Surrey Hills Society share a moving experience at Epsom's new Centenary Wood
PUBLISHED: 11:30 16 August 2015 | UPDATED: 10:55 17 August 2015
The chairman of the Surrey Hills Society, Christine Howard, reflects on a moving experience at Surrey's new Centenary Wood, which honours the fallen heroes of World War One
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine August 2015
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Recently, I received a beautifully designed invitation card to a rather unusual event. It was very simple – just two colours, white and earthy green. The white was used to create a silhouette of trees on a hillside but, if you looked more closely, there were lots of soldiers running up the hill too. It was an invitation from the Woodland Trust to the naming ceremony of Surrey’s World War One Centenary Wood by their patron, HRH The Princess Royal.
I was intrigued! I was aware that the Trust had purchased a 640-acre farm in Langley Vale, just over the hill from Epsom Downs Racecourse, and planned to plant 200,000 native trees. However, I was not sure how they were going to entertain a princess and other dignitaries in a muddy field, with the plans still mainly only on paper.
Well, how wrong could I be... Just like the intriguing invitation, I was drawn into the creativity of this project from the moment I got there. On arrival, I was greeted by a group of young men from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association in Morden. It struck me that many of them were the same age as the young men who marched off innocently to that bloody war 100 years ago. This group had been involved in planting trees for the project and were volunteering as marshals today.
As I rounded the corner, I gazed upon the most amazing spectacle of a World War One military camp. The 10th Essex Regiment Living History Group faithfully re-created what was discovered on the site to be a Canadian camp, used to train soldiers how to cope with warfare at the Front. The level of detail was extraordinary, including the sleeping quarters, communications tent, and the kitchens. Even the Woodland Trust staff were in period costume and looked fabulous.
A princess speaks
A brightly-coloured Canadian military band played while HRH inspected the site, before making her speech. She highlighted the importance of this project and how it enabled us to plant a tree in memory of our ancestors who made the ultimate sacrifice in the Great War.
We then toured the site discovering how charcoal had been made to deliver smokeless fuel to the battlefield to heat soldier’s meals without giving away their positions; I had never thought of that before!
Further round, we met Canadian lumberjacks who had used their expert knowledge of woodcutting to deliver wood for the war effort. Still further on were local schoolchildren who had been involved with some of the early planting and were clearly engaged and excited by the project.
To top the morning off, we were treated to the spectacular sight of four World War One biplanes from the Great War Display Team flying by. We then were seated to tuck into a typical World War One meal, complete with tin plates and mugs.
So far, the Trust has raised £4million for the project, but another £5million is still required to create this living memorial to the fallen of World War One. Thank you, Sainsbury’s, for sponsoring this wonderful project and thank you, Woodland Trust, for the creative way you have opened our eyes to this truly visionary scheme.
• To find out more about the Woodland Trust, and how to dedicate a tree to your ancestor, visit: them at woodlandtrust.org.uk/first-world-war
• For more information on joining the Surrey Hills Society, visit surreyhills.org/society