Two commemorative events took place in the borough this month to mark Holocaust Memorial Day on the 27 January 2022 and also the 80th anniversary of the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR).

To mark their milestone anniversary the AJR launched their ‘80 Trees for 80 Years’ project which will see 80 native oak trees planted around Britain in honour of the people and places that symbolise the enormous contribution made to every walk of British life by refugees who escaped from Nazi Europe.

Ashford Borough Council was honoured to be invited to take part in this special tree planting and the village of Woodchurch was selected as a location due to its contribution in welcoming Jewish refugee children during the Second World War.

In the 1930s, 70,000 refugees, including approximately 10,000 children on the Kindertransport (German for children’s transport) arrived in Great Britain from Nazi-occupied Europe. Following an advertisement in the London Times, Great Engeham Farm in Woodchurch was established in June 1939 for housing Jewish refugee children.  

Combining productive agriculture training with education, Great Engeham Farm gave many young Jewish refugees a purpose and occupation.  Some 300-350 children aged 13-16 passed through the camp before moving to Devon in November 1939, when Kent was designated off-limits to enemy aliens.

Mayor of Ashford Cllr Callum Knowles, Chair of Woodchurch Parish Council Cllr Lucy Bramley, Leader of Ashford Borough Council Cllr Gerry Clarkson and Right Honorable Damian Green MP, planting the tree. 

The tree at Woodchurch was sponsored by Margot Fraser, an AJR member and will act as a platform for telling the story of Britain’s Jewish refugees and celebrating their remarkable contribution to British life.  It will also form part of The Queen’s Green Canopy, the unique tree planting initiative which will mark Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022, whose organisers have adopted the AJR’s project as a “wonderful initiative”.

Cllr Callum Knowles, Mayor of Ashford said “The tree is a poignant reminder of the contribution that the Jewish refugees have made to British society and celebrates 80 years of the AJR. 

We at Ashford Borough Council feel most humbled to be invited to participate in this significant commemoration and we thank our tree sponsor, Margot Fraser for her kind generosity”

AJR CEO, Michael Newman OBE said “As well as helping to mark the heritage of our members and a place of historic interest associated with them, the planting of this tree enables the AJR to give back to and create a living legacy within the country that became home to the Jewish refugees

Britain’s native oak trees are in decline and new trees are desperately needed. 

From Left to right : Chair of Woodchurch Parish Council, Cllr Lucy Bramley; Cllr David Ledger; Leader of Ashford Borough Council, Gerry Clarkson CBE; Cllr Matthew Forest; Cllr George Sparks; The Mayor of Ashford, Cllr Callum Knowles; Right Honourable, Damien Green MP; co Vice Chair of Woodchurch Parish Council, Wade Nash.

We hope these 80 special trees will be appreciated by future generations and provide natural habitats for other native species for many decades to come.” 

The AJR is a national charity providing social and welfare services to Holocaust refugees and survivors in the UK.  To find out more about the AJR and the 80 Trees for 80 Years project go to www.ajr.org.uk

During the afternoon of Holocaust Memorial Day, The Mayor of Ashford visited the Anne Frank Tree in Memorial Gardens, accompanied by fellow councillors, Cllr Matthew Forest, Cllr David Smith and Cllr Paul Clokie. Here a posy was laid whilst sharing a moment of reflection. 

Unfortunately, due to COVID concerns this year’s events were not publicly advertised, however, we welcome the local community to visit the Woodchurch ‘80 Trees for 80 Years’ AJR tree and the Anne Frank Tree in Memorial Gardens, Ashford should they wish. 

Mayor of Ashford Cllr Callum Knowles, speaking to attendees.

Visit https://www.hmd.org.uk/ for more information about Holocaust Memorial Day.

By Ed

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