Belfast Telegraph

Woodland scheme commemorates war

Families of soldiers who fought and died in the First World War will plant some of the first trees in new woodlands commemorating the conflict.

Four flagship woodlands - one each in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - are being planted by the Woodland Trust as part of the £12 million project to provide a memorial to the Great War.

The Woodland Trust today announced the location of the Scottish woodland, which will be in the Pentland Hills, south of Edinburgh, where more than 50,000 trees will be planted over the next four years including oak, birch and rowan.

Woodland Trust president and TV presenter Clive Anderson said the woods would be a "permanent memorial to a war, which is also ecologically useful and beautiful".

"If you plant trees, they will store carbon, provide shade, retain river banks, provide ecological niches for birds and animals, and are agreeable places for humans to go."

He added: " In this time of great stress on our woods it is vital we redouble our efforts on behalf of our trees to preserve a landscape fit for heroes."

The project is being backed by Sainsbury's, which is funding the planting of trees in each of the woods, with the first of its funded trees in each part of the UK planted by people whose ancestors fought and died in the war.

In England, where the centenary wood will stretch over 640 acres in Langley Vale, near Epsom, Surrey, David Appleton, from Suffolk, will plant a tree to commemorate his four great uncles who were all killed in action between 1915 and 1916.

"I think the new Centenary Woods are as fitting a means of commemoration as can be imagined: practical, beneficial and long-term sustainable.

"A wood is the polar opposite of war - a beautiful, peaceful oasis of calm and life which throws into sharp contrast all that war brings."

At the wood in Scotland, Margaret Murison will dedicate a tree to her grandfather William Balmer and his brother John, who enlisted together and both died on the same day, April 11 1917.

She said: "William and John are buried in France, but it's unlikely that I'll ever be able to visit their graves.

"Dedicating trees to their memory is a wonderful idea, bringing them to life for me more vividly than ever before."

In Wales, Rob McBride will plant a tree to commemorate his four great uncles who fought in the war, including two who lied about their age to enlist - one of whom who died a year after enlisting from his wounds.

"Seeing them commemorated in something living and growing brings them to life more tangibly than ever before, and it's great that the Centenary Woodlands project will be able to do the same for hundreds of other families across the country."

And in Northern Ireland Stanley McMinn will dedicate a tree at the wood in Faughan Valley, County Londonderry, to his uncle Private Edmund Gray, who saw his first action in the Somme in 1916 and was so horrified by the scale of the killing he became a stretcher bearer.

He was killed by shell fire at Passchendaele at the third battle of Ypres, while he waited to retrieve a wounded soldier.

"There is no known grave for Eddie and his remains were never found. I think the Centenary Woods are a brilliant idea and an excellent way to commemorate all those who fell like my Uncle Eddie," Mr McMinn said.

Judith Batchelor, Head of Sainsbury's Brand, said the supermarket had a target to plant two million trees by 2015, and the woods would help commemorate the 350 Sainsbury's employees who died in the First World War.

"Woods are places to walk and relax and reflect. They are part of our legacy, we know that we'll plant trees today that in 100 years people will be getting pleasure from and will prompt them to remember," she added.

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