An interesting feature of the newly-restored Northumberland Park in North Shields is the replacement of the dedication plaques sited beside a number of trees planted over many years to mark significant events.
One tree is an exception to this local commemoration of events of local or international significance.
In 1919, an acorn was brought from the wasteland of the battlefield around the totemic town and forts of Verdun in France and planted in August 1919, when the park was the scene for a gesture of solidarity between the two allies who had borne the brunt of the fighting over the previous five years.
The battle around the border fortresses of Verdun was an inferno in which the French army had been tested almost to destruction by the German commander Erich von Falkenhayn between February and November 1916.
His plan was to wear down the French by drawing an unsustainable number of their men into the cauldron of destruction that he intended to loose on the fortresses surrounding the strategic and highly symbolic town. Starting on a misty morning in February 1916, the battle would become a byword for slaughter and the pouring of men into a relentless struggle from which neither side ultimately would emerge with any gain.
Intent on wearing down the French on the ‘anvil of Verdun’, Von Falkenhayn was ultimately to fail, incurring losses no less damaging than those he sought to inflict on the French.
The severe strain on the French was instrumental in our ally seeking an earlier opening of the planned British campaign on the Somme.
The British commander Douglas Haig did not believe his new and untried armies of Kitchener volunteers would be ready to open the planned offensive before August, but he was urged to bring forward his offensive to relieve pressure on the French at Verdun and force the drawing-off of German forces across to the Somme.
What did happen was that the Allies’ planned joint offensive, when it opened on July 1, 1916, did not benefit from the number of French divisions promised to support the British attack, although the advance in the French sector was probably the most effective of the Somme campaign.
The story of the battle of Verdun, which would become seared into the French collective memory of the war, will be retold by our popular speaker Ian McArdle in a free talk he will give in the community room adjacent to the Glasshouse Tearoom in Northumberland Park at 1pm next Thursday.
His talk is a part of North Tyneside’s Age Takes Centre Stage programme of events.
The Verdun tree stands not far from the tearoom in the beautiful surroundings of the park. Sadly, in contrast, many of the battlefield areas around Verdun remain to this day, 100 years on, a sterile landscape of destruction and still-deadly residues of a titanic struggle that defy any viable programme of restoration.
On October 27, as part of our regular series of talks, Ian will consider the topic of shell shock at 7.30pm at the Low Lights Tavern in North Shields.
This talk was first given as part of the Victor Noble Rainbird exhibition at the Old Low Light Heritage Centre in August.
The commemoration project’s information centre in Front Street, Tynemouth is open on Sundays for the autumn and some days during the school half-term holiday.
Anyone with information about anyone killed, or who died as a result of the war, from North Tyneside is asked to contact the project.
The project workroom at Linskill Community Centre, in Trevor Terrace, North Shields is open from 10am to 4pm each weekday for visitors and for anyone wanting to learn more about the project or how to get involved.
Our address for correspondence is c/o Essell, 29 Howard Street, North Shields, NE30 1AR.