Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Work Ethic Boosted Health and Hopes

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Work Ethic Boosted Health and Hopes

Article excerpt

Eve Rendle was barely a year old when she arrived at Hamsterley Forest in 1934.

And 68 years later, in 2002, she was back again to plant a rowan tree and put up a plaque in memory of her father and the unemployed men who passed through the forest work camp.

While researching her family history, Eve found letters written by her father, Albert, in the 1930s when he worked for the Ministry of Labour, setting up what were called forestry training centres. With timber supplies depleted after the First World War, there was a push to increase the national stocks and the Ministry and Forestry Commission designated 35 centres.

One was at Hamsterley, under the management of Albert Rendle, a sergeant major in the First World War.

Up to 1939, over 300,000 jobless men nationally attended the camps for three-month working terms. They have generated controversy. It is claimed the camps gave hope to men demoralised by unemployment, taught them skills, and provided three meals a day and lots of fresh air. Others said the camps exploited the jobless and cut them off from their families for three months. Emotive words like slave labour have been bandied about.

It doesn't wash with Eve Rendle and it didn't with a newspaperman who visited Hamsterley camp in 1936. He wrote: "I discovered a secret valley in County Durham hidden in a sylvan trough beside a beck which flows into the River Wear, where more than 200 men are being trained to remember what work is like, and to find satisfaction in an eight-hour shift. The men who enter the valley are cut off from their homes, but in those three months their muscles and hands, softened by lack of work for years, become hard and strong."

Albert Rendle was a jazz enthusiast, and introduced a hot jazz version of the 6am reveille, while popular music was played in the camp canteen. A recreation hut, built to look like a steam boat, held concert parties and guest speakers delivered talks. …

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