The tattoo tributes the military community want you to see

The National Memorial Arboretum and The Ministry of Defence are getting people to think beyond the two-minute silence with their exhibition. Credit: The Royal British Legion

A new tattoo photography exhibition wants visitors to think beyond the two-minute silence when remembering servicemen and women.

Curated by the National Memorial Arboretum and The Ministry of Defence in partnership with The Royal British Legion, Tribute Ink explores the tattoos of people in the Navy, Army and RAF.

From ‘The Last Post’ to penguins, here's the ink to look out for and the stories behind their creation.

  • Honouring a military family

Lance Corporal Josh Pickman was inspired to join the army after coming from a long line of military men. Credit: The Royal British Legion

Not everyone is lucky enough to grow up with their great-great-grandparents around.

But for Lance Corporal Josh Pickman, he was fascinated by the war stories the generations of military men who fought before him told him as a child.

Pickman comes from a strong family of serving men with both his great-grandfathers serving abroad during the Second World War - one of whom was captured as a prisoner of war in Italy.

And so he chose to honour their careers in permanent ink.

“One thing everybody gets is ‘Lest We Forget’ but I wanted something more personal for my family," he told ITV News.

The Combat Medic dedicated a full sleeve to the now-disbanded Essex Regiment which his great-grandfather Edward Pickman served in.

Josh's great-grandfather Edward Pickman pictured far left with his fellow servicemen. Credit: The Royal British Legion

He said the extent of his tribute came as a bit of shock to his mum.

Josh said: “Well she thought I was just getting a small tattoo but when I explained the meaning she completely understood why I got it."

The family have fond memories of great-grandfather Edward Pickman's party trick of putting magnets to the shrapnel that became lodged in his arms during a tank collision - or so the family story goes.

Although Josh has decorated his body with other tattoos, such as the Royal Army Medical Corps motto 'In Ardius fidelis’ - which means ‘faithful in adversity’ - and a lion to represent his star sign of Leo, the Essex Cap Badge is the ink of which he's most proud.

"It’s got significant meaning relating to (great-grandfather Edward's) family history, his roots and it means the most. It represents the individual sacrifices," he said.

“I think it’s a conversation starter, it’s quite nice that you get to share their story," he added.

  • Remembering the fallen

Ex-Marine Matthew Tomlinson CGC MC honoured the fallen men he served with as part as a large back tattoo. Credit: The Royal British Legion

Many of the tattoos photographed pay tribute to the soldiers who served alongside each other.

Ex-Royal Marine Matthew Tomlinson CGC MC has the names of the fallen Royal and US Marines he served and commanded in both Iraq and Afghanistan scribed on his back.

Matt said: “These guys were my second family and losing any member of your family is devastating.”

The names listed lead to the silhouette of a bugler playing ‘The Last Post’ - the song traditionally played at the end of the day or after battle.

The former Marine explained: “Each name is part of me as a person and I feel it’s for me the best way to keep their memory alive and carry them with me each day."

One stand-out name is that of Lieutenant Colonel Thorneloe, who was killed while commanding the Welsh Guards during an operation in Afghanistan in 2009, just after Matt had left the region.

Thorneloe’s leadership remains an inspiration to the 52-year-old, who left the army in 2017.

"We all shared blood, sweat and tears together, we fought together and we watched each other suffer yet we always did our very best to keep each other alive," he said.

  • Documenting a journey

Typically behind the camera in the Royal Navy Photographic Branch, Sam Seeley takes the time to show off his tattoos. Credit: The Royal British Legion

As well as celebrating the stories of others, some soldiers have chosen to document their own journey through their choice of artwork.

Leading Photographer Sam Seeley is typically behind the camera in the Photographic Branch but chose to show off his ink for the exhibition.

The 29-year-old marked the start of his career in the military by getting a compass tattoo, while an ornate ship covers part of his chest which he later got when he joined the Royal Navy.

Seeley also has a swallow - a traditional symbol in naval tattoos - to remind him that he will always return home.

  • Going against tradition

Senior Aircraftman Bethan Dunning fell in love with some 'beautiful but also smelly creatures' while serving in the Falklands last year. Credit: The Royal British Legion

However, not everyone sticks to tradition.

Senior Aircraftman Bethan Dunning raised a few eyebrows when she got her unique Falklands-inspired artwork.

Bethan said: “One of the first things people ask about when I mention the Falklands are the penguins, so I thought it would make an unusual and fitting emblem to remember my time there.”

The 24-year-old, who is now based at RAF Marham, got the tattoo on her right thigh after a six-month stint on the island last year.

“What other job could let you get so close to such beautiful but also smelly creatures?” Bethan explained.

The tattoo is a permanent reminder of how much Bethan loves her job, something she shares with her father who was also in the RAF for a brief time.

The servicewoman said:"The experiences led to a lot of major changes in my life, but they have made me a better, stronger person.”

  • The array of designs of other exhibited armed forces members

Air Engineer Technician Chris Warner has covered himself in ink to mark his time in the Royal Navy. Credit: The Royal British Legion
Sergeant Johnson Beharry VC COG keeps his intricate back tattoo hidden while in uniform. Credit: The Royal British Legion
Leading Diver Michael Bell shows off his chest tattoos. Credit: The Royal British Legion
Dani Cummings has swallow tattoos, a traditional choice for those in the Royal Navy. Credit: The Royal British Legion

The project hopes to get others sharing their military tattoos online by using #tributeink following the exhibition's launch at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

Photographer for the exhibition Charlie Clift said: "The project has changed my perception of remembrance completely - it doesn’t have to be done in silence on a sombre Sunday, people can remember in a million different ways."

Full tour dates and locations, which will include other cities, military bases and stations are available at