German guns captured by the Canadians at the Battle of Vimy Ridge, 9–12 April 1917. Note the blasted remains of once stately trees, oaks among them
Photo Credit: AWM H07084]

Book: The Vimy Oaks: A Journey to Peace

It’s a little known story about a man who loved trees, a man of peace whose duty sent him to war in the battlefields of France.  From amongst the blasted stumps he saved some acorns to regrow those once magnificent trees.  A hundred years later that hope has been realized.

Historian Linda Granfield has created an historical look at “The Vimy Oaks”.

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Author, historian Linda Granfield © supplied

There are literally thousands of Canadians, national leaders and dignitaries from several countries, who have gathered at a piece of elevated ground in northern France located about half way between the cities of Arras and Lens.

They are gathering around the huge and magnificent memorial to mark  the centennial of a battle which marked a turning point in the First World War, if not strategically, certainly as a morale booster for the Allies.

Planned by a Canadian general and carried out mostly by a unified Canadian army, the battle for Vimy Ridge which began on April 9th, 1917, became the Allies first major victory in years of horrific warfare.  It has also come to mark Canada’s coming of age as a nation.

The Vimy Oaks, Journey to Peace 23 x 26 cm (10 x12in) by Linda Granfield, illustrated by Brian Deines 36pgs © North Winds/ Scholastic publishers

But after the battle, surveying the blasted countryside, a Canadian solder from the signals corps, and farmer, Leslie Miller, found some acorns from destroyed oak trees.

Lieutenant Leslie Miller (far left) with the Canadian Signal Corp © courtesy Miller family-Centenary News

It is a tiny but wonderful vignette of hope among the horrors of that war.

Pages from the book, showing a page from Miller’s diary, a French Chateau where he wandered the ground between actions and took note of magnificent beech trees as shown by one of Brian Deines illustrations. © North Winds Press-Scholastic

He sent them home where they were planted on the family farm near Toronto, and where they grew, and their “descendants” have grown ever since.  In fact after the war, Miller named his farm, the Vimy Oak Farm.

What was once the Miller Farm is now a highly developed area just north of Toronto. The Vimy Oaks still stand though, beside the Scarborough Chinese Baptist Church. © Google streetview

Recently cuttings and acorns from the Toronto area Vimy Oaks have resulted in about 1,000 seedlings being grown.

The original idea was to repatriate some of the trees to Vimy in time for the centennial this weekend but due to safety issues of buried unexploded shells and a tree disease in France, that idea has been put on hold.

 Monty McDonald,72, used to work on Miller’s Vimy Oak Farm, and has instigated a project to create 1,000s of oaks to send back to Vimy. That’s on hold, but now many of the oaks will be distributed across Canada to preserve the Miller and Vimy legacy.
Monty McDonald,72, used to work on Miller’s Vimy Oak Farm, and has instigated a project to create 1,000s of oaks to send back to Vimy. That’s on hold, but now many of the oaks will be distributed across Canada to preserve the Miller and Vimy legacy. © Jonathan Castell- CBC

In the meantime the young Vimy Oaks  saplings are being sent out to communities across Canada mostly to be planted near cenotaphs and outside Royal Canadian Legions, gathering places for veterans.

Cuttings and acorns from the Vimy oaks are being grown in a nursery in West Flamborough Ontario. Some acorns have been sent to a nursery in France. It is hoped eventually some oaks will be replanted on the site of the Vimy memorial © Havard Gould- CBC

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