The June Meeting, 2018.
The Royal Parks in the First World War
Richard began by describing his background which included work as a landscape designer and architect involved with the Eden Project and many of the Royal Parks. He is now a member of the Royal Parks Guild
He went on to explain that there are eight royal parks which cover about 5,000 acres in Greater London. During the Great War the parks had very varied and important roles and among other activities were used for recruitment rallies, transport staging posts, aerial defence and temporary accommodation.
New buildings for administration of the military machine were erected in St James’s Park, and the Guards at Knightsbridge Barracks used nearby Hyde Park for drilling, trench digging, sports and regular military exercises. There was a very large postal depot, complete with post office, at Regents Park for parcels and letters to and from the Western Front. The Park was also used extensively for recuperation by wounded soldiers who could relax in natural surroundings.
Richmond Park, the largest of the parks, was used extensively by the military for training and for warfare experiments and a military hospital was built within its grounds. A Balloon Training Wing was later moved from the naval station at Roehampton to Richmond Park. A new hospital was opened in Bushy Park and further experimental work was carried out at the adjacent National Physical Laboratory for the Admiralty.
The pleasure gardens at Hampton Court were ideal for rest and relaxation purposes and were used by allied troops who were stationed in the London area.
The availability of food, always of prime importance in war time, was discussed in the House of Commons in 1916 and as a result several hundred acres of land in Richmond and Bushy Parks were put to the plough and cultivated. Further allotments were created at Kensington Gardens, Greenwich and Regent’s Park and subsequently those in Bushy Park and Richmond Park were extended.
For the defence of London anti-aircraft guns were placed on top of Admiralty Arch and a searchlight installed at Hyde Park Corner. Further guns were placed in Regent’s Park and Hyde Park and another outer ring of anti-aircraft guns placed in Richmond Park and Bushy Park.
Victory in 1918 was celebrated by a concert in Hyde Park followed a year later by Trooping The Colour on Horse Guards Parade Ground where a firework display was later held as part of a planned series of festivals.
The passage of time where nature has healed these vast areas of major disturbance on the Western Front led Richard to make the observation “from mud through blood to green fields beyond”.
Richard went on to describe The Royal Parks Guild which is a voluntary organisation offering support to the Royal Parks and also seeks to commemorate the First World War by exploring the role played by the parks in that war and the people involved.
Other notable features of the Royal Parks include the Wellington Arch, built between 1826 and 1829 on the edge of Hyde Park to honour the victories of the Duke of Wellington in the Napoleonic Wars. This was originally intended as a gateway to Buckingham Palace but access was inadequate. It was rebuilt in the 1880s and moved to its present position at Hyde Park Corner but without the original controversial statue of the Duke of Wellington which was re-erected at Aldershot. The triumphal arch now depicts the Angel of Peace descending on the four horsed Chariot of War. This work was cast at Thames Ditton.
Trooping The Colour, held annually on Horse Guards Parade by St James’s Park, celebrates the Queen’s birthday and also acts as a focus for the military as a useful training and recruiting tool.
The eighteenth century temple in Kew Gardens now carries a bronze plaque with the names of 37 soldiers complete with ranks and regiments who formerly worked at Kew.
A much acclaimed work of installation art was placed in the moat of the Tower of London between July and November in 2014 to commemorate the outbreak of World War One with 888246 organic red ceramic poppies each representing a British or Colonial serviceman killed in the war.
A show garden created for this year’s RHS Hampton Court Flower Show is planned as a tribute to 24 Park’s staff of the Office of Works who lost their lives in World War One. Battlefields to Butterflies is inspired by the battle of the Somme and shows the recovery from the bleak horror of the trenches. These are constructed using barbed wire, mud, sandbags, metal sheeting and duckboards. The trench gradually becomes shallower until paths emerge at surface level into a garden full of flowers in bloom.
Oak trees were grown from seeds gathered from the battlefield at Verdun. One of these was planted at Kew but then struck and destroyed by lightening in 2013. The trunk has been salvaged and made into a commemorative bench.
David Ivison’s research for the R P Guild showed that 245 men from The Royal Parks had joined the military and 24 of them were listed as killed or missing and 23 were seriously wounded but had survived. A memorial which lists the 24 “Band of Brothers” as well as others of the Office of Works exists at the former headquarters at Storey’s Gate and which is now the Treasury Building at 1 Horse Guards Road at Westminster.
It is now intended through the Battlefields to Butterflies Project to provide a memorial plaque to the 24 and all who went from parks and gardens around the country never to return. This commemoration will be placed in the show garden at Hampton Court in July 2018 and eventually relocated in Brompton Cemetery.
David Richardson thanked Richard for a good talk on a little known subject which had been well received.
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