How 15,000 lumberjills in the Women's Timber Corps felled millions of trees ...

How 15,000 lumberjills in the Women's Timber Corps felled millions of trees ...
How 15,000 lumberjills in the Women's Timber Corps felled millions of trees ...

Wearing boots and overalls and wielding an axe each, they were the women who helped Britain's war effort in the fight against Nazi Germany - and defeated gender stereotypes in the process.

Established 80 years ago this week, the Women's Timber Corps took on the crucial role of felling trees to provide much-needed timber in the Second World War - after most of the male lumberjack workforce had been sent to fight. 

Around 15,000 women aged mostly between 17 and 24, who became known as 'Lumberjills', left home for the first time to be trucked off to Britain's forests and learn their vital new skills. 

The wood that they felled was used in an array of industries, including aircraft and gun manufacture, ship building and mining. 

But despite their efforts, the women faced hostility and prejudice from some men who resented women taking on what they considered to be male jobs. 

The Government had even initially refused to employ women to fell trees, but because there were thousands of members of the Women's Land Army insisting on doing their bit made, the official position became untenable. 

Ultimately, women proved that they were capable of wielding 14lb axes, carrying logs, working in dangerous sawmills, driving timber trucks and calculating the reliable production figures that the Government depended on.

However, after the war had been won, the Women's Timber Corps received little recognition and were not allowed to keep their uniforms or even be part of organised Remembrance Day parades.  

Wearing boots and overalls and wielding an axe each, they were the women who helped Britain's war effort in the fight against Nazi Germany - and defeated gender stereotypes in the process. Above: Members of the Women's Timber Corps at Culford forestry camp, near Bury St Edmonds, Suffolk, in 1942

Wearing boots and overalls and wielding an axe each, they were the women who helped Britain's war effort in the fight against Nazi Germany - and defeated gender stereotypes in the process. Above: Members of the Women's Timber Corps at Culford forestry camp, near Bury St Edmonds, Suffolk, in 1942

Established 80 years ago this week, the Women's Timber Corps took on the crucial role of felling trees to provide much-needed timber in the Second World War - after most of the male lumberjack workforce had been sent to fight. Above: Members of the Women's Timber Corps on the Isle of Wight

Established 80 years ago this week, the Women's Timber Corps took on the crucial role of felling trees to provide much-needed timber in the Second World War - after most of the male lumberjack workforce had been sent to fight. Above: Members of the Women's Timber Corps on the Isle of Wight

Author Joanna Foat's 2019 book Lumberjills: Britain's Forgotten Army told the story of the thousands of brave women who felled trees for Britain. 

For her book, Ms Foat interviewed 60 surviving former Lumberjills and although many have now passed away, their stories have finally been documented. 

Ms Foat said: 'I was shocked to discover how the women were treated at the beginning of the war. 

'They were laughed at for their enthusiasm to offer their services, 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 not only pioneered a new fashion for women in trousers, wearing jodphurs, but they also proved that women could carry logs like weight-lifters, work in dangerous sawmills, drive huge timber trucks and calculate timber production figures on which the government depended during wartime.

'With their 80th anniversary, I hope to inspire women of all ages with the strength, courage and determination of the Lumberjills. 

'Out in the forests away from the restrictions imposed on women by society, they realised they could sit astride a tree, smoke a pipe and fell ten tonne trees just like the men, if they wanted to.'

On the outbreak of war in 1939, Britain imported 96 per cent of its wood. It meant that there needed to be a rapid ramping up in domestic production if the country was to keep up the fight against Adolf Hitler's forces.

Around 15,000 women aged mostly between 17 and 24, who became known as 'Lumberjills', left home for the first time to be trucked off to Britain's forests and learn their vital new skills. Pictured: Lumberjils in the Forest of Dean

Around 15,000 women aged mostly between 17 and 24, who became known as 'Lumberjills', left home for the first time to be trucked off to Britain's forests and learn their vital new skills. Pictured: Lumberjils in the Forest of Dean

The wood the women felled was used in an array of industries, including aircraft and gun manufacture, ship building and mining. Pictured: Lumberjil Eileen Mark (right) and a colleague are seen burning brush wood

The wood the women felled was used in an array of industries, including aircraft and gun manufacture, ship building and mining. Pictured: Lumberjil Eileen Mark (right) and a colleague are seen burning brush wood 

Despite their efforts, the women faced hostility and prejudice from some men who resented women taking on what they considered to be male jobs. Pictured: Women at a timber camp on the Isle of Wight are seen taking a break

Despite their efforts, the women faced hostility and prejudice from some men who resented women taking on what they considered to be male jobs. Pictured: Women at a timber camp on the Isle of Wight are seen taking a break

The Government had even initially refused to employ women to fell trees, but because there were thousands of members of the Women's Land Army insisting on doing their bit made, the official position became untenable. Pictured: Women are seen using a two-person saw on a tree that they had recently felled

The Government had even initially refused to employ women to fell trees, but because there were thousands of members of the Women's Land Army insisting on doing their bit made, the official position became untenable. Pictured: Women are seen using a two-person saw on a tree that they had recently felled

Britain needed to produce millions of tonnes of wood for railway sleepers, telegraph poles, gun butts, ships and aircraft. The material was also needed to make packaging boxes for bombs and other supplies. Pictured: Edna Holland and friends are seen at the Women's Timber Corps camp in Wetherby

Britain needed to produce millions of tonnes of wood for railway sleepers, telegraph poles, gun butts, ships and aircraft. The material was also needed to make packaging boxes for bombs and other supplies. Pictured: Edna Holland and friends are seen at the Women's Timber Corps camp in Wetherby

Britain needed to produce millions of tonnes of wood for railway sleepers, telegraph poles, gun butts, ships and aircraft. 

The material was also needed to make packaging boxes for bombs and other supplies. 

The term 'Lumberjills' was coined on April 18, 1942, when the Northern Daily Mail reported that 25 Lancashire girls, who had been clerical workers, typists and hairdressers, left Manchester for a timber training camp in the South-East of England. 

Other Women's Timber Corps training camps were then set up in England: at Culford near Bury St Edmonds in Suffolk and at the Royal Ordinance

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