201 trees to be planted as ‘living memorial’ to the Iolaire lost

A very special tree planting event is to take place in Stornoway next Wednesday (21 November) – 201 trees are to be planted along the avenue leading to the War Memorial, in remembrance of the men who died in the Iolaire tragedy.

Community volunteers are being sought to come along and help put the trees in the ground at the site, just above Memorial Avenue where a wide path leads to the War Memorial.

The project to commemorate the Iolaire with 201 trees is organised by the Woodland Trust Scotland and Point and Sandwick Trust are proud to be supporting it.

The project is also supported by landowner Stornoway Trust, who have been a massive help by carrying out the preparatory groundwork on the area.

In the same way as the formal civic Iolaire event on January 1 will be the last official event in the national four-year programme commemorating The Great War, this tree planting event will be the last in the Woodland Trust’s four-year ‘Centenary Woods’ programme across the UK, in remembrance of those who served.

During the last four years, the Woodland Trust has planted around 150 Centenary Woods, ranging in size from the flagship 23 hectare plantation at Dreghorn Woods, outside Edinburgh, to much smaller plantations such as the one at Scone Palace which remembered the 71 men who did not come back from the War – including 11 who were foresters and gardeners with Scone Palace Estates.

Bruichladdich on Islay is another of the smaller plantations.

The Woodland Trust has financed the Iolaire project, providing the trees, stakes and tree guards. 

The planting at the War Memorial next Wednesday will be split into two stages, with the first session beginning at 11am and the second at 2pm. 

Representatives from Point and Sandwick Trust, the Stornoway Trust and the Woodland Trust will be there – including Andrew Campbell, Senior Outreach Manager for the Woodland Trust – and any members of the community who would like to help with the planting are warmly invited to come along and help create this living, growing memorial. 

Volunteers should come prepared for the weather in warm, waterproof clothes and strong boots, and bring gloves, a spade and a mallet if they have one. They are asked to meet at the main access gate to the War Memorial, off Memorial Avenue.

A mix of hardy native trees are to be planted: downy birch, wych elm, bird cherry, rowan and hazel – trees which have been chosen by Viv Halcrow, who is the Project Officer with the Croft Woodlands project being run throughout the Outer Hebrides as a partnership between Point and Sandwick Trust, the Woodland Trust and other agencies.

Croft Woodland Project Officer Viv Halcrow, left, in action during a previous Woodland Trust / Point and Sandwick Trust planting project, at Ionad Stoodie in Point. Pic by Matt Bruce. Main image above, of the War Memorial, by Sandie Maciver of SandiePhotos.

Viv’s post as Croft Woodlands Project Officer is funded by Point and Sandwick Trust and it was largely her idea to create a Centenary Wood in remembrance of those lost in the Iolaire. It is quite different to the types of plantations she usually supports in the Outer Hebrides through the Croft Woodlands Project – schemes on individual crofts, where she advises on all aspects of planting, from the types of trees that will grow to how to apply for funding.

The types of trees chosen for the Iolaire memorial have been specially chosen for their hardiness but also their loveliness and Viv believes it will be a beautiful and fitting memorial.

“The trees we’ll be planting are all native species and they’re very hardy species so they should grow well in our climate. It’s quite a challenging place to get trees to grow.

“We were quite keen to get a variety of types of trees. They will vary in height and some of them will have really nice autumn colours. Wych elm gives a really nice lemony yellow in the autumn and bird cherry and rowan will flower in the spring. They go a pinky colour so there should be quite a bit of colour with that mix of trees.”

Viv said it would be “a living tribute”, to help people remember the past tragedy in a way that “looked to the future” – and she is “really pleased” the project has come together.

“I think it’s great that Woodland Trust, Point and Sandwick Trust and Stornoway Trust are all working together to make it happen. At one stage, because it was basically my idea, I thought I’d be trying to get it off the ground on my own.

“Having Stornoway Trust’s support is essential because it’s their ground and they have done the groundwork and the preparation. It needed some clearance of vegetation and turning the ground over, so that it’s easier to plant into. They volunteered to do that and they carried it out, which is a massive help.

“All the other projects have just been on individual crofts but this is much more a community planting effort in recognition of the Iolaire, so it’s more of a community day – and I hope people will turn out, so please come and help!

“I’m just pleased that we’re going to hopefully pull it together and make it happen and it will look lovely for years and years to come.”

Two other Woodland Trust Centenary Woods projects – Bruichladdich in Islay, above, and Dreghorn near Edinburgh, top.

Angus McCormack, Honorary President of Point and Sandwick Trust, said: “The tree planting will serve, for many years to come, as a growing memorial for those lost on the Iolaire. Point and Sandwick Trust is proud to be associated with the upcoming commemoration. Our trees will be a symbol of hope for the future.”

He added that we were “delighted to be cooperating with the Woodland Trust and Stornoway Trust on this auspicious project”, while the Stornoway Trust Factor, Iain Maciver, in turn thanked the Woodland Trust for having gifted the trees. 

Iain Maciver said: “We are happy that Woodland Trust have generously donated a living memorial that will hopefully remind people of those dark days. 

“Stornoway Trust is mindful of the huge suffering and tragic loss felt across our island community and hope that the trees, as they grow, will help to further instil a sense of gratitude amongst all those who use the route to access the Memorial building in honour of those who sadly did not return.”

Andrew Campbell, Senior Outreach Manager for the Woodland Trust, explained a Centenary Wood, whatever its size, was a “living, growing tribute to those who were affected by the First World War – not just those lost but all those who were affected because really, across the UK, there was hardly a family that wasn’t affected in one way or another”. 

He said: “There are about 150 commemorative First World War woodlands across the UK. What is happening in Stornoway, with the planting of the avenue of 201 trees representing those who were lost in the Iolaire tragedy, fits in.

“What happened there was as a direct result of the First World War and these men being away, so we’ve always seen it as part of the First World War effort. It will be our last planting for the First World War.”

Andrew appreciated there were “a lot of other things going on around the Iolaire tragedy because it was such a huge thing for Lewis and Harris” and stressed the planting event very much belonged to the community, with the Woodlands Trust there in a supporting role.

“It’s largely being driven forward by Point and Sandwick Trust and Stornoway Trust and we are there to make it happen.”

Stressing the high losses suffered by the Outer Hebrides – and the West Coast and North of Scotland – due to the high percentages of the male population serving in the Great War – Andrew described the loss of the Iolaire as “what a way to finish it off… such a tragic loss of these individuals to get within sight of home and never make it”. 

He said: “The planting of trees as a memorial is really fitting because trees are here for the long-term. As time goes on, the First World War is getting further and further away and we see these woodlands or these trees as the war memorials of today.”

Anyone with queries about the community planting event is asked to email Viv Halcrow at vivhalcrow@woodlandtrust.org.uk