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National Memorial Arboretum launches 80th anniversary programme

A weekend of free 1944-themed music, dance, exhibition, activities and performances

On 4 and 5 May, the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire will transport visitors back in time to 1944 with the launch of a commemorative programme marking the 80th anniversaries of many landmark moments of the Second World War. 1940s vintage fashion and music aficionados, living history enthusiasts and families looking for a unique day out will be able to enjoy a free weekend of live music, pop up performances, dance workshops and children’s vintage themed crafts and games.

From the D-Day landings on 6 June which heralded the beginning of the liberation of western Europe to the Battles of Kohima and Imphal in India that helped turn the tide against the Japanese forces, 1944 was a year of seismic change. There were also significant developments on the home front, with continued food rationing and more than a million children evacuated from cities due to the terrifying threat posed by V1 and V2 missile attacks.

As the Nation’s year-round place to Remember, the National Memorial Arboretum is offering a comprehensive programme of events and activities throughout the year, including a new ‘1944 – What’s Your Connection?’ exhibition, guided walks, talks and Remembrance services.

“Life in Britain was very challenging in 1944, with the constant threat of missile attacks, shortages of food and supplies, and tragic news coming back from the front line. However, it was also a year of dramatic change and military engagements such as D-Day and the Battles of Monte Cassino, Kohima and Imphal were turning the tide in favour of the Allied forces,” explains Rachel Smith, Head of Learning and Participation at the National Memorial Arboretum. “At the Arboretum this year we will be taking visitors on a journey back to 1944 through real stories from people on both the frontline and the home front. We’ll be kicking it all off with a weekend packed full of free 1944-themed activities, music, dance and performances to remember and celebrate life in Britain during that landmark year.”

‘The Year was 1944…’  weekend (free, 10am-5pm, 4 & 5 May)

Visitors to the Arboretum during the launch weekend will be transported back to 1944 with free entertainment and activities, including:

  • Learn to Dance – visitors can get their dancing shoes on for one of the free Swing Era dance workshop and performances in Heroes’ Square
  • Pop-up performances – a troupe of roaming actors will share what life was like back in 1944 through a range of characters
  • Live music – vintage performers Beth Belle and The Heath Belles will entertain visitors with their tributes to great 1940s singers such as Vera Lynn and Ella Fitzgerald, as well as their own nostalgic take on the close harmony singing styles of decades gone by
  • Arts and Crafts – younger visitors will be able to craft their own vintage-inspired creations during one of these free sessions
  • Vintage lawn games – nostalgic lawn games will be available in the Amphitheatre throughout the weekend

Full details of times and locations for the activities throughout the weekend can be found at https://thenma.org.uk/what’s-on/events/the-year-was-1944

‘1944 – What’s Your Connection?’ exhibition
On 4 May, a new exhibition, ‘1944 – What’s Your Connection?’ will open at the Arboretum, taking visitors on an interactive and sensory journey back to 1944. The free exhibition will tell real people’s stories of what life was like at home and away during that momentous year, through photos, artefacts, music, and video.

Full 1944 commemorative programme
On 6 June, RBL is hosting a Remembrance Service at the Arboretum to mark 80 years since D-Day. This special service will commemorate the Normandy campaign; a major turning point in the Second World War that led to the eventual liberation of Western Europe. All visitors will be able to watch the D-Day 80 Service of Remembrance in the Arboretum grounds, or as part of a group enjoying a bespoke D-Day 80 groups package.

This year also marks the 80th anniversaries of many other critical moments of the Second World War. On these landmark dates, visitors are invited join an Act of Remembrance at 11am in the Arboretum’s Millennium Chapel, followed by a wreath laying at the relevant memorial.

  • 18 May – Battle of Monte Cassino
  • 22 June – Battle of Kohima
  • 18 July – Battle of Imphal
  • 25 Sept – Operation Market Garden
  • 8 November – Battle of the Scheldt

For those interested in finding out more about these memorials and the stories behind them, from 4 May visitors will be able to follow a self-guided 1944 trail, join a guided walk and take part in a buggy tour.  Full details about times and departure points will be available at the Welcome Desk on arrival.

For more information about the visitor programme to commemorate the events and stories from 1944, visit: www.thenma.org.uk/1944

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