High above Cathedral Cove on the Coromandel, overlooking the sea, a sapling army stands to attention. This is the Gallipoli Memorial Forest and together with six other sites around the Coromandel, it forms the World War I Memorial Forest, a living tribute to the soldiers killed in the war. At the Gallipoli site, 2779 native trees will mark each of the New Zealand deaths during the campaign. So far 1500 saplings have been planted and the remainder, including 1000 donated by Barkers as part of their company-wide sustainability programme, will be dug in by the end of the year.

Other major planting sites include Stella Evered Park near Hahei, where 2,300 trees will be planted to commemorate those New Zealanders lost at the Somme, 100 years ago this year. Meanwhile, over at Mercury Bay, 2000 trees will mark those who died in the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917.

This is a project that has inspired and involved the entire community, young and old alike. RSA and Lions members have participated in plantings, alongside kids from local schools. At last year’s official launch at the Gallipoli site, Mercury Bay students laid down 2779 handmade flax crosses through the newly planted trees. In Pauanui at the mouth of the Tairua River, 13-year-old Donelle Steer gave a speech to mark the launch of the Sinai-Palestine Campaign site:

“In my own family, we lost five men in the Great War.
It lasted four years and four months and that’s a long time to wait for someone you love. I struggle to imagine how life would be for me if I had to say goodbye to my dad and not see him again until I am 17 – with there still the chance that he wouldn’t come home at all. It’s an impossible thing to appreciate 100 years later.”

The Memorial Forest has immense local significance, but it’s a project for all New Zealanders. Donate $25 to plant a tree at www.tcdc.govt.nz/donatetree and you can choose a specific soldier to whom your tree will be dedicated. You’ll receive a memorial certificate with the soldier’s name and the GPS co-ordinates of the tree your donation helps pay for and maintain. To preserve accuracy, the soldier must have died in the specific battle/forest in which the tree is planted – if you need
to check, service details are searchable at Auckland Museum.

Alternatively, if you don’t have a specific fallen soldier in mind, you can gift a tree on behalf of your family or somebody else to “A Fallen Soldier”. You’ll receive a memorial certificate without a specific GPS location.

And if you’d like to pay tribute to a soldier killed in New Zealand’s last battle of the Great War, at the French town of Le Quesnoy, you can donate $35 and receive a commemorative ceramic poppy as well as a memorial certificate and the tree’s GPS co-ordinates in the Le Quesnoy Memorial Forest in Whangamata.

Wherever you go in the Coromandel, you won’t be far from a Memorial Forest. While some of the forest sites adjoin neighbourhood parks and cemeteries, others are located near Coromandel’s most popular tourist spots. Gallipoli Memorial Forest at Cathedral Cove, for instance, sits on the bluffs overlooking one of New Zealand’s most recognisable - and most visited - natural features. It’s on a path many visitors already take to Cathedral Cove and in future will be linked to the Coromandel Great Walks network of walking paths, as will the Somme Memorial Forest near Hahei.

They’re mere saplings now – but one day, like the soldiers they represent, the trees will stand steady and strong. And in the forest, at the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.