Sawdust Fusiliers

Discussion in 'Canadian' started by canuck, Sep 28, 2016.

  1. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    I only discovered today that my great uncle Vincent spent fours years (41-45) in the 11th Company of the Canadian Forestry Corps.

    The twentieth-century style of warfare required five trees’ worth of wood per fighting man, for everything from temporary buildings and packing cases to high-explosives ingredients. Yet, in 1939, 96% of Britain’s wood was imported.

    Nearly 7,000 Canadian all-ranks of the Forestry Corps saw service in the UK and Northwest Europe during the war. A total 442,100,100 foot board measure of timber was cut in Scotland, England and France. If in two-by-fours, this amount of lumber would circle the earth 4 ½ times.

    loggingtruck.jpg Vincent.jpg

    "The attempted blockade of the UK in the Second World War once again required the British to look to Canada for assistance in meeting the need for timber. The first request from England for forestry companies was actually made in Oct 1939.1 Wood was needed for living quarters, messes, and recreation facilities, as well as crates for vital supplies such as food, ammunition and even vehicles, and for the creation of explosives, stocks for weapons, the construction of ships, aircraft and factory facilities. After the success of the original Canadian Forestry Corps, a new corps was created in May 1940 to perpetuate their work, and twenty companies were initially raised. Ten more were formed as the war progressed.

    Canada agreed to shoulder the expense of pay, allowances and pensions, all initial personal equipment, and transport to and from the United Kingdom by individual members of the corps. The British Government paid for "all other services connected with equipment, work or maintenance" and certain others such as medical services (though Canada covered the costs associated with Medical Officers, Britain paid for actual hospitalization). While the British designated the areas of work, and the final disposal of the lumber created, military operations were under the purview of Canadian Military Headquarters in London.

    Both anglophones and francophones were recruited from across Canada, including many veterans of the corps from the First World War, including the corps' first commander, Brigadier J.B. White, who had commanded timber operations in France in 1918. Unlike the First World War, where "Canadian Forestry Corps personnel did not receive military training other than basic drill, courtesies and protocols",2 personnel of the CFC in the Second World War received five to seven months of training, mainly at Valcartier, before moving overseas. The decision to provide military training to these men was made in Jun 1940, given the impending danger of German invasion prevalent at that time.

    For the most part, the C.F.C. camps were constructed from scratch, and the personnel built barracks, roads, bridges and set up power plants. Each company's sawmill usually was located close to their camp and employed both "Canadian Mills" and the smaller "Scotch Mill" but the later was not viewed with approval by the Canadians. The average time lag between arrival at the camps and the start of logging operations was 97 days.

    The companies worked in two sections, one cutting in the bush and bringing out the timber, and the other sawing it into lumber at the company mill. The felling crew consisted of three men, two sawing and one trimming. Hand saws and axes were the tools employed and three man "Cat" teams yarded the logs to the roadside landings, either by dragging them or use of sulkies. Each C.F.C. Unit was a self-contained community, including men capable of turning their hand at any task from black smithery and mechanical repair to snow clearance on the highland roads. A regular potion of each unit's time was devoted to military training, each company preparing defensive positions in its area in cooperation with the troops of Scottish Command in the event of German invasion.3

    By May 1941, Corps Headquarters was in operation in Scotland with 13 forestry companies (each about 200 men strong), organized into five Forestry Districts each with its own headquarters (in the counties of Inverness, Ross, Aberdeen, Nairn and Perth). Seven more companies arrived in late Jul 1941.

    The corps cleared approximately 230,000 forest acres in Scotland during their stay. In 1942, ten additional companies had been raised, the last arriving in Oct 1942. By the spring of 1943, however, manpower problems in the Canadian Army caused the remustering of several hundred soldiers suitable for other employment to other overseas units. In Oct 1943, ten companies were repatriated to Canada (totalling close to 2,000 men) for forestry duties there.

    After the landings in Normandy in Jun 1944, ten companies eventually moved to the Continent to continue operations there; 77 square timber rafts and 54 round timber rafts had been created in Southampton to moved timber across the English Channel with them. By the end of Aug 1944, operations had commenced on the continent; six companies of the CFC were called out to hold the line during the German Ardennes Offensive in Dec 1944, when Allied reserves were stretched to the limit.

    On 1 Sep 1945 the CFC was officially disbanded (forestry operations had already ceased in Scotland in Jun) and all 20 companies returned to Canada. In all at it's peak, the overseas strength of the corps had been 220 officers and 6,771 other ranks. A total 442,100,100 foot board measures of timber had been cut in Scotland, England and France during their time in Europe.

    Also of note is the fact that Newfoundland had also contributed foresters to the war effort; the Newfoundland Overseas Forestry Unit was created in Nov 1939 of civilians; in Dec 1942 they numbered 1,497 men who had volunteered for the duration of the war. They conducted operations in Scotland similar to that of the CFC.'
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2016
  2. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce

    Deacs, smdarby and canuck like this.
  3. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    Obviously no long lasting animosity toward the Canucks for having harvested virtually all the remaining timber reserves in the U.K. at the time.
    The cause was just.

    Some irony in the fact that Canada has 4,916,438 sq km of forest, (49% of our landmass, vs 28,650 sq km (11.8%) in the U.K.
  4. JohnS

    JohnS Senior Member

    A lot of RCE units spent time cutting down trees. I know that the 23rd Field Coy. RCE did so right after Operation Berlin and were not happy about it.
  5. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    4jonboy likes this.

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