Stoke & Staffordshire

Queen's visits to National Memorial Arboretum remembered

The Queen at the arboretum site in 2007
Image caption The Queen has visited the arboretum site on three occasions

"I think there's an aura about her that relaxes you absolutely instantly.

"You just feel that she is not necessarily your sovereign, but she could be just a neighbour."

National Memorial Arboretum curator Paul Kennedy is well placed to talk about the Queen in the Diamond Jubilee year, after meeting her during the three visits she has made to the Staffordshire site.

He has seen it grow from being "a muddy field" and having 28 visitors in its first week back in 2001 to hosting 2,800 visitors a day on recent Sundays.

'Soft leather chairs'

The Alrewas site acknowledges "the personal sacrifices made by the armed and civil services of this country" and houses about 50,000 trees and more than 240 memorials.

It has marked the Queen's Diamond Jubilee over the weekend and a commemorative tree has already been planted.

Mr Kennedy, 58, who looks after grounds spanning 150 acres, said: "She is the sovereign, she is a mother, she's a grandmother and she's a wife and that comes over when you talk to her.

"It's quite interesting that we made arrangements for Her Majesty to have nice, soft leather chairs and comfortable tables and instead of picking those, she actually chose to sit on one of our hard conference seats."

Image caption Curator Paul Kennedy said the Queen asked about the impact of flooding

Volunteer Sue Elliott, who has also been involved with the site "before there was a blade of grass", is one of those from the arboretum who have attended a Buckingham Palace garden party.

She said: "They've all said when they meet her, it's almost as if they're the most important person that she's talking to at that time. She gives that impression."

The Queen's first visit came in 2002 as part of her Golden Jubilee tour and as patron of the Royal Forestry Society, her knowledge and feeling for trees came over, the curator said.

"She had to plant a Dawyck Beech here and most people wouldn't even know what a Dawyck Beech was, but she actually knew where it came from."

'Immense character'

When the head of the armed forces attended the dedication of the new national Armed Forces Memorial in 2007, she took a moment to examine the name of Earl Mountbatten, her cousin, who was killed by a Provisional IRA bomb in 1979.

The £6m stone circle bears the names of thousands of service personnel who have died since World War II.

Mr Kennedy said: "During that year [2007] we were flooded for eight weeks... It killed off something like 7,500 trees.

Image caption Volunteer Sue Elliott has been involved in the site for more than a decade

"She was actually quite concerned about this, not only for the loss of the trees but the fact that the trees were actually dedicated to people, so this would have an impact on the families, friends and associations that had actually dedicated those trees."

Her third visit came last year for the annual dedication of names service on the Armed Forces Memorial, while other members of the Royal Family have also attended the arboretum.

The Duke of Cambridge launched an appeal to raise £12m for improvements, including plans for building a pavilion for special events.

The arboretum said it still needed to raise about £2m or £3m for the proposed scheme, but hoped work could start early next year.

Arboretum chief executive Charlie Bagot Jewitt said: "The Duke of Edinburgh is very much like his public persona.

"He's a man of immense character [with a] great deal of charm [and a] huge amount of wit and you have to be ready for it.

"He has got lightning reactions and he will pick up on the slightest thing you say and turn it into a funny story."

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