Next phase of Sunderland's Veterans' Walk is unveiled and inspires similar projects nationwide
A further 94 granite slabs have been laid in the Veterans’ Walk in Mowbray Park, taking the total to 700 people honoured from 80 different regiments.
The walkway follows the path of the Brothers in Arms Memorial Wall in the shadow of the cenotaph in Burdon Road, but unlike its neighbouring structures it’s the only tribute piece of its kind which honours the fallen, as well as people living, who’ve served their country.
Tom and Carla Cuthbertson whose son, Private Nathan Cuthbertson, was killed in Afghanistan in 2008, established The Veterans’ Walk with Rob Deverson and since the first stones were laid in 2016 it’s sparked orders from around the world.
Now the organisers are in talks with councils around the country who are interested in creating similar walkways.
Each slab is engraved with the person’s name, their regimental badge and their years of service, from some dating back to WW1 to present day personnel.
"Each stone tells a story and it’s a privilege to be able to honour people’s family members,” said Rob. "Often these are very sad stories, some are uplifting and acts of heroism. But it’s so important to show that their service is valued.
"I’ve spoken to some families whose family members have been really struggling since leaving the Forces, but the stone has helped them. Most people in the Forces survive war and come home, but it’s often hard for them to adjust back to life.”
Tom’s son Nathan, who followed in his dad’s footsteps in joining The Parachute Regiment, is among those honoured in the walkway, but the dad from Tunstall says it’s so important to be able to honour the living too.
"No one ever sees their own headstone,” he said. “But this is a way of showing respect for the living.”
Sunderland usually hosts the largest Remembrance Parade outside of London, which can’t take place in its usual form this weekend due to Lockdown. Instead a series of videos, in which Tom has taken part, will be streamed online.
The family will also be laying a wreath privately to honour Nathan who was just 19 when he was killed while on foot patrol in Helmand Province in June 2008. His memory has inspired countless fundraising and acts of remembrance in the city.
Sunderland is also home to one of the largest veteran communities in the country. Surplus funds from The Veterans’ Walk are given to military charities and, for this phase, a portion of the surplus was given to the Veterans in Crisis CIC in Roker, which was set up by former Ger Fowler who served with the 1st Light Infantry in Northern Ireland during the bloody Troubles.
Tom said: “The work Ger does is fantastic and we really wanted the money to stay in the city to help veterans here.”
Planning permission is in place for a total of 2,000 stones in the walkway, but further permission to take it past that number will be applied for should it be needed.
The next phase is due to be laid next summer. For more on how to order a stone visit nationalveteranswalk.co.uk