Formation

 
'I suddenly found I'd started cutting down the wrong tree'. By courtesy of Yorkshire Evening Post.

A cartoon mocking women as they entered into the masculine arena of forestry work in The Land Girl 1944, p12.

At the outset of the Second World War, only 5 per cent of Britain’s timber came from domestic sources. By the end of 1942, this figure had increased to 60 per cent, owing to the removal of 524,000 acres of woodland. Wood was not an essential wartime resource, but being a cheap material and readily available in Britain, the government soon realised its benefit on the Western Front. Timber was used for telegraph poles, fences, pit props in mines, aircraft and ships, and for the production of charcoal used in explosives. 

In October 1940, the government formed the Home Timber Production Department under the Ministry of Supply (MoS), to coordinate timber production. The department employed prisoners, the National Dock Labour Corporation, Italian and German prisoners of war, Civil Defence workers, members of the National Fire Service, military personnel, foresters from Canada, New Zealand, and British Honduras, school children and civilian women.

From 1939, the WLA recruited 1,000 women, from a minimum age of seventeen and a half, into a special forestry department in England and Wales. In Scotland, from 1941, the WLA recruited measurers into the Women’s Forestry Service (WFS). In April 1942, the Home Timber Production Department set up the WTC in England and Wales. This organisation recruited women from the ages of twenty-one (though some recruits were younger) to undertake a range of forestry work.13 Two months later, Scotland set up its own WTC under the direction of the MoS Home Grown Timber Department, which recruited women as general foresters.14 By September 1943, when the MoS stopped recruitment to the WTC, the largest proportion of recruits were aged between twenty and twenty-four. From 1942 to 1946, over 6,000 women worked in the WTC in England, Wales, and Scotland. These women became affectionately known, and identified themselves, as ‘Lumber Jills’ (the female equivalent of the Lumber Jack).


References

Edlin, Herbert L. Trees, Woods & Man. 3rd Ed. London: Collins, 1970.

Gray, Affleck. Timber!: Memories of Life in the Scottish Women’s Timber Corps, 1942-46. Edited by Uiga Robertson and John Robertson. Vol. 7. Flashbacks. East Linton: Tuckwell in association with European Ethnological Research Centre, 1998.

House, Frank H. Timber At War: An Account of the Organisation and Activities of theTimber Control, 1939-1945. London: Ernest Benn Limited, 1965.

McNeill, J. R. “Woods and Warfare in World History.” Environmental History vol. 9, no. 3 (January 7, 2004): 388–410.

Ministry of Supply. Meet the Members: A Record of the Timber Corps of the Women’s Land Army. Bristol: Bennett Brothers Ltd., 1944.

Powell, Bob, and Nigel Westacott. “The Timber Corps.” In The Women’s Land Army, 2nd Ed., 99–106. Stroud: The History Press, 2009.

Twinch, Carol. Women on the Land: Their Story During Two World Wars. 1st Ed. Lutterworth Press, 1990.