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A Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Web Site Partner Project. Created under contract to Canada’s Digital Collections, Industry Canada.



Forestry Corps

The Newfoundland Forestry Corps was a non-combatant military unit that formed in April 1917 to supply Britain with the lumber it needed for the war effort. Its approximately 500 volunteers cleared more than 1,200 acres of timberland in Scotland before the First World War ended on November 11, 1918.

Forestry Corps working in forests of Scotland, ca. 1917.
Courtesy of the Heritage Society of Grand Falls-Windsor, Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland.
(56 Kb)

Timber Wanted

Britain's demand for timber rose sharply during the First World War. Its armed forces needed wood for dug-out shelters, to provide stakes for barbed wire on the front lines, to line muddy trench floors, and to build railway ties for the transport of soldiers and equipment to the front lines. The munitions industry also depended on a steady supply of wooden frames (known as pit props) for use in its mines.

Britain traditionally imported lumber from Canada, but German U-boats disrupted maritime trade routes during the First World War. The United Kingdom also had to reserve much of its already depleted cargo space for more critical supplies, such as food and ammunition.

Group photo of Forestry Corps, ca. 1917.
Courtesy of the Heritage Society of Grand Falls-Windsor, Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland.
(53 Kb)

Unable to import sufficient quantities of lumber, the British government decided to harvest its domestic timberlands. A shortage of local woodsmen prompted Britain to ask Canada for volunteers. In April 1916, the first draft of the newly formed Canadian Forestry Battalion arrived at England to commence operations. More drafts followed and were stationed at England, Scotland, and France.

In March 1917, the Newfoundland and British governments decided to form a 500-man Newfoundland Forestry Corps. Britain agreed to cover the costs of raising and maintaining the unit, while the Newfoundland Patriotic Association (NPA) assumed responsibility for recruiting men.

Appeal for Volunteers

On April 4, 1917, Newfoundland Governor Sir Walter Davidson published a call "for lumber men and all skilled workmen not eligible for the Regiment or the Royal Naval Reserve for service in the forests in the United Kingdom." Enlistment requirements were more relaxed than for the armed forces because the Forestry Corps was a non-combatant unit. Recruiters accepted able-bodied men of any age and height, and Davidson wrote that "no one shall be rejected for eyesight, flat feet, loss of fingers, deafness, etc."

The Forestry Corps accepted 498 men in Newfoundland (some reports say 494) and another 2 in Great Britain. An additional 278 were rejected on medical grounds. Its members included teenagers who were too young to join the armed forces, men of military age who were deemed medically unfit for service, and woodsmen who were too old to serve in the Regiment or Naval Reserve. Some volunteers were former soldiers and sailors who had been wounded overseas and discharged from active service.

Volunteers came from across the island of Newfoundland. The largest concentrations were from St. John's (167 men) and the Twillingate District (129 men), which included workers from the paper towns of Grand Falls and Bishop's Falls. The general managers of both the Grand Falls and Bishop's Falls mills were on the NPA's Forestry Committee and encouraged their staff to join the Forestry Corps.

Overseas

The first 99 recruits departed Newfoundland aboard the SS Florizel on May 19, 1917. More drafts followed at irregular intervals. The men were ordered to the hillside forest of Craigvinean, located on the Duke of Atholl's estate at Dunkeld in central Scotland. The Forestry Corps established one camp near the bottom of the hill for sawmill workers and a second camp higher up the hill for loggers.

Moving the logs - which could measure 50 feet or longer - down the steep and difficult terrain to the mill presented an early challenge. Local woodsmen believed a mountain railway would have to be built, but such a task would require significant time, resources, and money. Instead, the Newfoundlanders built a 900-metre-long chute that quickly mooved the logs from the top of the hill to a pond at the bottom, where they were then floated to the sawmill.

Newfoundland sawmill in Craigvinean, Scotland, n.d.
Courtesy of the Heritage Society of Grand Falls-Windsor, Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland.
(42 Kb)

The log chute was widely belived to have been the longest in the world at the time and the Assistant Collector of Timber Supplies in Scotland wrote that the innovation would "long be remembered as marking an epoch in forest utilization in Scotland" (Nicholson 475).

By early 1918, the Newfoundlanders had cleared 1,200 acres of timberland in Craigvinean and were transfered to the Scottish village of Kenmore, which lay about 40 km to the east. They set up camp in an 800-acre forest that covered Drummond Hill and continued to log the area until hostilities ended. In January 1919, the Newfoundland Forestry Corps began to close down its operations and send its volunteers home.

A statue of a Newfoundland forester today stands on the National War Memorial in downtown St. John's. The site also includes statues of men from the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve, and the Merchant Navy.