Town mouse visits Gas School Wood

War in the woods.

The children did well at Langley Vale, where the Woodland Trust is creating a wood in memory of the First World War; they managed to plant all the whips of trees the right way up. Enthusiasm was intense. Afterwards, I could repair to a hut, usually used by a local shoot, where lunch was served beneath trophies such as a stuffed albino pheasant. With wood smoke in the air, I thought I was as much in a fairy tale as Surrey.

Langley Vale, it has emerged, is an exceptionally appropriate site for wartime remembrance—a clue is given in the name of Gas School Wood. Unbeknown to the trust when it acquired the land, this 640-acre stretch of chalk downland—similar to the landscape of the Somme—was used for military training. A flag showed which way the wind was blowing for simulated gas attacks; the pole—a roughly hewn larch trunk—is still there. Archaeology would, no doubt, reveal more.

Nearby is Woodcote Park, bought by the RAC in 1913, which became a convalescent hospital. In January 1915, men of the University and Public Schools Brigade, including the 42-year-old Ralph Vaughan Williams, marched from camp there to a snowy Epsom Downs, where Lord Kitchener inspected them in a blizzard. The march will be re-created on January 24.