Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Ethel the Lumberjill's Wood Work Was Vital to War Effort

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Ethel the Lumberjill's Wood Work Was Vital to War Effort

Article excerpt


THE ceaseless demand for timber has seen generation upon generation exploit the woodlands of the North East.

But behind the commercial and practical needs, many woods in the region are rooted in their own histories built up over the centuries.

Another chapter was added during the Second World War when the Women's Timber Corps produced vital supplies of wood.

Ethel Oliver was one of the young women whose war effort was spent in the North's forests, including a nine-month shift at Chopwell Wood in Gateshead.

She has come forward to make her contribution after an appeal by the Forestry Commission, Groundwork Northeast and the Friends of Chopwell Wood.

They are gathering information and items linked to the wartime "lumberjills" who worked in the 900-acre location.

The material will be added to the archive being built up about the wood and its phases over the centuries.

The Women's Timber Corps was set up in 1942 as an off-shoot of the Land Army.

Up to 7,000 women worked in the corps. As men were being called up to the armed forces, it meant employment of women in the forests was vital to the war effort.

Timber was needed for everything from pit props, aircraft and wood-based mine sweepers to packaging for bombs, while alder wood was also used in the production of special charcoal for high explosives.

Ethel, 88, who lives in Whitburn in South Tyneside, was 18 when she joined the Women's Land Army and later switched to the Timber Corps.

At Chopwell she lodged with the local school caretaker.

She was responsible for measuring the length and girth of trees which had been felled.

"I enjoyed it. You were outside and in the good weather it was beautiful but in the winter it was awful," says Ethel.

"Everything was difficult to do when things were frozen.

"It was a busy place with trees being felled and charcoal burning going on. The wood was desperately needed for pit props. We had to be able to identify the kind of tree by looking at leaves or the bark.

"If you could afford it, you would go home at weekends for a bath, although transport wasn't great. …

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