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Conference Papers
Publications : Chapters in Books

Paul Gough
"Garden of Gratitude’: the National Memorial Arboretum and strategic remembering,'
People and their Pasts: Public History Today, editors Hilda Kean and Paul Ashton, Palgrave, 2009

A Vignette of Commemoration in Middle England
My first visit (2003) to the National Memorial Arboretum (NMA) was memorable for two things: first: the inordinate difficulty of locating it amidst the unmarked backwaters of central Staffordshire; secondly, for the incongruous (but no less moving) sight of a group of New York firefighters in formal dress unveiling a memorial plaque to their colleagues who died following the collapse of the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center in 2001.

On a more recent visit, in September 2006, the site was more accessible and the compulsory entry charge has been reduced to a voluntary contribution. With a slightly more permanent ambience, it was also a busier place, made more noisy by construction traffic engaged in the early stages of building a huge circular earthwork at the heart of the arboretum, that has since been surmounted by a vast elliptical stonework intended to become the ‘nation’s principal alternative site to the Cenotaph.

In this chapter I want to explore the NMA as a self-proclaimed centre for national memory by first examining one of its antecedents: the unrealised ‘National War Memorial’ in central London, and then, by adopting Lacquer’s notion of ‘anxieties of erasure’, I will examine the tensions between public and private memories as represented through the design of the NMA, a design that has grown largely out of corporate and official sponsorship, but where ‘private voices’ can occasionally (perhaps increasingly) be heard.

As a vaunted site of national memory, the NMA must be understood in the context of the ‘Millennium Period’, a time of systematic audit, enumeration and data-gathering often carried out by volunteers, remembrance societies and local history groups. As the NMA is now considered ‘full’ and its compliment of national memory ‘complete’ I close by asking whose voices have been heard and whose not; who has been remembered and who forgotten? And are these acts of forgetting in effect acts of exclusion?