Based on a concept created by the Assistant General Secretary of the RNA, Lt Cdr Nigel Huxtable, the full design was worked up by sculptor Graeme Mitcheson.

The 10ft tall glass panels represent the colours of the five oceans of the world, flecked with white spume and streaks of red to represent the blood of those who lost their lives in the service of the country whether at sea, on land or in the air.

The panels resemble sails, and also suggest the stripes of medal ribbons, while when the sun shines the uneven tops create the shadow of a warship on the off-white stone pavement which surrounds them.

To the east stands the figure of a sailor, cap off, head bowed to the west, beside a gold panel representing the rising sun and the sand of a beach.

At the far end is a red panel which represents the setting sun, with the inscription "At the going down of the sun, we will remember them.”

Mr Mitcheson said: “This has dominated my life for the past 12 months. It is such an honour to have been asked to do this.

“It was really hard to visualize this, really until the day they put the glass up.

“I knew it was going to look good, but it is amazing. Better than I had hoped.”

The new memorial, a project driven by RNA General Secretary Capt Paul Quinn, chimes in with the policy of the arboretum, which is suggesting that groups pursue designs that are imaginative and engaging rather than the traditional plaques on stone.

To accept the gift, the Naval Service turned out in force – the memorial is for all the fighting arms, including the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Maritime Reserves, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, Women’s Royal Naval Service, Queen Alexandra Royal Naval Nursing Service and the RN Auxiliary Service.

The unveiling was preceded by a fly-past of a Lynx and a Merlin, and in the audience were the First and Second Sea Lords and 15 commanding officers of ships, establishments and other Naval units, while sailors from HMS Collingwood and RN Reservists from HMS Forward, Flying Fox and Sherwood had roles in the ceremony.

Sea Cadets from Warsash unit lined the paths and carried wreaths, while the Royal Marines Band Lympstone led a short procession from the Armed Forces Memorial to the new monument, leading a parade of almost 130 standards and more than 300 veterans and serving personnel, including large contingents of veterans from Ireland and Belgium, all under the control of retired Warrant Officer Bob Bainbridge.

And as soon as the formal part of the day was over the sense of a Naval family was reinforced when everyone crowded in to take a closer look at the memorial, senior officers, veterans and youngsters happily posing for pictures with each other and with members of the public.

RNA National President Admiral John McAnally said the day was probably the biggest in the association’s history, and reaffirmed the strong links that exist between the Navy past, present and future.

BBC correspondent Caroline Wyatt, on one of her last defence assignments before moving on to religious affairs, has been following the development of the memorial and declared: “It is beautiful – and really unusual, as memorials go.

“It is the lone figure I love – very contemplative.

“It is the first time I have seen it, and it is more amazing than I thought it would be. Now we just need some sunshine…”

During the dedication ceremony, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas described the design as “powerful” and “cutting edge”, reminding guests that such symbolism was significant in an age when the Royal Navy is operating state-of-the-art equipment and with the naming of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, just weeks away.

Admiral Zambellas also thanked those who had contributed to the funding of the memorial, including the Gosling Foundation, the RNRM Charity, Seafarers UK and individuals and branches of the RNA.

Armed Forces Minister Mark Francois – himself an honorary member of the RNA as a result of the Naval service of his father Reginald, who served in minesweeper HMS Bressay off Omaha beach on D-Day – also thanked the RNA for the memorial.

He said his recent visit to the D-Day 70 commemorations in Normandy led him to reflect that “D-Day, like so many conflicts, was not just a collection of so many constituent parts – Royal Navy and Reserves, Royal Marines and Wrens, Royal Naval Nursing Service and Royal Fleet Auxiliary.

“It was the sum of joint effort and joint sacrifice. And it brought home to me what, until this moment, has in some way been a historic omission.

“Our lack of an inclusive memorial to commemorate the combined contribution of all our Naval Service personnel, regardless of rank, trade or fighting arm.

“People like my father. People like Lt Cdr Molyneaux, who gave his life for his shipmates on HMS Astute, and whose widow is here today.

“People from past and present conflicts alike. And people from battles yet to come.”

Mr Francois concluded: “To all those who put their lives on the line for this nation – your service will never be forgotten.

“Wherever a White Ensign flies, it flies for freedom – a liberty we will never take for granted.”

The ceremony was the focal point of the RNA’s annual conference weekend, which this year was staged in Coventry.

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