"Tree avenues – from war to peace": International symposium, 12 & 13 November 2018
3 million trees: this is approximately the number of trees which lined the French roads when the 1st World war started. These avenues, standing like soldiers on parade, channeled fresh troops towards the front lines. As the distance to the front diminished, so did the avenues, increasingly shattered and gap-toothed, foretell the grizzly horrors that lay ahead. Avenues were also readily identifiable targets. Where they survived they exhaled hope and were a reminder of the existence of order before the chaos.
These avenues made a strong impression particularly on soldiers of the British Commonwealth. They were frequently described by them in their letters and drawings, and later on in their stories. In 1915, they inspired a British officer, Second Lieutenant Alexander Douglas Gillespie, to wish for the creation of “one long avenue (...) from the Vosges to the sea”. The French parliamentarian Lemire proposed the same concept in 1919.
During and after the war, avenues of honour were planted in Australia: Every tree was dedicated to a soldier, with a plate bearing his name and details. New-Zealand, Canada, the United States, Great Britain, Italy followed. Germany planted also a few memorial avenues of the kind.
The symposium will explore this history for each country. It will show the issues of preservation, due to the age of the trees, but also to conflicting uses or altered geometrical features and obliterated remembrance. It will present the dynamics at work, with communities and public authorities as main actors.
How can we continue and write the history of peace for tomorrow? How can we turn the qualities of avenues, which are at the same time physical links and ecological corridors but also symbolic, temporal and spatial links between people – not to mention their presence in the landscape and their potential for tourism – to our greatest benefit? These questions will be addressed by the final roundtable.