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Row of trees planted in memory of group of First World War heroes are set to be cut down after council ignores public pleas to save them

  • The soldiers attended the same local primary school and included a 17-year-old
  • Council chiefs in Sheffield are set to ignore public fury and chop trees down
  • A report has claimed it would cost £500,000 to save the historic trees
  • Residents of the street regard them as ‘healthy’ and want them to remain

They stand tall and proud as living memorials to young men who fought and died for their country in the Great War.

The soldiers who attended the same local primary school included a 17-year-old who should never have been near the action, many teenagers and a fresh-faced newlywed.

But council chiefs in Sheffield are set to ignore public fury and press ahead with a road management plan to chop down 41 of these official First World War memorial trees.

Sheffield Council is set to cut down these trees, planted in honour of local soldiers who died in the First World War

A report published yesterday claimed it would cost £500,000 to save the historic trees and involve raiding budgets of vital services such as ‘social care’ to fund it.

The figures have been ridiculed by campaigners as ‘grossly exaggerated’ but the city council’s Cabinet now seems certain to back the felling of the war memorial trees at a meeting next Wednesday.

Almost 100 years after they were planted council contractors will move in with their chainsaws to fell what many regard as sacred living memorials.

Contractors have surveyed every street to decide which trees are dead, dying, diseased, dangerous, damaging or could obstruct pedestrians or drivers.

Those in any of these categories are listed to be chopped down under the council’s £2.2 billion private finance deal with contractors Amey to maintain Sheffield’s roads.

Around 5,500 trees have been felled so far under this long-term contract but the war memorial trees have provoked the greatest anger.

The main memorial site on Western Road is set to lose 23 of the remaining 54 London plane trees planted in 1919 in ‘grateful appreciation’ of former pupils of Westways Primary School who took part in the war.

The council put the bill to save the trees on this road alone as £310,000.

Local researchers believe 64 residents died fighting for King and country. There were originally 97 trees in the memorial.

The trees still standing on Western Road represent much-loved sons and husbands cut down in their prime.

There is the poignant story of the Beck brothers. One died in battle, the other survived the slaughter.

George Carr (left), a private with the Northumberland Fusiliers, died in Flanders in April 1918. Ernest Beck (right)  married his sweetheart, Harriet Haywood before heading overseas

Ernest Beck married his sweetheart, Harriet Haywood, in April 1915 shortly before heading overseas. He served as a sapper in the Royal Engineers and was killed in action in February 1918, aged 27.

He was a veteran of the 3rd Battle of Ypres, the year before. But his younger brother Robert survived the war, married in 1923 and went on to own a grocer’s shop in Sheffield. He lived in the city until his death aged 79.

Sergeant Arthur John Box (left)  and his brother Private John Box (right)

The memorial remembers a second set of brothers: Sergeant John Box, 22, and Private George Box.

John died of his wounds in France in September 1918, during the final months of the war. His younger brother, George, was killed while fighting in Flanders with the Royal Fusiliers in July 1917.

Private Bernard Gunson, from the Leicestershire Regiment, went missing on May 27, 1918. He was never found and his death remained a mystery to his heartbroken family. 

Private Bernard Gunson (left) went missing on May 27, 1918 and  was never found. John Dalby (right) died in Flanders in 1918 aged 22

George Carr, a private with the Northumberland Fusiliers, died in Flanders in April 1918, while John Dalby, a private with the Yorks and Lancs Regiment, died in Flanders the next month, aged 22.

Researchers have uncovered the names of 28 of the Western Road memorial soldiers and an astonishing 15 were teenagers, with one, Walter Jowie, a 17-year-old boy who should have been too young to fight.

They all once attended the same primary school on Western Road where children are still taught today.

Today the remaining trees are up to 50ft tall and the roots of some make pavements bumpy. Most residents of the street regard them as ‘healthy’ and want them to remain, claim campaigners.

Commenting on the plan to fell and plant replacement saplings, the report’s author Philip Beecroft said: ‘Any potential work will make it easier for everyone to get around safely due to improved condition of footways, and this will particularly benefit older people, parents with buggies, and people with restricted mobility and their carers.’

In a bid to placate angry residents and veterans, the report recommends planting 300 trees to create ‘new memorials’ in parks which will be ready for the 2018 Centenary and be retained ‘in perpetuity’.

Almost two-thirds of the city’s existing war memorial trees will not be affected by the works programme, it adds.

In September the council’s Labour leader Julie Dore said the initial estimate for saving the trees of £350,000 was ‘not affordable’ and that any solution had ‘to be affordable.’ With costs escalating there is little chance of a U-turn.

The high cost has been put down to rebuilding pavements and making some streets one way as a result.

As well as Western Road there are five other streets with official war memorial trees recommended for felling.

Campaigners have resigned themselves to the council ordering in the chainsaws.

It was used by the founder of the Scouts as an example to youngsters of how big things are possible from modest beginnings.

Now, nearly 90 years after Robert Baden-Powell championed the Gilwell Oak in Epping, Essex, it has been named the nation’s tree of the year.

Attracting 26 per cent of 7,000 votes cast by the public, it beat nine other contenders in the English tree of the year category, including Parliament Oak in Nottinghamshire, where King John is said to have held parliaments in the 13th century.

While the Gilwell Oak (pictured) is now associated with scouting, it also has a darker past

The Gilwell Oak then saw off competition from the finest trees in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to gain the national title. It will be Britain’s candidate for the European Tree of the Year contest next year.

Bear Grylls, the survival expert who serves as the Scout Association’s chief scout, said: ‘The Gilwell Oak… is the unbending symbol of scouting’s desire to change the world for the better.’

Although the Gilwell Oak’s image is intertwined with the Scouts’ wholesome reputation, it also has a darker past. 

Dick Turpin, the highwayman who terrorised 18th-century England, is said to have sheltered beneath its boughs as he prepared to ambush stagecoaches.

Alan Story, campaigner and Western Road resident, said: ‘They are trying to pit the social care budget against a memorial to people who died in World War One, it’s outrageous politics.’

He added: ‘It has become clear the council has no intention of saving these trees.’

Alison Garner, a relative of one of the soldiers Ernest Beck, said: ‘They have grossly exaggerated what it would cost to save these trees.

‘It doesn’t need to cost that much. I am disgusted that the council doesn’t care what residents of Sheffield think.

‘Trees have been planted in memory of particular people who made the ultimate sacrifice but they just don’t care.’

A council spokesman said: ‘No decision on these trees has yet been taken.’



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