War Memorial Oak

Australia’s War Memorial Oak (Quercus robur), the very first known WW1 commemorative tree to be planted by any of the allied nations, anywhere in the world, will be 108 years old on the 29th August 2022.  It can be clearly identified outside the southern entrance to the new Adelaide Oval.

This significant living memorial was planted planted by Sir Henry Galway, then Governor of South Australia, in Creswell Gardens, Adelaide, SA on the 29th of August 1914, to perpetually remind us of the very sombre beginning of WW1 in Europe. The occasion a mere 25 days after the declaration of war between the United Kingdom and Germany and it was to be another 8 months before Australia’s enlisted sailed off to Gallipoli.
A further eight wattle trees were planted around it by other dignitaries, to symbolise the eight States and Territories of the young Commonwealth of Australia.
The Register reported this event as follows:

Treeplanters at work

An Historic Oak

A unique ceremony of historic importance was witnessed at Creswell Gardens during the morning. Shortly before 11 a.m. a company of metropolitan Boy Scouts arrived upon the scene. They were followed by the drum and pipe bands of the East Adelaide and Thebarton Public Schools. Lining up on both sides of the principal entrance the scouts, trim and erect, formed a guard of honour for His Excellency, the Governor (Sir Henry Galway) and Lady Galway, who drove in a few minutes later, and were received by the State and Federal President of the Wattle Day League (Mr. W.J. Sowden) and the Vice- President of the local branch (Mr. Herbert Solomon). His Excellency, accompanied by Messrs Sowden and Solomon, the viceregal Private-Secretary (Hon. J Mulholland), and the officer in charge (Assistant Superintendent Scoutmaster Holden), inspected the ranks, spoke a few words to the school children, who were under Messrs. J.J. Fairweather and J. Donfiell, and the real business of tree-planting was begun. Eight wattles of various species were placed in different parts of the gardens, under the supervision of the City Gardener (Mr. A W. Pelzer). The Governor was the first to place a plant in the ground, and as he finished the operation Mr. Sowden called for three cheers to mark the first tree planting operation of his Excellency in Australia. A hearty response was given. Others who performed similar ceremonies were Lady Galway, the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Glynn), and Mrs. Glynn, Mrs. A.H. Peake, the Mayor of Adelaide (Mr. A.A. Simpson), Lady Butler, and Mrs. W.J. Sowden. The onlookers then gathered round a spot where a small oak [Quercus robur] was waiting for insertion in the soil. – Presidential Remarks –

Mr. Sowden said he would now, as Federal President, request His Excellency, on behalf of the Federal Wattle Day League, as well as the South Australian branch, to plant a British oak. They desired by that means to commemorate the greatest war in the history of the world, and also what would probably by the most epoch-making period the world had ever seen, or ever would see. (Hear, hear.) With the consent of the Adelaide City Council, represented today by His Worship the Mayor, they proposed to exhibit upon an inscribed plate on the site a record to the effect that on Wattle Day, August 29, 1914, Sir Henry Galway, then Governor of South Australia, had planted a memorial oak to keep the people in perpetual memory of greater events which had now just begun in Europe. (Hear, hear.) … The oak which was to be planted was, like Australia, young. An older tree was not chosen because they sought to convey the idea that this oak in its infancy was synonymous with the beginning of the great cataclysm in Europe (Anon 1914, ‘The Golden Wattle’, The Register, p. 769A-B)

The wattles have been lost but the Oak tree still remains as a living memorial and has the potential to grace the Adelaide Parklands for many more decades to come.

War Memorial Oak (Quercus robur), November 2011.

During the Adelaide Oval Redevelopment Project the tree was fenced off within the development area – establishing a ‘Tree Protection Zone’ to exclude machinery and other activities from damaging the tree during the construction phase.

The War Memorial Oak has pride of place post the redevelopment and remains a magnificent and accessible public memorial within the Parklands.

Since 2009 TREENET has been collecting acorns from the War Memorial Oak to produce offspring of this oldest WW1 memorial tree for planting in new or restored Avenues of Honour. The first of these was planted on November 11th 2012 at Malvern Uniting Church Adelaide.

A second pedigree Oak – known as the War Memorial Centenary Oak – was planted on the 29th August 2014 within the Cresswell Gardens and in line of sight to the original, parent tree, continuing the gesture of memorial and remembrance. The major ceremony replicated a similar event 100 years previous, involving various dignitaries and students from Gilles Street Primary School and Sturt Street Community School, who helped to plant the special, commemorative, Centenary War Memorial Oak.

Another collection of acorns in March 2019, were prepared for shipping to a nursery in France, May 2019.
50 War Memorial Oaks were successfully propagated. These special progeny were grown on for a couple of seasons and were finally destined to feature in the landscape of the British Military Cemetery in Etaples-Sur-Mer, France. Read more>