Interpretation to provoke and promote remembrance

The National Memorial Arboretum, near Lichfield, Shropshire, UK is one of the most interesting places I have worked at (and there’s a lot of competition for positions on that list!).

Red and white blossom trees mark out a landing strip in the Berlin Airlift memorial at the entrance to the National Memorial Arboretum.

Unusually and interestingly, it is that it is not the material or event history of the place itself that is important here, but the intangible heritage of national remembrance.

The Arboretum is a relatively new and rapidly growing attraction. It has well over 250,000 visitors a year yet is still little known to people unconnected to the military in the UK. That is likely to change because the Arboretum is changing and will change, as it is designed to do.

The Armed Forces Memorial at the heart of the Arboretum remembers by name every member of the Britsh Armed Forces who has died in conflict since 1945.

The National Memorial Arboretum is ‘where our Nation remembers’. It is, in its own words, ‘a living tribute that will for ever acknowledge the personal sacrifices made by the armed and civil services of this country’. In practical terms it is a developing arboretum where the tress both are memorials , and surround, two hundred (and the number is always growing) diverse memorial structures.

Some trees are memorials to individuals.

It is growing into its identity as the trees grow year on year and as more memorials are added.  The relationship between the memorials and the trees is evolving.

Fittingly, a grove of oak trees commemorate the Merchant Navy.

Each tree represents a ship.

Japanese cherry trees commemorate the reconciliation of Japan and Great Britain after the Second World War.

The memorials are diverse. Many sit within the landscape of young trees rather than directly referencing them. But many of the memorial designers seem to have drawn on the Arboretum for inspiration.

The Shot at Dawn Memorial which commemorates men who were court-marshalled and shot for cowardice or desertion in the trenches of the 1914-1918 war, is one of the most striking,
popular and poignant memorials.

The forest of named posts, each with the name of one of those shot at dawn, reflects the arboretum.

Working at the National Memorial Arboretum as interpretive planner in a multi-disciplinary team of experts has been fascinating. The Arboretum is a place and project designed to make people think. Lots of thought by many people has gone into how that will happen. I am very pleased to have contributed a few strands to that thinking, and grateful for how working here has added to my understanding of interpretation, memorial and remembrance.

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About susancrosstelltale

Great visits to heritage and natural sites do not happen by accident. This blog is about the work that make special sites great places to visit. I hope it will be useful to visitors and host alike. Find out more at me and my blog.
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2 Responses to Interpretation to provoke and promote remembrance

  1. Pingback: Heritage interpretation as monuments and memorials - TellTale

  2. Pingback: Memorials, heritage interpretation and the First World War - TellTale

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