What happened to the Downham oak trees?

Sometimes we have very little, or out of date information with which to record a war memorial.  Recently we recorded a memorial from a copy of a souvenir booklet produced in 1922. 

The memorial commemorated 26 men of the Essex villages of Downham, Ramsden and Ramsden Bellhouse and was to consist of 27 oak trees, planted by next of kin, each to commemorate one person who had died in the First World War. 

A tablet was attached to each tree, inscribed with the name, regiment, and place of death of the soldier.  The tablets were fixed with a length of telephone cable cut from a reel used in the war and brought back from France.  The first tree planted had a memorial tablet opposite with the names of all the villagers who had lost their lives. 

19 trees were planted on the 21 October 1922 and it was planned to plant the remaining 8 trees when their next of kin were available, although we do not know if these were ever planted.

Mr William Leslie, the man responsible for the planting of the trees had the following aspirations for them;

“The relatives, having their own tree consecrated to their own dead hero would take a great interest in its growth, and would point it out to their children as an inspiration to do nothing mean or unworthy of their ancestor whose memory it enshrines.”

There was a great deal of interest in the national press at the time, as the oaks was regarded as an unusual and admirable war memorial.  Although, an article in The Times recognised the difficulties;

“A tree, however, or a row of trees, is not easy to plant successfully; it is not enough to suppose that when once trees begin to take root they will grow without further care; and the villagers therefore, like others who plant trees, must see to it that their young oaks are tided over the perils of infancy.”  The Times, 26 October 1922.

Click to see full memorial record

Do you know what happened to these oak trees?  Were the other eight trees ever planted?  Did they survive the last 80 years?  Do local people still know that they were planted as memorials to those killed in the First World War? Do any of their relatives still live in the village?

Please tell us if you know anything about these trees!

1 comment
  1. The trees stood in what are now the back gardens of cottages along the road near the old De Beauvoir pub near the village pump. At least one still survives today (2013) and another one is in a house that is due to be demolished. We have recently just restored the Downham War Memorial and are exploring the possibility of replanting the trees in an area where they can be seen and enjoyed again.

    Steve Newman

    Wickford War Memorial Assoc.

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