IT’S been relatively easy, these last few days, to remember what we were all doing (that is, those with a long enough memory) 70 years ago.

It brings back scenes of the family huddled round the 12-inch tele receiver – all black and white of course, none of the vivid reds, whites and blues which now adorn our streets, parks and public places. We all now honour our Queen, whose dedication as head of state is unsurpassed. She has been busy. Among other achievements she has planted, I am told, 1,500 trees to commemorate this and that – indeed, pictures of her with a brightly polished spade, filling back soil onto yet another commemorative oak, are so embedded in our minds there is surely scope for some university researcher to trace what happened to all those pampered trees. Or were they pampered?

I can claim taking part in planting one such specimen in the National Forest, and have the photos to prove it. I asked after its prosperity some years later and received puzzled looks. No doubt Her Majesty’s plantings are better recorded, but it would be interesting to find out what happened to both the trees planted and the causes they upheld.

My own career in forestry runs in parallel with our monarch’s reign. I was a schoolboy when she was crowned, at a time when my careers master at school threw up his hands in astonishment that any of his charges should seek a career in the countryside, let alone in botany or (shock, horror) in forestry. You either wanted to be a lawyer or a scientist back then. I developed my own leanings by ringing the Forestry Commission and asking for a holiday job. I was welcomed, told to report to the local head forester, which I did, and was taken on for a trial period, starting at once. On the spot. 

My new boss checked my wellies and my waterproofs and I was conducted, on the pillion of a Commission Norton, complete with sidecar, to a relatively large area of thorny scrub some 10 miles south of Nottingham called Cotgrave Wood. 

Our task was to clear and burn the hawthorn. ‘Prep Ground’, it was called, and we were not helped on my first day by heavy and persistent rain. I was taken into a battered Anderson shelter (hands up if you know what an Anderson shelter looked like) where I met my workmates, Bert Whybrow, Bill Thick and Martin Wilson. A small woodier burned by the door, but the shelter itself was full of smoke. In addition, everyone smoked Woodbines. 

We swapped stories until at last the rain eased and we went out. I was set to work in the thorns and it didn’t take long to realise how unfit I was in comparison with these – in my eyes – elderly men. All work was by hand. No chainsaws back then. My technique advanced and I soaked in a hot bath back home, where I learned how to take thorns out of my delicate fingers and thumbs with a sterilised needle – a skill I got from my mother.

The next day was dry and I was introduced to the art of burning. Bert, it was claimed, was so expert in lighting fires that he could, in Bill’s opinion, light a fire on the surface of a pond. He was proud to pass on his skill, showing me how to find the right fuel to start, encourage and structure the fire so it would burn green thorn trees and bushes and be ready the next morning to rake in the ashes for a gleam of red, which was to be the foundation of the next day’s conflagration. 

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Bill used to pick me up on the Forestry Commission’s bike most mornings. I wore a duffel coat and better boots, but no helmets or safety equipment. Bill sported a grubby tweed cap, which be never took off. I asked him why. Eventually he told me, man to man. He was keen on a young lady of this parish, and took her about on his BSA 650. Then one day his hat blew off, revealing his scant hair. The maiden dropped him at once, and married a local farmer. This was my first introduction to the conflicts between farming and forestry which continue, so I am told, to this day.

Hard to believe, but we worked a five-and-a-half-day week, including Saturday mornings. Thursday was payday, and I received my first-ever earnings in a brown envelope, the grand sum of three pounds fifteen shillings. I was elated. Proud. I’d taken a step up the ladder. It just about paid for a few pints in the Manvers Arms when I met Bill to celebrate this rite of passage. I must have been under drinking age, but men’s work deserved men’s rewards. Our local landlord seemed content to take my money and turn a blind eye.

Forestry Journal: The Queen is celebrating 70 years on the throneThe Queen is celebrating 70 years on the throne

I worked at Cotgrave during my school holidays for a couple of years. We planted the cleared area with oak and Norway spruce, which didn’t achieve much but was, for some time, the standard method of establishing oak. I am sad to say I haven’t been back for years to see what has happened. Perhaps the nostalgia stirred up by Her Majesty will stimulate me into a special trip to see. Perhaps Her Majesty planted a tree or two in the locality. I know her sister, Princess Margaret, certainly did.