The unusual, even bizarre, always held a certain appeal for my mother.
Thus it was, whilst scanning the Daily Telegraph on 1 September 1952, her immediate attention was drawn to a brief article amongst, it might be said, far more notable issues of the time.
The next day, in Trafalgar Square at noon, according to the article, a man would be collecting peach stones to plant in an attempt to hold back the encroaching sands of the Sahara – just the sort of thing to fire my mother’s imagination!
So, up at dawn, from our home in west Devon we travelled to Exeter, for an early train to Paddington – and thence to Trafalgar Square.
It wasn’t long before we saw, near St. Martin’s-in-the Fields, a crowd of people surrounding an open-top Jeep which was rapidly filling up with peach stones being hurled into it with various degrees of accuracy – excellent footage for the press photographers present.
Standing on the running board of this vehicle, which bore a large placard, “THE GREEN FRONT ” was a tall man in shirtsleeves expounding to his curious onlookers the need to, “plant trees for your lives”.
Feeling compelled to learn more, we threaded our way forwards and during the melee I somehow became “the youngest member of the Men of the Trees”. This man, to whom people referred as St.Barbe, pinned a small badge engraved with a tree to my school coat – and onlookers cheered.
On the train home that evening, we remarked that it had all been somewhat reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland. A thought emphasised later when my photograph appeared in a copy of the Farmer and Stockbreeder.
Nearly 70 years on, I wonder whether I have been at all worthy of that membership. I have learnt much about trees – their species and habits – their vital role in the planet’s survival. I’ve planted some, although hardly the Green Charter’s minimum requirement of ten by each member each year. I have marvelled at the founder’s vision, even smiled (recalling remarks long ago about his eccentricity) at his own mantra now become the current Government’s exhortation, “Plant trees for your Lives”.
The metamorphosis of the Men of the Trees into the International Tree Foundation is very appropriate. At the recent virtual Annual General Meeting I was gladdened to “meet” the young vibrant and knowledgeable committee members from diverse backgrounds whose approach and outlook is truly global.
Katharine Matthews, October, 2020