St Albans historian condemns lack of respect for Somme heroes in same week WWI trees are stolen from golf club

PUBLISHED: 07:00 23 June 2016 | UPDATED: 13:20 23 June 2016

Ex-marines Christiaan Creaby and Michael Anderson of the Yomp to the Somme challenge lay a wreath at the war memorial

Ex-marines Christiaan Creaby and Michael Anderson of the Yomp to the Somme challenge lay a wreath at the war memorial

Archant

A paltry turnout at a wreath-laying ceremony commemorating the Battle of the Somme has come under fire just days after trees planted in memory of those who died in World War One were stolen from a golf club.

Only a handful of people turned out at the ceremony at the War Memorial on Tuesday as two teams of ex-Royal Marines on a Yomp to the Somme Challenge stopped off in St Albans as part of a 65-mile endurance march from the north of England.

Just days earlier 20 Leylandii trees planted two years ago to commemorate members of Verulam Golf Club who had died in the First World War were stolen and the remainder were left damaged or party removed.

Part-time local historian Kevin Matthew said he was ‘embarrassed for our city’ by the turnout at the War Memorial as the Yomp to the Somme walkers came through. At other ceremonies on their route through from the north, far more people had come out in support, and St Albans was the lowest he had seen on social media.

As well as the Mayor, Cllr Frances Leonard, and several other dignitaries, there were a few old soldiers and Burma Star veterans and just three members of the public of which he was one.

Ex-marines Christiaan Creaby and Michael Anderson of the Yomp to the Somme challenge arrive in St Albans and are greeted by members from the Royal British Legion and local councilEx-marines Christiaan Creaby and Michael Anderson of the Yomp to the Somme challenge arrive in St Albans and are greeted by members from the Royal British Legion and local council

He said that although details of the Yomp had gone on Facebook and Twitter, he felt people no longer recognised the importance of the Somme and the sacrifice that had been made by so many young men.

Kevin went on: “I hate to think this but it is because it is not taught in schools any more and we have become this horrible Euro-nation.”

Describing the turnout in St Albans as leaving him ‘very disheartened’, he said the point needed hammering home how important the Somme was to St Albans and St Albans to the Somme.

He stressed the strong links St Albans had with the battle including Bernards Heath and Harpenden Common both being muster points for assembling regiments heading off the front line and the former Napsbury Hospital in London Colney being commandeered by the Middlesex Regiment.

20 Leylandii trees were stolen from Verulam Golf Club memorial garden20 Leylandii trees were stolen from Verulam Golf Club memorial garden

Kevin said: “Many men died on the trains from from the front to St Albans or whilst being treated at Napsbury. Many were blind and shell-shocked and a leading amputee surgeon and nurses were working round the clock.”

He also pointed to the 10 First World War plaques around St Albans commemorating the fallen, one of which in Albert Street names three brothers.

Calling on people to donate to the Yomp to the Somme through www.justgiving.com/fundraising/thesomeeyomp, Kevin urged residents not to forget the sacrifices that had been made.

The thieves who stole the Leylandii trees from Verulam Golf Club have been called ‘the worst kind of vandals’ by Don Dell, chairman of the St Albans branch of the royal British legion.

He said that to steal anything was bad but to steal from the dead was despicable.

The trees were dug up overnight last Friday, by thieves who are thought to have parked in Cottonmill Lane and walked on to the green to yank them up.

Golf club general manager, Robin Farrer, said: “There’s a small parking space there and I think they pulled the trees out and probably put them into bags of some sort to carry them down to Cottonmill Lane because there is no soil residue leading down to the road.”

He described the theft as ‘a desecration of our personal memorial to commemorate members and staff who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War One, adding:

“We will make every effort to restore this tribute to our fallen colleagues and friends. They will not be forgotten.”

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