20211107 HDR TREEPLANT PR972069

Valentine’s Tree Planting 13th Anniversary. 14th February…

Normandy Company cadets planted over 1000 trees on Valentine’s Day - thirteen years later they’ve become a wood!

Valentine’s Tree Planting 13th Anniversary. 14th February 2022.

14 February 2022

  • Somerset ACF

Words & all pictures by WO2 (SMI) Peter Russell/County PR Officer

Life in Army Cadets for most youngsters, and not a few Adult Volunteers, tends to be a transient thing - here today, gone tomorrow. Whilst we all acknowledge that service in Army Cadets can lead to significant changes in people’s future lives it is seldom that direct, physical evidence remains there for all to see, years after they’ve left.

So it’s great to be able to report that a lasting tribute to hard work and endeavour by cadets and adult volunteers from Normandy Company, Somerset Cadet Bn (The Rifles) ACF, can be seen flourishing today.

Hunter's Lodge wood today
Hunter's Lodge wood today
Hunter's Lodge wood today
Hunter's Lodge wood today

Thirteen years ago today, on Saturday 14th February 2009 - Valentine’s Day - cadets and CFAVs from Midsomer Norton, Shepton Mallet and Frome Platoons, provided valuable support for The Woodland Trust and planted well over 1000 native broadleaf trees such as oak, rowan, birch and ash at Hunter’s Lodge Farm, owned by James & Alka Hughes-Hallett, in my home village of Wanstrow, between Nunney Catch and Bruton.

Newly planted trees in Hunter's Lodge wood on Valentines Day 2009
Left to right, are unknown, Portia Guidotti (daughter of Alka Hughes-Hallett), SI Roy Farmer, SMI Sandra Levett, PI Nathan Marshall, SSI Pete Burge, unknown cadet, Cdt LCpl Tom Chilton, Cdt Stacey Dehmel, Dave Adam (Silvanus Services Ltd), unknown cadet, Laura Judson (The Woodland Trust), SI Kate Burge, Cdt Sjt Nicole Gibson, SMI (CSM) Nigel Levett, Cdt Sjt Jake Charlton, Michelle Byrne (The Woodland Trust), David Hughes-Hallett and owner of Hunter's Lodge Farm, James Hughes-Hallett.

While all the volunteers were battling with that task, my wife and a neighbour laboured at home to provide a superb cooked lunch to all the tree planters, Woodland Trust volunteers, CFAVs and Cadets. Along the narrow country road leading to the farm cadets equipped with hand-held radios organised route marking and control of the traffic, much of which was cadets arriving in shifts to add support.

The snow that had blanketed the ground only a few days before had melted by then, helping to make it a great day! Sadly, only two photographs (above) of that momentous day have survived because of two hard drive failures within half an hour of each other, destroying all the files and their backup copies. The only images have been rescued from Normandy Company’s archived web site.

I am in negotiations to have the wood officially named Normandy Wood or Normandy Copse and to appear on Ordnance Survey maps, as well has having a commemorative plaque made to install beside the wood.

Hunter's Lodge wood three years on from planting

Today, many of the cadets who helped plant the wood have children of their own and this wood is a living, growing reminder of the fact that support for the community leaves a lasting legacy. Everyone should be very proud of their efforts and should visit the wood which now has paths cut through the trees, making for a pleasant stroll. Of the CFAVs there, only SMI Nigel Levett and I remain active in Army Cadets, whilst a former Midsomer Norton CFAV is now Lt Col Nathan Marshall, Deputy Colonel Cadets HQ SW!

SMI Sandra Levett in 2008
SI Kate Burge in 2008
SMI (CSM) Nigel Levett in 2008
SSI Pete Burge in 2008
SSI Roy Farmer in 2011
SI Nathan Marshall in 2012

The original story reads, After considerable work behind the scenes, on Saturday 14th February 2009 - Valentine’s Day - about 50 Cadets from Midsomer Norton, Shepton Mallet and Frome Platoons, provided valuable support for The Woodland Trust, planting well over 1000 trees and bushes. After the appalling weather that had been experienced of late it was with some trepidation that we waited for Tree Planting day to arrive. Luckily, the snow that blanketed the ground only five days before had melted by then, and we were greeted by one of the best days of the year, making our task so much easier. The advance party of cadets from Midsomer Norton Platoon, led by SSI Pete Burge and SI Kate Burge, arrived in the small village of Wanstrow early on Saturday morning and proceeded to erect traffic route signs on all the single track approaches to the farm. VCPs (Vehicle Check Points) were then established to control the anticipated high volume of traffic along the narrow lanes. Using their new radios, cadets controlled the traffic with skill and good humour, adapting to Radio Procedure like ducks to porridge!

Meanwhile the remainder of the Advance Party established their HQ in the barn adjacent to the field and proceeded to erect two 9x9 tents and prepare the catering side of our operation. At this stage we still had no idea how many civilian volunteers we were expecting, so it was a bit worrying waiting for some to arrive, particularly as two families in the village were working flat out in their kitchens preparing hot meals of sausages, beans and baked potatoes, scaled to feed 100 people!

Luckily many volunteers started to arrive, along with the Coy minibus, driven by SI Kate Burge, making two trips to collect cadets from Shepton Mallet and then Frome platoons who quickly swelled the numbers and rapidly set about mucking in. The cadets running the VCPs were rotated every 30 minutes to relieve the boredom, although none professed to being bored!

By the time the last cadets had arrived, Laura Judson from The Woodland Trust, along with James Hughes-Hallet and his wife Alka, the owners of Hunter’s Lodge Farm, set to and ran a quick course on the finer details of tree planting. Dig a small hole, peel back the turf, insert a sapling, cover with a plastic protective tube and then hammer a supporting stake in - job done! Looking over the large field, empty of any trees, the task ahead seemed daunting, but in no time all the cadets not manning VCPs or working on the catering side were busy carrying bundles of stakes and bags of saplings to the farthest reaches of the field. Amazingly, in around four hours, well over 1000 trees were planted and the field rapidly turned into a sea of vertical plastic tubes - a mini forest.

Under the overall control of SMI (CSM) Nigel Levett, the cadets worked tirelessly, having only the briefest of breaks for lunch. This was transported to the barn by SI Kate Burge after being collected from the two cooks, Julie Russell and immediate neighbour Mandy Byles, who had been preparing and cooking the food since dawn. PI Nathan Marshall, SI Roy Farmer and SMI Sandra Levett had no trouble encouraging the ever willing cadets to carry on planting and Cdt LCpl Eden Frew even found time to celebrate his 16th birthday! There was even a celebratory peal of bells from the village church to celebrate a job well done!

Praise for the cadets was forthcoming from all the members of The Woodland Trust and civilians working there, who were highly impressed that the commonly held view that all children are delinquents was clearly not to justified in this case! Well done indeed! Michelle Byrne, The Woodland Trust Regional Development Manager (South West), said, “I’m glad you enjoyed your day with the Woodland Trust. We really appreciated all the hard work the cadets put into making it such a successful planting day. They were all a pleasure to work with and I was very impressed with their willingness to help with any task!”

By the end of the day, James and Alka Hughes-Hallett, expect their love affair with trees to be close to a final tally of 80 acres planted, totaling almost 43,000 trees. James and Alka have been planting thousands of trees at their home over the last couple of years - both as a lasting legacy and to complete their vision of creating a new native forest with long-term benefits for wildlife.

All in all, the day was a resounding success, both for the ‘Cadet In The Community’ programme and The Woodland Trust. Without willing volunteers nothing would have happened, so a heartfelt thanks to all the CFAVs and cadets who so willingly gave up their Valentine’s Day to a good cause. In ten or twenty years time you can come back and say, “I helped create that wood”.

Cadets Nicole Gibson, Tom Milton, Jamie Tanner, Gareth Fear, Dan Nicholson, Eden Frew, Fiona Frew, Joe Frew, Kirsty Sharland, T. Yoxall, Laura Scull, K. Ault, Kane Charlton, T. Charlton, M. Collins, Andy Prattent, Charlie Matthews, Anthony Allen and Ben Anderson from Midsomer Norton Platoon, Cadets J. Taylor, Danyelle Rodgers, Stacey Dahmel, M. Whittel, J. Collis, K. Scott and J. Close from Shepton Mallet Platoon and Cadets Jake Charlton, J. Ramsay, Paige Starr, Daniel Bingham, O. Johnson, J. Woodard, H. Jackson and B. Howell from Frome Platoon should all be proud to have left a lasting reminder of their endeavours.

Swift & Bold!