Home heritage Controversial plans to fell First World War memorial trees in Sheffield

Controversial plans to fell First World War memorial trees in Sheffield


Descendants of a fallen First World War hero have waded into the war against cutting war memorial trees in Sheffield.

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The controversial plans to fell First World War memorial trees in Sheffield were proposed by the council who claimed it would save £500,000.

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Plans to clear the plane and sycamore trees as part of a road maintenance programme have not only made headline but led to protests, arrests and high court action.

A report released this week by Sheffield City Council states 41 of the city’s 54 surviving First World War memorial trees could not be saved.

Bosses at the council say the cost of the engineering works to save them would be a short-term solution could mean dipping in its social care budget to find the extra £500,000.

In response to the proposed action the great-niece of a First World War soldier, one of those commemorated in the planting, has joined forces with protestors to voice her objections.

First world war sheffield war trees

Alison Garner’s great uncle Ernest Beck was one of 64 pupils from Western Road Council School who laid their lives down for their country in the Great War.

His memory and those of his schoolmates were commemorated in the planting of 97 trees in the Crookes area of Sheffield in 1919.

Now just 54 of the trees still remain, with the 23 of Western Road facing the axe.

Mum-of-two Alison, 52, said she viewed the trees as the ‘gravesides’ for many of the fallen who either had no known grave or no grave in England.

“My great uncle, Ernest Beck, did not have a grave in Sheffield and the trees were planted shortly after the war in remembrance.

“They have stood the test of time and you can see the passage of time through them.

“Each tree is an individual memorial tree to these young men.

“Whether they were an uncle, a brother or a son these trees are like a graveside for them in Sheffield.

“The council are talking about planting new ones but that is not the same. If you planted a tree remembering your parents and somebody ripped it out putting a new one in wouldn’t replace it.”

The report states that 41 trees “currently fall into one or more of the council’s replacement categories of dead, dying, dangerous, diseased or causing damage or access problems.

It further sets out to plant an extra 300 memorial trees in the city’s parks before November 2018.

One of those remembering with the planting of a tree is Sapper Ernest Beck, who was just 26 when he made the ultimate sacrifice in Ypres on February 8th, 1918.

Prior to the war, he had been a gardener who lived only one mile from Western Road.

When the Great War broke out he served with the 456th Field Company, previously known as the 2nd West Riding under the 49th Division.

Surviving war diary records show the 456th was engaged in digging defences along the Western Front and aiding the supply lines.

Though little is known about his death, records indicated that 456th held the Ypres Salient when the Germans launched their first phosgene gas attack.

It’s likely the Sheffield man, who now rests at Potijze Cemetery near Ypres, was involved with operations on the Flanders Coast In August 1917 and the Battle of Poelcapelle in October 1917.


What do the Council say?

The Sheffield City Council cabinet report reads:

“The total cost to retain the trees is around £500,000.

“Undertaking this work would have an impact upon the council’s general fund revenue and would require prioritization of the potential tree works against other pressing council priorities such as social care.”

Council bosses have claimed they need to cut down 500 trees by the end of the year or face “catastrophic financial consequences.”

Bryan Lodge, the Labour councillor in charge of the tree-felling programme, known as “Streets Ahead”, said the council would be in breach of a £2.2bn, 25-year private finance initiative (PFI) contract with Amey if the trees were not counted.

He has said the cost of violating the contract could be “into the millions”.

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