Woodland at war.
Thousands of poppies were blowing on the edge of the woodland at Langley Vale in Surrey. That was appropriate, because it’s the site of one of the woods being planted by the Woodland Trust to remember the First World War. One hundred years ago, smoke would have been gusting across the existing ancient woodland, in imitation of poison gas: there was a gas school here to train soldiers, as well as a rifle range and trenches.
The Princess Royal, who had come to name the Langley Vale Wood, reminded us that native woodland was under pressure, when Britain was blockaded during 1914–18 and it was required to supply the charcoal that went into gas masks.
The Princess, whose family, as she said, ‘has a long tradition of tree planting’, had come to this spot on the edge of Epsom Downs before. As an aspiring jockey, she trained here before a charity race, but, now, 640 acres of it will be planted with beech, rowan, hawthorn and oak. The pilots of the four First World War biplanes who gave us a fly-past, their silken-winged machines looking as fragile as moths in the light wind, will have got a good view of the site and Her Highness also intends to follow progress from the air the site is on the helicopter route in and out of London.