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Memorial oaks to be remembered

DANIEL BIRCHFIELD
Last updated 05:00 16/05/2014
memorial oaks
FITTING TRIBUTE: Today's memorial oaks crosses, made of concrete, replaced the original crosses made of wood.

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The sacrifice of troops from from North Otago who fought and died in Word War I is the focus of a new exhibition at Oamaru's Forrester Gallery.

The Memorial Oaks installation features more than 168 plaques removed or recovered from damaged tress that were once part of the North Otago Memorial Oaks scheme.

Plaques on display as part of the exhibition are now looked after by the North Otago Museum.

Forrester Gallery curator Alice Lake-Hammond says the scheme was an "inspired initiative", driven by the local community.

"In 1918 at the close of World War I the then president of the Oamaru Beautifying Society Dr Alexander Douglas proposed the North Otago Memorial Oaks scheme as a tribute to the fallen.

"The Oamaru Borough Council and Waitaki County Council implemented the scheme. When it was unveiled in 1919, 400 trees had been planted across the region.

"The plantings radiated outwards from the oak tree planted for Sergeant Donald Forrester Brown VC at the junction of Wansbeck and Severn streets."

She says over time many of the trees died or were damaged or removed to make way for roads and powerlines.

"We are privileged to be able to share these memorials, recovered from the missing oaks, with the community once again. I think they will resonate with our visitors of all ages on many levels."

North Otago Memorial Oaks scheme secretary Rob Douglas says the exhibition reflects a special part of North Otago's history.

"It highlights the memorial oaks scheme as a whole. A lot of people up to now weren't aware that the oaks were memorials or there was something special about them. We've been trying to educate people about the scheme and its importance to North Otago."

Douglas says the original crosses were made of wood and when they rotted away the brass plaques would fall to the ground.

A lot of plaques would then be damaged by lawn mowers mowing grass around the trees.

One plaque in the exhibition is unusual, according to Douglas.

It's dedicated to a Mr Tonks, who is listed as being an Australian flying officer with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Douglas says it's anyone's guess how Tonk's plaque ended up in Oamaru.

The exhibition will run in the Community Gallery throughout winter as part of commemorations taking place around the world marking 100 years since the start of World War I.

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- South Canterbury

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