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Conference Papers
On-line Papers / Journal Articles

Paul Gough
‘Contested memories: contested site’: Newfoundland and its unique heritage on the Western Front
The Round Table The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs :special issue: Remembrance and Commemoration in Commonwealth States
no. 393, ISSN 1474-029, pp.693-705. 5 B & W illustrations, 2007

The Beaumont Hamel Newfoundland Memorial is a 16.5 hectare (40 acres) tract of preserved battleground dedicated primarily to the memory of the 1st Newfoundland Regiment who suffered an extremely high percentage of casualties during the first day of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. Beaumont Hamel Memorial is a complex landscape of commemoration where Newfoundland, Canadian, Scottish and British imperial associations compete for prominence.

A previous version of this paper argued that those who chose the site of the Park, and subsequently re-ordered its topography, helped to contrive a particular historical narrative that prioritised certain memories over others. This argument focused on the premeditated re-design of the ‘park’ after the Great War, and then again in the early 1960s. In that paper it was asserted that the topographical layout was deliberately arranged so as to focus exclusively on a thirty-minute military action during a fifty-month war. In its artificially preserved state the tragic part played by the Royal Newfoundland Regiment could (until recently) be measured, walked and vicariously experienced. Such an achievement required close semiotic control and territorial demarcation in order to render the ‘invisible past’ visible, and to convert an emptied landscape into significant reconstructed space.

Since the publication of the paper, the soaring popularity of battlefield tours and visits has placed an intolerable strain on the very land that many regard as sacred and hallowed. A land that took decades to recover and reclaim from violation is now being threatened again both by developers and crowds of tourists. As a result, measures have been taken to restrict access and control roaming rights.

This paper will revisit the original arguments and examine the many tensions that have arisen in one of the most popular destinations on the old battle front. Reflecting on the recent dispute, the paper will explore issues of historical accuracy, topographical legibility, freedom of access, and assumed ownership. It will also try to understand the recent disputes as examples of borrowed ‘entitlement’ and a resistance (by British visitors) to recognize the historic value of Canadian (or more specifically, Newfoundland) heritage.