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The search is on for "Lumberjills" who may have worked in North Yorkshire woods during the Second World War.
The Forestry Commission is gathering information on the massive contribution made by the Women's Timber Corps (WTC) – which was set up 70 years ago – and which operated in woods like Dalby and Cropton Forests, near Pickering, and Boltby and Kilburn, between Thirsk and Helmsley.
Girls from across the UK carried out tasks such as felling, measuring logs, loading timber onto trucks and driving vehicles. Long days were combined with hard work and often severe weather. Modern day Lumberjill, Sarah Bell, 20, from Kirkbymoorside, a Works Supervisor with the Forestry Commission, is full of admiration:
“These days machines do a lot of the back-breaking work, but in the 1940s forestry was far more labour intensive. The only way to cut down a tree was to use a saw or axe - chainsaws still hadn’t been invented. The girls were made of tough stuff and it’s time their contribution was better known.”
The WTC was an off-shoot of the Land Army and females from all social backgrounds dressed in distinctive green uniforms, filling in for men away fighting. Many were billeted with local families. Timber was crucial to the war-time economy and was used for pit props, aircraft manufacture and even in explosives.
One lady has already come forward to contribute her precious memories to the project. Edna Holland, 87, from Beverley, left home for the first time as a 17 year old from Doncaster and spent three years in the wilds of the North York Moors on a special lumberjills camp at Boltby, near Thirsk.
Long hours, friendship and the sense of doing something important for the war effort were abiding memories for Edna (see attached text file).
“It was very hard work, but we learnt such a lot. We started off by learning to fell a tree. Then we were taught how to measure different sized pit props. My goodness we got muscles everywhere, but it made us feel really good."
Pam Warhurst, Chair of Forestry Commission England, added:
“The great efforts of our Lumberjills must be one of the last unrecognised stories of the Second World War. We forget how vital timber was to the war effort and yet so little is known about the women who kept the nation's forestry working. I am extremely grateful to projects like this which are striving to gather information before it slips from our collective memory.”
Petra Young, Project Officer from the Forestry Commission, said:
“North Yorkshire’s forests were an important source of timber. We know that Lumberjills served here until the end of the war as we have vintage photographs. But there are many stories waiting to be discovered. These memories will help us write another chapter in the history of our woods. ”
If you or a member of your family served in local Forestry Commission woods during the last war please contact Petra Young on 01751 472771 or email email@example.com
Note to Editor
The Forestry Commission is the government department responsible in England for protecting, expanding and promoting the sustainable management of woods and forests and increasing their value to society and the environment. Forestry makes a real contribution to sustainable development, providing social and environmental benefits arising from planting and managing attractive, as well as productive, woodlands. For more visit www.forestry.gov.uk
Media calls to Richard Darn on 0775 367 0038.