Poplar tree planted to remember children killed in 1917 air raid on school

Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman plants tree

Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman plants tree - Credit: Archant

A Black Poplar tree has been planted in London’s East End to mark a First World War tragedy when 18 children were killed in an enemy bombing raid on their school 97 years ago.

The tree that once gave the former Metropolitan Borough of Poplar its name was put into the soil yesterday at Upper North Street primary school, off East India Dock Road.

It commemorates the disaster on June 13, 1917, when a squadron of German aircraft targeted East India & Millwall Docks nearby in one of the first air-raids on London of the Great War.

But they missed their target and, instead, hit the school while the children were at lessons, killing 18 youngsters, most of them aged six and under.

The tree was planted along with a grove of elms by the Deputy Lieutenant of London, Cmdr John Ludgate, and Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman.

“We don’t celebrate the tragedy, but commemorate it,” the Mayor said. “There can be few more significant sites than here, where 18 children’s lives ended suddenly, brutally and pointlessly.”

The elms, donated by the Conservation Foundation, are cuttings from one of the few to survive after Dutch Elm disease wiped out 24 million trees during the 1970s and 80s.

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The hope is the cuttings share the same genes which made the parent tree resistant and will help recreate the classic British landscape painted by artists like Turner and Constable, a reminder of the past.

A tree-planting programme has also been announced for East London schools to encourage pupils to tend saplings and learn more about carbon recycling and climate change.

The planting is also helping make the urban East End more green and avert climate change that threatens the environment.