Author marks 80th anniversary of 'Britain's forgotten army'

·3-min read
A new book by author Joanna Foat tells the story of the Women's Timber Corps, which was formed during World War Two.
A new book by author Joanna Foat tells the story of the Women's Timber Corps, which was formed during World War Two.

THEY have been dubbed Britain's forgotten army - thousands of women who fought for their country using axes and saws instead of guns and tanks.

This month marks the 80th anniversary of the Women's Timber Corps, which was deployed in the New Forest and other woodland areas during the Second World War.

In the late 1930s Britain was the largest timber importer in the world, obtaining 96 per cent of its supplies from aboard.

Daily Echo: The Women's Timber Corps played a vital role during the Second World War. Picture: Joanna Foat collection.
Daily Echo: The Women's Timber Corps played a vital role during the Second World War. Picture: Joanna Foat collection.

The Women's Timber Corps played a vital role during the Second World War. Picture: Joanna Foat collection.

But the war meant the country needed a massive amount of homegrown wood for industrial and military purposes. Women aged 17-24 plugged the gap by leaving home for the first time and felling a huge number of trees across the country.

The Corps was formed in April 1942 to replace male forestry workers who had been called up and the women became known as Lumberjills.

One of the biggest problems they faced was finding somewhere to live, especially if they were moved from one area to another.

Diana Underwood said the shortage of accommodation in the New Forest was made worse by an influx of workmen building an airfield at Stoney Cross.

"I must have stayed with ten or twelve families, mainly in Lyndhurst, Ringwood and Brockenhurst," she said.

Daily Echo: Members of the Women's Timber Corps took over from male forestry workers who had been called up. Picture: Joanna Foat collection.
Daily Echo: Members of the Women's Timber Corps took over from male forestry workers who had been called up. Picture: Joanna Foat collection.

Members of the Women's Timber Corps took over from male forestry workers who had been called up. Picture: Joanna Foat collection.

Author Joanna Foat has published a book about the Corps after interviewing 60 former members.

She said: "I was shocked to discover how the women were treated at the beginning of the war. They were regarded as ornamental rather than useful and many timber merchants did not want women taking over the jobs of skilled men.

"In fact, the Lumberjills proved that women could carry logs like weightlifters, work in dangerous sawmills and drive huge trucks."

Many rivalled their male counterparts in both strength and skill. One woman challenged her foreman to a felling duel after he made a disparaging remark. Each took one end of a saw and together they felled 120 trees in a day.

Joanna said: "Many Lumberjills I met were still upset that they remained a footnote to the Women’s Land Army, so I wanted to make sure they were remembered."

Lumberjills - Britain's Forgotten Army is published by The History Press.

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Daily Echo: Members of the Women's Timber Corps hard at work during the Second World War. Picture: Joanna Foat collection.
Daily Echo: Members of the Women's Timber Corps hard at work during the Second World War. Picture: Joanna Foat collection.

Members of the Women's Timber Corps hard at work during the Second World War. Picture: Joanna Foat collection.

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