Lest we forget: The Scouting Memorial project

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Scouting now has its first official national memorial to lost and fallen members. The team behind the project explain why it is so important.

Harvey Holmes was an Explorer Scout when he joined the British Army aged just 16.

He went through Beavers, Cubs and Scouts at his local groups in Stalybridge, Greater Manchester. His Scouting skills were invaluable when he joined the 22nd Battalion Cheshire Regiment (later 1 Mercian).

‘He flourished,’ says his sister, Elizabeth Holmes-Daniels. ‘He went from strength to strength.’ His first deployment abroad came just a month after his 18th birthday. At 22 he was deployed in Afghanistan and tragically killed in action.

The Scouting family is regularly hit by tragedy. In Groups all over the country, members have been lost to tragic accidents, untimely illnesses, or killed in the line of duty. The impact of their deaths – whether years after they left Scouting, or while still active members – leaves an imprint on all who knew them.

But, despite such a rich history of courageous members, there has never previously been a national memorial to fallen Scouts. That will change when The Scouting Memorial is officially unveiled.

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The project has been managed by Paul Little - Birmingham’s Deputy County Commissioner (Programme). During a Diamond Chief Scout Award expedition to the National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire, in 2009, Paul’s Explorer Scouts realised that Scouting was notable by its absence. The arboretum is the UK’s year-round centre of remembrance, and is home to almost 300 memorials. 

A year later, the same group undertook an Explorer Belt expedition along the battlefields of the Western Front. For the group, this experience really highlighted the sacrifice young people had made during World War I.

Around the same time, shocking news came through that a local Network member had been injured during active service. The idea of creating a national memorial began to form: the group realised it was truly needed in order to pay respect to members of Scouting who had given the ultimate sacrifice. 

‘The memorial is there to remember all members of Scouting, from our youngest to our oldest. It’s for those who have given their service within Scouting, and for members who have given wider service to their community and country,’ Paul says. 

‘We thought that a national memorial would be a really great way for young people to recognise, value and celebrate all sorts of service to Scouting – not just Scouts who have gone into the military.’

For Paul, impetus also came from the support he received from members of Scouting. ‘We started doing some research, before the fundraising. We were talking to people from all over the UK, from Cornwall to Inverness – and they were all saying they would support us. That’s when we realised the project had real potential.’

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Inspired by the winning entries from a design competition entered by thousands of young people and leaders from all over the country, artist and sculptor Graeme Mitcheson’s final design of the memorial incorporates many aspects of Scouting – both traditional and modern. It is also deeply symbolic: viewed from above, it forms the shape of the ‘Gone Home’ trail symbol which appears on Lord Baden-Powell’s gravestone. Graeme has also created the memorial as a tactile structural installation to be interacted with, rather than a decorative piece of stonework.

The complex design features stone seating circling a roaring campfire, created by acclaimed sculptor Angela Conner, that moves and flickers. Three young Scouts, carved from solid stone by Graeme, rest around the fire as if tired from a long and active day, while their adult leader keeps watch over them. A lone necker next to them represents all the missing Scouts. The scene is one of peace, warmth and friendship.

‘The design offers families and friends a place to sit in peace and remember their loved ones, but we don’t want the memorial to be morbid. We want it to celebrate life and what Scouting has achieved,’ Paul says.

‘If I went to the memorial in a couple of years’ time, I’d be equally as happy to see a family there, having a peaceful moment of remembrance, as I would if I saw a group of Cubs exploring the memorial, discovering all the carved objects and playing games around it.’ 

Many hands have worked to create this memorial. From the 160,000 people all across the world who diligently sewed a memorial badge to their uniform, to every one of the donors who dug deep into their pockets to raise over £140,000. From the deft fingers of the Cubs who sketched designs, to the masons bringing the rough blocks to life with their chisels: this truly has been a project for the whole Movement to be proud of.

Around the memorial is a quotation from Lord Baden-Powell: ‘Try and leave this world a little better than you found it.’ The Scouts who have gone before us make a lasting contribution to the world, no matter how large or small. Lest we forget them.

The Scouting Memorial is at the National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire. Tell us about your projects by using our Story Submitter.

Here are just a few images from the unveiling event on Sunday 5 June 2016:

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