The plaque is a tribute to the outstanding courage shown by troopers of the SAS in what has become known as the Battle of Mirbat, in Oman in 1972. Until recently little was known about the role of the SAS during this conflict. Mirbat, a main port in Dhofar, came under heavy attack by communist forces and a small 9-man SAS team had to stop the town from being overrun. Vastly outnumbered, they fought a long battle together with a few Omani soldiers. The battle would go down in SAS history as one of the bravest engagements ever recorded. The men held out, losing two of their number killed in action, until reinforcements arrived. The plaque was donated by Lord Michael Ashcroft and dedicated at a private ceremony in 2009. For more information and the full story, see the Allied Special Forces Association website.

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One of the plaques in the 22 SAS Garden. The inscription reads ‘This tree is dedicated to John ‘Lofty’ Arthy, lost in the South Atlantic 19th May 1982. During the Falklands Campaign Lofty raided Pebble Island and helped destroy 11 aircraft. He sadly lost his life during a ship to ship transfer in the South Atlantic. He was big in stature and bigger in spirit.’ During the Falklands war a tragic accident claimed the lives of 18 SAS men in one night, the greatest single loss for the Regiment since WW2, yet the Regiment went on to perform many effective operations during the Falklands war and provide vital reconnaissance intelligence for British troops. The ship to ship transfer was made by two Sea King helicopters and it is thought a bird strike brought down one of the aircraft. Some men were killed instantly, others were unconscious and nine men escaped from a side door of the Sea King. They were the only survivors that night.

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One of the five tree seats, this one sponsored by the Breakaway Survival School. The School is a venture set up by Mick Tyler and others to provide survival training to civilians and anyone interested in learning the techniques of survival. It promotes confidence and self-reliance.

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This tree seat is dedicated to Lt Col John McCrae, who wrote the famous poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ during the First World War:

 In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our places; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below. We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved, and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields. Take up our quarrel with the foe; To you with failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.

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