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‘Garden of gratitude’: the National Memorial Arboretum and strategic ‘remembering’

Gough, Paul

‘Garden of gratitude’: the National Memorial Arboretum and strategic ‘remembering’ Thumbnail


Paul Gough


The National Memorial Arboretum in central England proposes itself as the conscience of the nation’s history. In this sprawling 250 acre site in Staffordshire, history, culture and nature meet in an ideological domain. The NMA was conceived as an indexical account of factional participation in every aspect of the British experience in the Second World War. Here every voice would be heard, every sentiment allowed to be expressed – from heroism to desertion. As the design of the garden became more elaborated, many further causes and conflicts were annexed until the landscape was brimming with references and inclusive representation. Amongst its many corners, for example, one can find spaces dedicated to groups as diverse as the Royal National Lifeboat Institute and the Road Peace organization. However, as an index to twentieth century British uniformed conflict, the NMA was intended to be an inclusive, non-aligned space that combined an indexical account of a British century of war and peace (‘this happened and is here recorded’) with an iconic marking of the terrain (‘this matters and is here enshrined’). Its inclusivity reflects a wider concern that all voices be heard but also a wider recognition that the NMA represents the ideal motif for a population popularly characterised as a nation of gardeners. As Paul Fussell has so brilliantly observed of the ‘English’ passion for the rural and the bucolic: ‘if the opposite of war is peace, the opposite of experiencing moments of war is proposing moments of pastoral’.


Gough, P. (2005, September). ‘Garden of gratitude’: the National Memorial Arboretum and strategic ‘remembering’. Paper presented at People & their Pasts. International Public History Conference, Ruskin College, Oxford

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Conference Name People & their Pasts. International Public History Conference
Conference Location Ruskin College, Oxford
Start Date Sep 16, 2005
End Date Sep 17, 2005
Publication Date Sep 16, 2005
Publicly Available Date Jun 9, 2019
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords National Memorial Arboretum, trees, memory, commemoration, remembrance, heritage
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