Olympic torch: War hero carries flame at national memorial

Corporal Johnson Beharry said the hardest part was to enter the Arboretum

The Olympic flame has been carried into the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire to mark Armed Forces Day.

War hero Corporal Johnson Beharry carried the torch to the Armed Forces Memorial which bears the names of 16,000 fallen servicemen and women.

He was awarded the Victoria Cross in 2005 for saving the lives of his unit in Iraq by charging down an ambush.

Sir Cliff Richard and band The Wanted were among the other bearers carrying the flame from Derby to Birmingham.

The sweeping form of the Armed Forces Memorial, which was dedicated by the Queen in 2007, is the centrepiece of the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas.

Start Quote

It was hard to enter the arboretum, knowing I could have been on the wall”

End Quote Cpl Johnson Beharry

The names of almost 16,000 men and women who lost their lives in service since the end of World War II are inscribed inside its circular walls.

The band of the Irish Guards played as Cpl Beharry carried the flame towards the memorial, along a path flanked by service personnel.

He then took the flame up the steps to the memorial itself where there was a pause in silence as a mark of respect.

The 1st Battalion, Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment soldier is one of only six living recipients of the Victoria Cross, the highest decoration for valour in the British and Commonwealth Armed Forces, and also the youngest.

He was invested with the medal by the Queen in 2005 for his actions when he twice saved members of his unit from ambushes in 2004 in Iraq, suffering serious head injuries in the second engagement.

Cpl Beharry told the BBC after his stint with the torch: "It's a great moment to be here, it's an honour.

"It was hard to enter the arboretum, knowing I could have been on the wall."

Canal and tram

The flame was later carried through the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley where it was taken on to a canal boat.

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From the towpath by Dudley Canal Trust Car Park, it was taken onto a barge by torchbearer Dennis Sanders and travelled under the lifting bridge into the canal basin.

Birmingham has more canals than Venice with 56km (35m) of waterways built in the 18th Century to aid trading networks.

While in the Museum it was also taken on a tram by torchbearer Kate Macfarlane.

Another highlight of the day was Tamworth Castle which was built in about 1070 for Robert le Dispenser, who was the main steward for William the Conqueror.

In total, the relay passed through 19 communities: Derby, Burton Upon Trent, Streethay, Lichfield, Hopwas, Tamworth, Great Wyrley, Newtown, Bloxwich, Leamore, Birchills, Walsall, Willenhall, Wolverhampton, Dudley, Oldbury, West Bromwich, Smethwick and Birmingham.

Its journey began shortly after 06:30 BST when Paralympian Leon Taylor took the flame from the Live Site in Market Place, Derby. Leon has played for the England cerebral palsy football team since 2003 and was Derby's only representative at the Beijing Paralympic Games.

The Wanted

Hit band The Wanted were cheered as they took it in turns to carry the flame in Newtown, south Staffordshire.

Max George, Siva Kaneswaran, Jay McGuiness, Tom Parker and Nathan Sykes, who make up the band, carried out their stint with five StreetGames participants who are part of a local street dance and cheer crew.

Max's father, Mark George said: "It's been absolutely amazing here, all waving the union flag. It's one of best days of my life.

"My heart's thumping, so I imagine Max's heart is bursting out of his chest now."

Band member Siva was first to receive the flame in the relay through Newton

The Wanted later headlined the evening's celebrations at Cannon Hill Park in Birmingham.

The penultimate bearer of the day was Sir Cliff Richard who took his time to complete his leg of the journey, posing for pictures at both ends of the stint as torch and Cliff fans alike clamoured to get their shot.

Nominated for his contribution to the music industry, the 71-year-old has racked up 123 hit singles during his career and his music has spent the equivalent of more than 20 years in the charts.

The singer's knighthood, bestowed in the 1995 Queen's Birthday Honours for his tireless charity work, was the first to be given to a pop star.

Other notable torchbearers who carried the flame were GB gymnast Kristian Thomas and Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton who ran with the torch in Wolverhampton.

A total of 8,000 people will carry the flame during its 8,000 mile, 70-day journey to the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in London on 27 July.

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