Living memorials to those who died in war
– A short talk by Jim Barrow-
After the mass slaughter and trauma of the Great War, people cast around for ways to remember those who served, died or were injured. In Wolverhampton, as well as memorials of stone, brick, wood, metal and rolls of honour, the Mayor wanted to plant hundreds of trees to become tributes to those who fell.
The first 30 plantings in All Saints Road, All Saints, Wolverhampton were paid for by pupils, parents and staff of All Saints, St Joseph’s and Dudley Road Schools. Each tree was planted by three pupils elected by fellow pupils on March 22nd, 1920.
On Monday November 10, 1919, Dunstall Ward Councillor Thomas Austin Henn was elected mayor and said he would ask for money to plant 1,000 trees, “chiefly in the streets of the town which were drab and dreary monotony, the planting of them to be an honour, a mark of distinction for children of their schools who had excelled in conduct or progress of both.” (Express & Star, Monday 10 November, 1919).
He said it would cost £1,200 – nearly £61,500 in today’s prices – with it being raised by the planters themselves – in effect the people of Wolverhampton and particularly pupils, parents and staff of schools.
The first plantings were described in the Wolverhampton Chronicle of March 24, 1920: “Each school planted ten plane trees and they were placed in All Saints Road where a large number of people assembled.
At each tree three children officiated and declared: ‘this tree to be well and truly planted in memory of the brave men who died to make the world freer and brighter.”
The Mayor said: “If we go on as we are doing we shall be helping to make the whole town, especially the outlying portions, very much more beautiful.”He told the children that to have a beautiful town required “beautiful citizens, and I am looking to you to grow up to be beautiful citizens, loving those things which make life beautiful.”
At All Saints Church the WW1 memorial records the names of 91 men from the area who died including Horace Belcher of 247, All Saints Road, the son of Joseph and Mary Ann Belcher, was an assistant at the Free Library who enlisted in the 2nd/3rd Brigade of the North Midland Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps. He died, aged 21, on 27 September 1917 in the third battle of Ypres – Passchendaele. His body was never found and his name is on Panel 160 of the Tyne Cot Memorial to the missing, Zonnebeke, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, along with 35,000 other Commonwealth troops who died between August 1917 and November 1918.
On the 31 March 1920 pupils from Bingley Street, St Mark’s and Brickkiln Street Schools planted a combination of London Plane and fir trees at Walford Avenue, near what is now Bantock House and Park and on the same day pupils from Red Cross Street Schools planted sapling on the Stafford Road
On the afternoon of Wednesday 28 June children from Old Hall Street, Walsall Street and Willenhall Road Schools planted a further 36 trees.In October the pupils of the Higher Grade School – now the Newhampton Arts Centre at the junction of Newhampton Road and Dunkley Street, Whitmore Reans – planted 11 trees in Dunkley Street and the pupils of St Jude’s School planted 38 trees in Avondale Road and 4 in Riches Street, Whitmore Reans.
On 10 November 1920, a year to the day after Mayor Henn introduced his scheme, the Unknown Soldiers’ synchronised burials were held in London and Paris. A commemoration service and two minutes’ silence was held in the centre of Wolverhampton, and 12 trees were planted by pupils nearby in Old Hall Street.
There are still trees along All Saints Road today – a legacy of the original plantings – along with others that were planted in nearby Vicarage Road, and Mason Street, by Dudley Road Schools.
Mayor James Thompson saw pupils from St John’s and Graiseley Schools plant 14 trees in St John’s Square and 20 in streets surrounding Blakenhall Recreation Ground on 3 November 1922. The annual report of the Council Education Committee that year said:
Several schools are collecting and it is hoped to shortly complete the scheme by the planting of a further 80 trees. It is encouraging to find that the children in all parts of the town have redeemed their promises to protect the trees from ill-usage. The planting of the trees, in most cases under the name of the individual fallen men, has contributed much to the respect with which the trees are regarded.
The Parks and Baths Committee minutes of 9 November 1926 reported the planting of 56 trees by schoolchildren in Thompson Avenue and Silver Birch Avenue and 50 trees on Old Heath Road and Willenhall Road Housing Estate.
Jim Barrow has written a chapter called ‘Roads of Remembrance in Wolverhampton – How trees were used to commemorate the fallen of the Great War’ in the Wolverhampton Society’s new book Wolverhampton’s Great War 1914-1921, a copy of which can be purchased through the Shop on their website.
LET US KEEP IN GRATEFUL/ REMEMBRANCE THOSE WHO HAVE/ DIED FOR US AND THEIR COUNTRY/ 1914-1919./ (Names)/ R.I.P.
Let us keep in grateful remembrance those who have died for us and their country 1914-1919. (names) R.I.P.
DMc. PS HOLMES
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