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World War Two lumberjills commemorated in new Dalby Forest sculpture

PUBLISHED: 00:00 24 December 2013 | UPDATED: 15:38 21 November 2017

The sculpture Pull Don' t Push by Ray Lonsdale in Dalby Forest North Yorkshire

The sculpture Pull Don' t Push by Ray Lonsdale in Dalby Forest North Yorkshire

Archant

The young lumberjills who felled trees as part of the war effort are remembered

Drawing of the sculpture Pull Don't Push by Ray LongsdaleDrawing of the sculpture Pull Don't Push by Ray Longsdale

A new sculpture has been unveiled in Dalby Forest in North Yorkshire to commemorate the role of women who worked in Britain’s woodlands during the Second World War. More than 9,000 women known as lumberjills were recruited from all over the country and posted to forests where they carried out the heavy work of felling and crosscutting trees by hand as well as working in sawmills, loading trucks and driving tractors.

Sculptor Ray Lonsdale, from South Hetton near Durham, won the competition set by the Forestry Commission to create a lasting memorial to the women and the work they carried out for the war effort. His work titled Pull Don’t Push, a steel fabrication of a felled tree and two lumberjills, captures the arduous nature of their work in the forests as well as some of the lighter moments they experienced.

The Women’s Timber Service was set up during the First World War, but in April 1942 the Ministry of Supply (Home Grown Timber Department) set up a new venture – the Women’s Timber Corps in England. Part of the Women’s Land Army, this was a new unit with its own identity and uniform, which included a green beret to distinguish them.

Home-grown timber was needed for the war effort and was used in everything from telegraph poles, pit props, packaging boxes for military supplies and weapons, gun butts, canon carriage wheels, Mosquito and Spitfire combat aircraft and shipbuilding. The charcoal was also used for explosives and in the production of gas masks.

The Forestry Commission has been part of the effort to locate all surviving members of the Women’s Timber Corps in order to recognise their achievements and create a lasting legacy to them.

Sir Harry Studholme, chair of the Forestry Commission, said: ‘As the Women’s Timber Corps was a section of the Women’s Land Army, there was no official recognition of its efforts during the war. There was no representative at official Armistice Day Parades and no separate wreath at the Cenotaph.

‘In fact they had become the Forgotten Corps. In order to provide a lasting legacy to their contribution to the war effort the Forestry Commission England wanted to commission a memorial.’

Many women trained at Wetherby in Yorkshire before working in Cropton, Boltby and Dalby Forests in the North York Moors from 1942 until around 1948. Edna Holland nee Lloyd, 88, trained at Wetherby and worked across the North York Moors throughout the war, felling trees to make pit props. She worked with horses and drove a caterpillar tractor to extract the wood from the forests. She said: ‘Physically it was very, very hard work. We started off by learning to fell a tree. We used the axe to put the wedge in low to the ground to know which way it was falling. We then used a cross cut saw to fell the tree and chopped the branches off the tree with the axe. Then we were taught how to measure and cut different sized pit props.

‘My father worked at Armthorpe pits in Doncaster and he only ever wrote to me once. The letter said you’re not measuring the pit props properly and they are not straight enough.’

Great Britain supplied 60 per cent of its timber needs during the war and a total of 46 per cent of trees were felled. By 1945 usable standing timber had been exhausted.

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