Would the real Lone Pine please stand up?
When Australian and New Zealand troops arrived on the Gallipoli Peninsular in April 1915 a solitary pine stood on a ridge on the south of the small area they occupied. Soldiers used the lone pine used it as a reference point, referring to the area first as Lonesome Pine and then Lone Pine.
There was even a popular wartime song written about it called ‘The Trail of the Lonesome Pine.’
The pine tree, standing on the front line, was shattered in subsequent shelling. The 1st Brigade AIF launched a diversionary offensive at Lone Pine ridge at the start of the August Offensive on August 6. The main Turkish trench was taken within 20 minutes but over the following four days of fierce counter-attacks and hand-to-hand fighting, the Australians suffered more than 2000 casualties with seven Victoria Crosses awarded. Turkish casualties were estimated at 7000.
Despite the disappearance of the lone pine, the name remained with the ridge and became hallowed in Australia’s military history.
The pine at Gallipoli was a ‘Turkish Pine’ of the species Pinus brutia but other pine species grew in other parts of the peninsula. Logs of Aleppo Pine, Pinus halepensis, were brought in by the Turks to provide trench cover. When the battle was over several Australian soldiers collected cones and seeds and brought them, or sent them, back to Australia.
Lance Corporal Benjamin Smith, whose brother Mark was killed in the Battle of Lone Pine, collected cones from the branches used to cover the trenches. He sent them home to his mother in Inverell, New South Wales, in memory of his brother. They were kept in a drawer for 13 years before Mrs McMullen planted them in 1928.
Two seedlings grew from the seeds. One was presented to the city of Inverell, and the other was planted by the Duke of Gloucester, Prince Henry, in the grounds of the Australian War Memorial site in 1934 to honour all those who fell at Gallipoli. Both of these trees are Aleppo pines, as is the seedling growing at the entrance to the Gallipoli arbour in Queen’s Park.
Keith McDowell, an Australian soldier who fought with the 23rd Battalion at Gallipoli, also brought a pine cone from the battle site back to Australia. Many years later seeds from the cone were planted by his wife’s aunt, Emma Gray of Grassmere, near Warrnambool, Victoria.
Five seedlings sprouted but only four survived. The four seedlings were planted in various locations around Victoria: Wattle Park in Melbourne, The Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, the Soldier’s Memorial Hall at The Sisters near Terang and the Warrnambool Botanic Gardens. The cone brought home by Keith McDowell was a ‘Turkish Pine’ Pinus brutia, thought to have been picked up beside the original shattered tree.
In Auckland, two trees identified as ‘Lone Pines’ have been planted. One is of the variety Pinus canariensis. planted at Waikumete cemetery in 1961, and the other is a Pinus radiata at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, planted on Anzac Day in 1950. A tree identified as ‘The Anzac Pine’ stands on Te Mata Peak at Havelock North in Hawkes Bay. Although a specimen of Pinus brutia was originally planted the current tree is identified as Pinus radiata.
A ‘Lone Pine’ grows at the Paeroa golf course, at the ladies tee, on the second hole. This tree appears to be New Zealand’s only authentic Pinus brutia that can be traced back to the original pines that grew around Anzac Cove, according to ‘Excerpts from NZ Journal of Forestry, May 2007’.
Australian War Memorial senior historian Peter Burness says the taxonomy of the trees does not affect the symbolic significance.
‘As time goes by … the Battle of Lone Pine puts a shiver down an old soldier’s back, just the mention of it,’ he said. ‘Today we’ve forgotten so many battle names but Lone Pine is still one that resonates today.
‘That connection with that name, and knowing that that name was associated with a terrible battle, lots of lives lost, that it was part of the Gallipoli Campaign, makes any tree planted to remember, significant still.’