Michael Bell Tribute Ink

Tribute Ink: Rethinking Remembrance Through Tattoos

An exhibition has opened displaying the powerful stories behind veterans and serving personnel's inked commemorations

Michael Bell Tribute Ink

An exhibition by the Royal British Legion and National Memorial Arboretum called 'Tribute Ink' has opened at London's National Army Museum, highlighting the powerful stories behind military tattoos.

Military personnel are a painted tribe and tattoos play a key role in Armed Forces communities.

They act as a permanent reminder of the wearer’s experiences and commemorate those who have made the ultimate sacrifice while serving their country.

A Painted Tribe

It’s a cold morning at the start of November. You’re surrounded by poppy-wearing members of your community watching on at your local memorial

You stand in silence with those around you remembering the fallen and those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

When the idea of ‘remembrance’ is discussed, the image described above is perhaps what comes to mind.

Despite this, tattoos also have a long history within the armed forces community as a way of remembering.

The exhibition 'Tribute Ink' displays the poignant and powerful stories behind those inked commemorations.

The producer of the exhibition and former household cavalier, Alex Owen, explains the idea behind it

The exhibition carries four main themes: Rethinking Remembrance, Remembering the Fallen, Badges of Belonging and Marking the Memories.

Renowned photographer, Charlie Clift was given unprecedented access to military-inspired locations to capture service personnel and veterans for Tribute Ink.

These ranged from RAF Aircraft Hangars to the decks of Royal Navy vessels, British Army assault courses to barrack blocks.

Contributors range from serving military personnel to Chelsea Pensioners.

Below, we take a look at some of the stories on display:

David Godwin, Royal Hospital Chelsea Pensioner, Royal Military Police Veteran

David Godwin Chelsea Pensioner

“A soldier is so proud of his regiment and rightly so.

"To get a tattoo displays that pride and in years to come a soldier will look at that tattoo and remember when they were in the army.”

“I don’t think a soldier needs a tattoo, it’s always there. It helps brings out the pride to be wearing a certain emblem with a friend’s name on because you’re so proud of what he did, and he never came home.

“The least I can do now is bear his name as a memento on my skin.”

Lance Corporal Josh Pickman, Combat Medic, British Army

Lance Corporal Josh Pickman looks at his imagery in Tribute Ink

“Most of the public just think that remembrance is a week in November where you put a poppy on.

“For those that who serve and for those who have, it’s something we do all hold close to heart, our predecessors who have gone before us.

“It’s important to remember every single day.

“If you talk to people who have tattoos, it’s on their skin.

"Eventually, they’re going to take your uniform off, but you are going to have that tattoo on you forever.”

The exhibition will be touring military bases across the country, for full listings and timings go to rbl.org.uk/tributeink

Hear about the making of Tribute Ink on Totally Connected (11am UKT) this week.

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