George, 91 – who as a child planted memorial tree on Rovers’ training pitch – backs opposition to club’s housing development
A FORMER pupil of Birkenhead Institute who was one of 88 boys to plant trees in memory of those who died in World War I has joined those opposing plans by football club Tranmere Rovers to build houses on the site.
George Bell, 91, was just 11 years old when he paid one and sixpence for a poplar tree in 1931 to plant at Ingleborough Field in memory of former students at his school who died in the war.
The planning application by Tranmere Rovers is to allow the building of up to 90 new homes on the field, tied in with plans to redevelop the Woodchurch Leisure Centre for player training and improved facilities for the local community.
But it has proved controversial, in part because of the connection of the memorial with former Birkenhead Institute old boy Wilfred Owen, the great war poet.
Consultation on the plans has now closed, with the council recording 91 responses in favour of the development and 61 against.
In its supporting documents Tranmere said the club "fully recognise the importance of preserving the memory of those fallen pupils of BI in both World Wars and therefore propose to clean the Foundation Stone and relocate it to a position of suitable, and respectful, prominence in the new development".
The same heritage statement, however, casts doubt on the trees being part of the memorial.
However, Mr Bell, from Saughall Massie, who went on to be a local government officer, said: "It was an initiative started by the then new headmaster in order to make the ground a more fitting memorial, rather than just a large field in their memory.
"The idea was boys would join the tree club and pay enough money in to buy a tree, and that would be a personal gift to the old boys.
"Some pupils even had little metal plaques put on the stake holding their tree with their names on.
"The idea of the trees was it would provide some privacy to both the people living around the field, and to those using the field.
"It was a Saturday morning when we planted them. The whole school was there."
Tranmere Rovers declined to comment following the end of official consultation on their plans.
Dean Johnson, curator of the Wilfred Owen Story museum and a leading opponent of the plans, said: “There is only one issue here, the destruction of a war memorial for financial gain.”