Britain’s Hitler Oak succumbs… but was it the last of its kind?

Harold Whitlock was a British athlete who won the gold medal in the 50 kilometre walk at the 1936 Summer Olympics held in Berlin. Most famously, the 1936 Olympics were marked by the success of Jesse Owens, the black US sprinter who upstaged Hitler by winning four gold medals. A lesser-known fact is that along with their gold medals, the champions of the 1936 Olympics were each presented with an oak sapling on behalf of Adolf Hitler.

Lovelocks' Hitler Oak
Another Hitler Oak, won by Jack Lovelock of New Zealand

The whips, each in a terracotta pot, were awarded by the German Olympic Committee. Although the extent of Hitler’s personal involvement in the scheme is not recorded, the potency of his name has made the tag of ‘Hitler Oak’ the one which people tend to remember. Perhaps not surprisingly, of the 130 trees presented, only a few are known to have survived (one source suggests only 16): some unmarked, a few celebrated. Great Britain won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics, so what happened to the British Hitler Oaks? The Observer runs a story which sheds some light on the fate of one, at least:

Harold Whitlock, the British long-distance walker… brought his sapling back to Britain, but decided against planting it in his garden in case he moved to a different address. So he donated it to his former school, the then Hendon Grammar School, where a ceremony marked the occasion. For 70 years it stood giving shade to generations of children and famed as a local landmark nicknamed the ‘Hitler Oak’. No more. Last month the magnificent 50ft tree was chopped down, severing a precious link with Britain’s sporting past. Hendon School explained that the tree had been diagnosed with a fungal disease and was in danger of falling down and injuring pupils.

A shame – but these things do happen. Mind you, the article goes on to quote Scott Sturgeon, head caretaker of Hendon School, saying:

The tree expert I work with said in 20 years he’d never seen such large spores

That doesn’t exactly give one confidence in his expertise – fungal spores are too small to see anyway, but perhaps he had particularly good eyesight. Interestingly, The Observer described Whitlock’s oak as “Britain’s only known [Hitler] oak“. Gilbert Addison, the Tree and Countryside Officer at Breckland Council commented on the story in the UK Tree Care Mailing List:

We’ve got a ‘Hitler oak’ in Norfolk awarded to a local broadsman along with a sailing medal in the ’36 Olympics. I worked on the tree back in the 80’s … The tree was still there in an inferior sort of way last winter.

And indeed Great Britain did win a gold medal in the 6m mixed sailing in 1936, so it looks as though another Hitler Oak still stands in England to preserve this curious quirk of history.

Who will really win the Olympic lottery?

The Ranger’s been gritting his teeth for a while now, hearing all sorts of bad noises emerging from London with respect to Olympic funding. Now, don’t misunderstand, the Olympics are very fine, and good for London. That’s not the issue. The Ranger is concerned with the money going to support the games, where it’s coming from – and what it will achieve.

That’s because he keeps hearing that the lottery will have to be paying out for some of it, and as he noted in a previous post:

…what will suffer as a result? Everyday lottery bids such as the ones we Rangers spend lots of time and effort producing, managing and supporting, and which pay the wages of quite a few of us. And it’s not just rangers. Small community groups and charities, culture, heritage, education, children’s facilities, health, regeneration projects… all those things which up to now the lottery has benefited, all will suffer: and the benefit will be concentrated on one main theme – sport – and one main region – London.

Worrying stuff. But just to make things a little grimmer, the Greater London Authority has produced a report from Prof Gavin Poynter and Dr Iain MacRury of the University of East London. The Telegraph describes some of its findings:

The 2012 Olympics will struggle to bring a boom in jobs, sport and housing, according to a new study. The event could result in “white elephant” venues, job losses and a “couch potato” generation hooked on television sports coverage. The report also claims it will be difficult to regenerate parts of east London, where the venues will be built. Researchers analysed the impact of events on Athens, Sydney, Atlanta and Barcelona. They found venues “struggled to make their mark” in improving employment and sports participation… Improvement in sports participation was “mixed, at best”, with Sydney experiencing small increases in seven Olympic sports, but a decline in nine.

So, not only might we pay more than we thought for the games, but they might not even deliver the things we hoped they would. That’s not really very good.