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British Memorials made of Austrian Oak. Any truth in it?


Andy Wade
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I have a friend who regularly tells people that most British wooden war memorial plaques are made of Austrian Oak and that this was supplied by Germany as part of the war reparations after WW1. I confess I'm a bit tongue in cheek about the whole thing.

Now whilst it sounds like it could have a ring of truth, I wondered if anyone knew if there was actually anything in it or is it simply a tale that's passed down over the years and become a bit of folklore? If it is true, how widespread was the use of this oak and can we expect that most of our oak war memorials originated in Austria?

Failing that, if anyone could point me to a reference instead, I'll go and have a look myself.

Many thanks in advance.

Edited: to add that one of our local war memorials is listed with the Imperial War Museum as being made from Austrian Oak, so at least one of them is. There are just four entries in their on line database that mention Austrian Oak though, which is why I'm a bit suspicious of the extent of the claim:

http://www.iwm.org.uk/memorials/item/memorial/28660

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From Wiki

Cultivation and uses[edit]

The species' range extended to northern Europe and the British Isles before the previous ice age, about 120,000 years ago. Reintroduced in the United Kingdom and in Ireland in the eighteenth century, its gall wasps now provide early food for birds

So it would seem that has it has grown in uk for a long time

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Quercus cerris, the Turkey oak or Austrian oak

Austrian oak is the preferred wood for church pulpits, reedos, screens, commemorative plaques ect

So the fact that most wooden memorial plaques are made of Austrian oak is most likely to be true
But the wood not necessarily obtained from Austria, As the Turkey oak also known as the Austrian oak
grows throughout Europe

regards Ray

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Having done a simple google search for austrian oak memorials

confirms that it is the preferred wood for church interiors and memorial plaques

regards Ray

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Keele University Arboretum backs this up Ray ...

"Turkey or Austrian Oak Quercus cerris

<snip>

The timber grown in this country is prone to cracking, warps easily and distorts on drying and thus is not of use in major timber construction. It used largely to be used for wood panelling - hence its early name of "wainscot oak" ."

https://www.keele.ac.uk/arboretum/trees/species/turkeyoak/

Clearly a well established tradition of using the timber from Quercus cerris grown in the UK for panelling.

What we don't know though is whether any Quercus cerris timber was supplied by Germany or Austria as any form of war reparation.

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MBrockway’s Quote
What we don't know though is whether any Quercus cerris timber was supplied by Germany or Austria as any form of war reparation.

As Austria is 50% Forest land
Its possible that some Turkey oak or Austrian oak found its way to Britain after the war, Is there any evidence that Britain accepted goods (timber) in part payment of war reparations ?

Regards Ray

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Hmm... so whilst they could be made of Austrian Oak the story about them actually coming from that country as war reparations isn't proven.

If 'Austrian Oak' is more like a 'trade name' for the product and it could have been grown anywhere in Europe there's no proof that it's a war reparation product at all. In fact it's as likely to have been grown around here as well.

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Hmm... so whilst they could be made of Austrian Oak the story about them actually coming from that country as war reparations isn't proven.

If 'Austrian Oak' is more like a 'trade name' for the product and it could have been grown anywhere in Europe there's no proof that it's a war reparation product at all. In fact it's as likely to have been grown around here as well.

'Austrian Oak' and 'Turkey Oak' are two of the Common Names for the tree with the Species Name Quercus cerris. There are several others.

'Austrian Oak' as a timber means just the timber produced from Quercus cerris, not oak exported from Austria, so I can see what you mean by 'trade name'.

The modern distribution range for Quercus cerris is southern Europe (including Austria), but Quercus cerris could be grown almost anywhere in Europe,including the British Isles.

Might be worth searching Hansard to check the war reparations angle.

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'Austrian Oak' and 'Turkey Oak' are two of the Common Names for the tree with the Species Name Quercus cerris. There are several others.

'Austrian Oak' as a timber means just the timber produced from Quercus cerris, not oak exported from Austria, so I can see what you mean by 'trade name'.

The modern distribution range for Quercus cerris is southern Europe (including Austria), but Quercus cerris could be grown almost anywhere in Europe,including the British Isles.

Might be worth searching Hansard to check the war reparations angle.

I've done a few searches in Hansard using several keywords Memorial, Oak, Austrian, Memorial, War, and in different combinations but the only thing that I could find was a Board of Agriculture reference from 1914 that stated there were large stocks of 'Austrian Oak' in this country, all bought and paid for and that this was a preferred material for making furniture. The question was whether they should be using English stocks instead, but since this material was already owned by the manufacturers and ready for use, that they shouldn't be penalised by preventing them from using it if they wished. There was no real threat intended to the use of English Oak and hence no actual failure to support English industry in the ordering of new furniture for the offices of the Board of Agriculture.

I'm seriously thinking that this 'Austrian Oak war memorials' thing is a bit of an old wives tale and it's just been assumed that they used Austrian Oak as a war reparation to spite the Germans after the war when it's just an accident of the name of a product that would have been the best choice for the memorial anyway, regardless of where it had been grown. There's a reasonable chance that the Austrian Oak used for our war memorials was already in stock in this country way before the first bullet was fired.

Here's the Hansard link

Was your area once called Austrianoakworth?!

Yeah, we're obsessed with the stuff!

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There are numerous of mentions of Austrian oak in newspapers of the time (Just do a BNA search)

It seems to have been very popular during that period, possibly perceived as a superior product, and there are a number of articles asking why it is preferred to British oak for government contracts etc

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Yes, Austrian Oak does appear to be the oak of choice for these items and I can see why people of the time would question it's preference over English Oak.

I recall standing in a sandwich shop in Bingley during the days of the Falklands conflict and a bloke asking "if the corned beef was Argentinian." When the lady said "Yes" he said "OK, I'll still have it but just make sure you smother it with English mustard..." :D

That really did happen, but I got the distinct impression he'd seen the joke in the Sun newspaper. Probably next to the page three stunnah...

Many thanks for doing the search in the newspaper archive.

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"Was your area once called Austrianoakworth?!"

"Yeah, we're obsessed with the stuff!"

But I can't really picture Bernard Cribbins calling out ""Austrianoakworth, Austrianoakworth, this is Austrianoakworth!"

:)

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