Lost oak saplings in memory of WWI fallen identified as 50-ft trees

13 July 2018

KEITH THOMPSON

A “Respectful Tommy” on the edge of Goathland sports field

A “Respectful Tommy” on the edge of Goathland sports field

A LOST tribute to 12 villagers who died in the First World War has been restored, after a chance conversation led to its rediscovery.

In 1922, Kate Smailes, the wife of a Whitby ship-owner, planted 12 oak saplings in memory of her son George and 11 other men from Goathland, in North Yorkshire, along her favourite walk from her home to the Parish Church of St Mary.

Over time, the story of her private remembrance faded from local memory — until three years ago, when her grandson John, by then in his nineties, casually asked a member of the Goathland Community Hub if the trees that his grandmother had planted were still standing.

After much research, the group identified the trees, each now more than 50 feet tall; and, with the aid of a Heritage Lottery grant, it has incorporated them in a two-mile Centenary Walk. Earlier this year, children from Goathland Primary School planted 12 oak saplings along the route. Beside each has been erected a steel silhouette of a British Tommy resting on his rifle butt.

Last Saturday, the Bishop of Whitby, the Rt Revd Paul Ferguson, held a dedication service in St Mary’s, before leading 150 people around the walk. “It was a wonderful way of marking the 100th anniversary of the war’s end, and of linking the past with the present,” he said.

The Community Hub’s chairman, Keith Thompson, said: “Kate carefully chose the location for her trees, where she could see them every day. Now, 100 years later, we are retelling this poignant tale. It has brought the story to life for a lot of people in the village; they are very pleased about it all.

“We were able to trace relatives of nine of the men, and Mrs Smailes’s granddaughter, Sheila Benzie, who attended. They were over the moon.”

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