Memorial Oaks at Wolsingham School

Historian article

By Robert Hopkinson, published 16th January 2015

Our World War I commemorative series continues with Robert Hopkinson's introduction to what the Imperial War Museum believes is the oldest war memorial in Britain.

Wolsingham School and Community College, in Weardale, County Durham, celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2014. As part of the celebrations, there was an exhibition, a major feature of which was the story of the Memorial Oaks, which are situated in the playing field which runs next to the A689. The trees have been identified by the Imperial War Museum as probably the oldest war memorial in the country because two-thirds of the original eighteen trees were planted as saplings before the First World War ended in 1918. It was not until the early 1920s that stone war memorials were erected, of which so many fine examples can be seen throughout Weardale and the rest of the country. Our memorial is unique as it is a living tribute which has grown over the years, in direct contrast to the young men the trees represent. Our Second World War memorial is a stone tablet, set into the wall of this hall. Forty oak saplings, cultivated in our science labs from the original trees, are planted in the same field to represent the 40 old boys from this school who fell in the Second World War. Sadly, our 59th tree has been planted since hostilities began in Iraq and Afghanistan. This tree is placed in safe-keeping in front of the Lower School building, in memory of Colin Wall, killed in Iraq in 2003.

The story of the planting of the original trees is movingly related in Phoenix, the school magazine, issued in the summer term 1918...

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