By Jim Barrow
The 2020 Covid-19 pandemic has made remembrance very different – as it was in Wolverhampton a century ago.
Remembrance Sunday, on the second Sunday of the month closest to November 11, known as Remembrance Day, has a two minute silence at 11am. This year it was on November 8.
King George V hosted the first at Buckingham Palace in 1919 with French President Raymond Poincaré. The Armistice of November 11, 1918 was signed by the Allies and Germany declaring an end to the war.
Today it is observed by all Commonwealth nations and many other countries mark it as a day of memorial.
In Wolverhampton on November 10, 1919 new Mayor Thomas Austin Henn said he would ask for money to plant 1,000 trees chiefly in streets “which were drab and dreary monotony.” He said it would cost £1,200 – nearly £61,500 in today’s prices – with people, particularly pupils, parents and school staff, raising the money.
Plantings followed the mass slaughter of war and the 1918-19 worldwide influenza pandemic killing millions worldwide and nearly 2,000 in the Black Country – including 554 in Wolverhampton.
By November 10, 1920 plantings were now a way of remembering the sacrifice of those who fell in the war and on that day were done in Old Hall Street in the town centre and Hordern Road, Whitmore Reans.
Old Hall Street school’s logbook for the day reads: “Today the Mayor and Mayoress of the Borough, together with the deputy mayor and other officials conducted the ceremony of the planting in connection with the school. Twelve trees were planted by scholars in Old Hall Street in memory of past scholars who had given their lives for their king and country during the great European War.”
The excellent Wolverhampton’s War blog developed at Wolverhampton Archives since 2014 goes into the background to say that the Express & Star of May 19, 1915, said Harry D. Jackson, headmaster of Old Hall Street School and secretary of Wolverhampton Schools’ Athletic Association had decided that “the call to military service…[was] so irresistible that he has responded by enlisting in the R. F. A.” (number 686959).
Harry David Jackson, born in Wolverhampton in 1873, was the son of Elizabeth and Thomas Jackson. In 1901, he was as a schoolmaster, living with his parents and brothers Frederick and Arthur at 75 Curzon Street. The school logbook for Old Hall Street School recalls him going off to war and returning to work after being gassed.
Trees still stand in Old Hall Street. Some are young ones on the concourse in front of the reception area but there are also older ones lining Old Hall Street but it is not known if they are the originals?
In 2018 I worked with Life Skills students (students with learning difficulties and disabilities) from Adult Education in Old Hall Street about the history of the trees and they designed and created a new commemorative artwork in honour of those who died. They incorporated bark from the Old Hall Street trees into the artwork.
The 2018 Mayor of Wolverhampton, Councillor Phil Page, unveiled the artwork on Tuesday November 13, 2018 alongside Mayoress, Mrs Elaine Hadley-Howell, Director of Education Meredith Teasdale, Councillor Lynne Moran Cabinet Member for Education and Skills and Councillor Linda Leach.
In Whitmore Reans on November 10, 1920 the children of Hordern Road Schools dedicated 12 saplings to men of the district who had fallen in the war. As the schools were not opened until the year before the war (1913) there were no old boys who had served in the war but many of the children had relatives who served.
The Express & Star reported: “The first tree was dedicated by the planter to the memory of his brother. The ceremony so touched some of the participants that there were many tears shed and the sympathies of the Mayoress (Mrs T A Henn) had to be coupled with the handshakes of the Mayor.
“A boy, a girl and a child from the infants department were stationed at each of the 12 trees and scholars lined the opposite pavement, and a few interested parents followed the Mayoral party.”
Later the headmaster, Mr Blower, asked: “that the children responsible for the planting of each tree should take a personal interest in its growth, and should report on the anniversary of its setting on its condition and the progress it had made towards forming a unit in the avenue which will in future grace the street.”
Roy C. Evans, in Wolverhampton Warriors – The Town’s Great Battalions In The Great War (pub Bright Pen 2010) says Acting Sergeant Frederick Wallace Watson, living with his parents, Wallis and Hannah, at 299, Hordern Road, died on October 13, 1915.
He says that the 20-year-old kept the Germans at bay with hand grenades and then sniping for five hours until he was killed. He had trained as a bomber and took part in the assault on the Hohenzollern Redoubt.
The former pupil of St Andrew’s Church of England School, Whitmore Reans, was with “C” Company of the 1st/6th Battalion of the Staffordshire Regiment and is remembered on the Loos Memorial in France
His brother, Rifleman Alfred Thomas Watson (service number 39553), of the 18th Bn. King’s Royal Rifle Corps died on the October 20, 1918, aged 19. He is remembered on the memorial at Dadizeele New British Cemetery, – Moorslede, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium.
A pupil dedicated a tree in memory of his older brother, Regimental Sergeant Major Albert Cox, of the 28th Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery. Cox lived with wife, Adelina, at Worcester Terrace, Aldersley Road.
He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for bringing in wounded under heavy fire, but died in the Second battle of Ypres, on April 24, 1915.
The 40-year-old gunner was buried in Ypres Town Cemetery Extension, not far from The Menin Gate, and is also commemorated on the St Michael and All Angels War Memorial, at Tettenhall.
Brother-in-law Royal Field Artillery Quarter-Master Sergeant-Farrier Edward James Poyner, of Mill Lane, Tettenhall Wood, was mentioned in despatches for taking ammunition to the guns under fire and bringing horses back safe at the Battle of Hill 60.
Edward’s brother, L Poyner, was in the same battery and another brother, Private George S Poyner, died on November 1, 1914.
Where Hordern Road crosses the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, the Wildside Centre is carrying on the work of planting trees – although not memorial trees – alongside the canal and in the Smestow Valley.
Elsewhere in Wolverhampton trees have been planted at Bantock Park, the Newhampton Arts Centre, Dunkley Street, and in locations in Whitmore Reans.
The first 30 trees were planted on March 22, 1920 in All Saints Road, All Saints, Wolverhampton, by pupils elected by fellow pupils at All Saints, St Joseph’s and Dudley Road Schools in All Saints Road.
They dedicated each to “the memory of the brave men who died to make the world freer and brighter”. Another 1920 planting was in Walford Avenue, near Bantock Park, by Bingley Street, St Marks and Brickiln Street Schools.
On March 22, 2020 current Wolverhampton Mayor, Councillor Claire Darke, was due at plantings at The Workspace, All Saints Action Network, All Saints Road, All Saints, with John Henn, great grandson of Mayor Henn.
It was planned at the site of the former All Saints School – which is next to All Saints Church where a plaque commemorates 91 men who died in WW1. At the 1920 planting the mayor was accompanied by children Mr T Wesley Henn (John Henn’s grandfather), Frank and Molly.
Trees are still in All Saints Road along with others planted later in nearby Vicarage Road, Mason Street, Silver Birch Avenue and Thompson Avenue.
Anniversaries came to light when I was researching the history of the Dunkley Street site of the Newhampton Arts Centre and came across references to tree plantings in the logbook of the Higher Grade School which was on the site at before, during and immediately after WW1.
As a result I provided a chapter on the memorial trees in the book Wolverhampton’s Great War 1914-1921, which was published by the Wolverhampton Society.
This article was written for the excellent newsletter of the Friends Of Wolverhampton Archives which is edited by Penny Ann Smith.
A WordPress blogpost with more details of the plantings is at https://burslembandit.wordpress.com/2020/10/25/roads-of-remembrance-2/(opens in a new tab)