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World War One Memorial Trees

It is a hundred years since the ‘Great War’ and now a century later we are remembering, and honouring, all those who gave their lives. Here we take a look at memorial trees and what they stand for, with images and stories from across the world.

Placed at prominent locations, they became symbols of remembrance and were, and still are, considered to be as sacred as grave sites for grieving families.

The idea of planting trees as memorials may have originated in Great Britain in 1918 when the office of the King’s Highway issued a pamphlet titled; “Roads of Remembrance as War Memorials”. The two objectives of this program were to transform suitable existing highways “to the dignity of Roads of Remembrance adorned with trees” and to organize the building of highways “of exceptional dignity and beauty with open spaces at intervals as special memorials to the Great War.

Memorial trees and tree lined streets as “Roads of Remembrance” spread to other countries involved in the Great War. America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland (in particular a section of the coast where submarine chasers had been very active) all recorded tree plantings.

As this quote from the American Forestry Association - 1919 stated,

“A hundred years from now the memorial trees you plant will tell the story of the glory of those for whom the trees were planted.”

Here is the story of an American poet and his tree.

"Trees" (1913)

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree

Sgt. Joyce Kilmer, as a member of the Fighting 69th Infantry Regiment, United States Army, c. 1918 He was killed in action

The Joyce Kilmer Tree in New York City's Central Park, located near several World War I monuments, planted after the poet's death.

In America a Memorial Tree planting program and plaque were available for each planting ceremony and individual tree. The American Forestry Association encouraged individuals and groups planting trees to register them with the Association. Beginning in 1919 and continuing into the early 1920’s, the American Forestry Magazine published in various issues throughout the year, a ‘National Honor Roll Memorial Tree Register’.

From the Library of Congress, Walter Reed Memorial Hospital, Gold Star Mothers, DAR, Veteran Parks, to school children planting a tree in remembrance of animals killed in the Great War, trees as memorials soon grew across America.

Memorial Forests

Eventually, the idea of tree planting projects broadened from memorial trees and Roads of Remembrance, to include whole forests as “living memorials”

The forests of Verdun, which exist only because of the 'zone rouge', are an important vehicle for keeping alive the memory of the conflict. The French forest where 300,000 died in 300 days at the Battle of Verdun is still littered with so many bodies, arsenic and unexploded shells that nothing grows hardly after 100 years. The French labelled it a 'Zone Rouge' shortly after the end of the war, leaving it to be reclaimed by nature.

School teacher Burillon said the forest is "at the same time living and frozen in time. It's very poetic."

In New Zealand they have planted eight WWI Memorial Forest sites to pay tribute to the NZ soldiers who fell in a particular battle or to the men from a particular Coromandel Peninsula town who were killed by planting an equal number of trees to men who never came back from the Great War.

Over the years, these groves of trees will mature into forests, providing quiet places for people to visit the tree commemorating their chosen soldier and to remember New Zealand history.

Next we have a story of trees and the difference they make to the town in which they live.

The Eumundi War Memorial Trees in Australia were planted during and after the First World War. Between 1914 and 1918, eighty-seven men from Eumundi and the surrounding district served in the First World War. The trees were planted to honour the twenty men who did not return. The first trees were ceremonially planted in October 1917

Eumundi memorial trees at planting protected by white picket fences

Of those who went to war, almost one in five did not return. It was common for families to lose more than one son and for small communities to lose a whole generation of men.

The importance of trees as living memorials is further emphasised by the

Eumundi War Memorial in Queensland Australia that was listed on the Queensland Heritage Register on 5 December 1997. This means the trees are protected in perpetuity.

To this day the trees continue to be significant to the local community. This is indicated by the community based suggestion to change the name of the street from Main Street to Memorial Drive in 1977. They are a local landmark and continue to be the focal point for remembrance ceremonies, particularly on ANZAC Day, when they provide an educational opportunity for the local school children who make floral tributes to place at the foot of each tree.

Trees and People, A Personal Connection.

Next we see the personal relationship between soldier, tree and the great niece who still remembers him and the importance of them to the local community.

In England too the trees also had, and still do have, deeply personal connections. Here too we see why trees are regarded as sacred as grave sites.

In Sheffield residents have been risking jail in their fight to save their trees from the local council. Sheffield council had ordered the destruction of these beautiful and important treesA national outcry has led to the council reversing it's decision. Thousands more trees throughout the city are still destined for the chop and so the campaign to save them continues despite massive local opposition.

Below a family member of one of the soldiers killed spoke about the importance of the memorial trees.

Sheffield resident Alison Garner's great uncle Ernest Beck was one of 64 pupils from Western Road Council School who laid their lives down for their country in the Great War. His memory and those of his schoolmates were commemorated in the planting of 97 trees in the Crookes area of Sheffield in 1919.

She said she viewed the trees as the 'gravesides' for many of the fallen who either had no known grave or no grave in England.

"My great uncle, Ernest Beck, did not have a grave in Sheffield and the trees were planted shortly after the war in remembrance.

Ernest Beck's Memorial Tree

Here Alison Garner eloquently describes the beauty and importance of memorial trees...

"They have stood the test of time and you can see the passage of time through them. Each tree is an individual memorial tree to these young men. Whether they were an uncle, a brother or a son these trees are like a graveside for them in Sheffield.”

Below is my poem for the trees and soldiers they remember.

The Great War Memorial Trees

The dead live on in memory

They will speak no more

Then planted tree by tree

For the first World War

We remember all those men

Who in dark earth lie unseen

Oh how they rise again

Standing tall and cloaked in green

If you would like to share your memorial trees please join us (it’s free) and share in the comments below, alternatively this blog is by members for members, so you are very welcome to send in an article with pictures to publish.

We Remember ...

We honour all of the people, animals, trees, plants and land that were killed and destroyed during the First World War. With gratitude to the living memorial trees who serve as living symbols for us to remember them today.

With thanks from Amanda, Ancient and Sacred Trees Founder

If you would like to support my work you could buy me a coffee

or you could plant a tree with us in our shop!

Below are links I used for this article


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