This morning, on the anniversary of the start of The Battle of Verdun in 1916, a pair of saplings, directly descended from an oak tree on the battlefield were planted at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, within the National Forest. Gifted by Lichfield District Council, the trees were grown from acorns taken from an oak tree in Lichfield planted in commemoration of the battle, which itself was grown from an acorn originally collected from the battlefield on the western front in France.
The Battle of Verdun lasted for nearly ten months and was the longest battle of the First World War, and the longest in modern history. When the battle came to an end in December 1916, over 700,000 lives had been lost.
The Quercus petraea (sessile oak) trees planted near Watersmeet and the Christmas Truce Memorial at the Arboretum today, were grown from acorns collected by Lichfield District Council’s community gardener Paul Niven who works in Lichfield’s Garden of Remembrance, and could be classed as the ‘great grandchildren’ of the original Verdun trees. They are the first of several Battle of Verdun oak saplings and whips that are being planted at the Arboretum, following their donation by Lichfield District Council.
“Both acorns and conkers were collected from the battlefield at Verdun and sent to England to be distributed and planted, with the resulting oak and horse chestnut trees serving as war memorials,” explains Paul. “Two acorns and a chestnut were received by the Mayor of Lichfield, and later two oaks were planted in the Garden of Remembrance within the city of Lichfield, which opened in 1920.”
“I collected the acorns in November 2020 and, with care and attention, they germinated and grew into the saplings that were planted today,” Paul continues. “It’s wonderful that they have found a permanent home at the National Memorial Arboretum, a truly fitting place to remember and commemorate the hundreds of thousands of lives lost in the Battle of Verdun. These sapling will grow into mighty oak trees and hopefully future generations of visitors will be inspired to gather their acorns and plant their own trees in memory of the fallen.”
The Battle of Verdun was only one of many battles fought on the Western Front during the First World War. At the Battle of the Somme (1 July–18 November 1916), 19,000 men died on the first day alone. The Western Front Association Memorial at the Arboretum is dedicated to the 956,703 men and women of the then British Empire who died in the First World War. All the hornbeam trees in the grove were grown from the only tree left standing in Delville Wood after the Battle of the Somme.
“At the National Memorial Arboretum, the Nation’s year-round place to Remember, we build on the long tradition of planting trees to commemorate the fallen, and use the history, variety and symbolism of the trees and flowers to help us to tell incredible stories of service and sacrifice,” explains Andy Ansell, Head of Estates at the Arboretum. “From the colourful blooms in the War Widows’ Rose Garden that reflect the journey through grief, to the ‘healing’ Rowan tree of the Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service Memorial, the trees within the 150-acre Arboretum are an integral part of the inspirational living landscape that accompanies the memorials to members of the Armed Forces, civilian services and community organisations.”