Trustees urge council to reject plan to move memorial to make way for new events pavilion at the National Memorial Arboretum

The trustees of a memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum have urged planning chiefs to reject proposals to move it to make way for a new events pavilion.

The Alrewas site is hoping to add the new facility to improve its ability to host major events.

However, if the scheme gets the go-ahead it will mean the Phantom Garden, which commemorates an SAS operation behind enemy lines in France during World War Two, would need to be relocated to make way for the new pavilion.

The Phantom Memorial

The Phantom Memorial

The memorial garden was created by Sergeant Len Owens MM and his daughter Jane Wadham, one of the trustees, believes moving it should not be an option.

“It’s a unique memorial that has been created by hand by a single family,” she said. “My brother designed and constructed the garden. We did not have pots of money to create the garden and we are not a charity – it came from my father’s pension. There was the odd bit of help from friends and others, but by and large he did it himself.

“Moving it would not be the same. You may as well just have a replica if you are going to move it.

“When my father was allowed to use the plot by Commander David Childs, the founder of the National Memorial Arboretum,  it was in a prominent position just a few yards from the visitor centre. It has since become something much more than that ever since my father and my brother dug it out.

“It has been visited by elderly French people who’ve never been out of France, but chose to visit Alrewas because there relatives are commemorated there. These people have stood in that spot and it has meant something to them. Moving it will change everything.”

Shaped in a P, the Phantom Garden also includes a block of granite from a quarry in the Vosges in France.

“Even moving that huge block was something my father worked to achieve,” Jane added. “He was keen to go and get it from the region because that was where he had buried his radio while escaping from the Germans.”

A final decision on the future of the Phantom Garden is likely to be made at a meeting of Lichfield District Council’s planning committee on August 21.

Jane says she hopes councillors will listen to their concerns.

“My father’s little memorial happens to be in the way of this development,” she said. “That’s a shame, but we’re very unhappy with the proposals to move it.

“To us, the current location is hugely important. It’s the place where our father created a legacy for himself and all those commemorated in the garden.

“The site we have been offered is nearby and there is nothing wrong with it in itself, but it is not where the memorial belongs.

“It should not be moved somewhere else.”

The National Memorial Arboretum says the new events pavilion is required in order to meet future demand.

Andrew Baud, spokesperson for the NMA, said: “In order to accommodate growing visitor numbers, currently including 15,000 schoolchildren, and to host over 200 events every year, the National Memorial Arboretum has a well-progressed development strategy.

“This plan saw the official opening of a £16m Remembrance Centre by HRH The Duke of Cambridge in March 2017.  The second key element of the plan is to create an Events Pavilion, a flexible building that will replace a large marquee which has was erected over eight years ago.

“Twenty years ago, the success of the arboretum could not have been foreseen by the original founders and, as a result, it is now necessary to reconsider some of the spaces around the buildings. In ensuring a consistently excellent visitor experience, this may involve moving some elements, including finding more appropriate locations within the grounds.

“Where those spaces are part of a dedicated garden or contain a memorial, the arboretum will work closely with any organisations and individuals who have a direct interest.  Generally, given the changes are part of a wider vision for the site, our proposals are well-received.

“In respect of the Phantom Garden, we recognise trustees’ concerns, and have attempted to engage in a meaningful dialogue in order to consider options. While the garden will have to move to allow construction of the events pavilion, there are a number of possibilities which we would still like to explore.

“The arboretum team understands fully that relocating precious memorials and gardens needs to be undertaken with the highest level of sensitivity and in consultation with key stakeholders, however it is always done against the backdrop of the long term vision for the arboretum.”

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