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Canada's Hewers of Military Wood in WW2

The Bread Guy

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Interesting piece on vital, but very much low key, work during WW2  :salute: from CanWest News Service, shared in accordance with the "fair dealing" provisions, Section 29, of the Copyright Act.

Dusty attic unveils little-known chapter of Canada's war history
Richard Foot, CanWest News Service, 21 Jun 09
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Like many Second World War veterans Pat Hennessy never talked much about his wartime service. But nearly four decades after his death, his own vivid memories — and the story of a little-known chapter of Canada's war history — have come to life in a rich cache of private letters discovered in a dusty New Brunswick attic.

Hennessy was one of 7,000 Canadian lumbermen who served in the Canadian Forestry Corps in the 1940s, felling trees in the Scottish highlands for the war effort. It wasn't heroic work but it was critical: the Allied armies needed huge quantities of wood for everything from ammunition crates and soldiers' coffins, to building materials for factories and army living quarters.

Rather than ship the lumber across the Atlantic from Canada — which not only occupied valuable space on merchant ships, but also exposed the cargo to U-boat attacks — the military instead sent experienced Canadian woodsmen, many too old for combat service, to cut trees in Scotland.

Hennessy's family in Bathurst, N.B. had known for years about their grandfather's service as a cook in the Scottish lumber camps during the war. But the old man never discussed his experiences in detail before he died in 1970. And anyway, his exploits paled beside those of other family members, who had flown Lancaster bombers, or served as spies in Germany.

"He wasn't fighting the Nazis or landing on the shores of Normandy or flying Spitfires," said Melynda Jarratt, Hennessy's granddaughter. "We knew he was a cook in the Forestry Corps, which always seemed sort of lame compared to what my uncles had done."

All that changed last summer, when Jarratt's cousins found, while rummaging in the attic of the old Hennessy home, an extraordinary archive of nearly 300 letters written by Hennessy to his wife and children during the war.

Lying in a dark corner of the attic was a large lump, covered by a soiled canvas tarp, apparently untouched for half a century.

"They pull it off and what do they find?" said Jarratt. "Handmade crates with latches on them, and old chests, holding something meant to be protected. They bring all this stuff downstairs and discover inside my grandfather's letters from Scotland — hundreds and hundreds of them — a treasure-trove of history."

Jarratt and her relatives pored over the letters, which for decades had been carefully stored by their grandmother Beatrice when she was alive. They discovered not only a detailed archive of life in the Forestry Corps, but also the poignant story of a serviceman, thrilled to be working for five years near the town of Beauly, in the far north of Scotland, but also deeply worried about his family in Canada and longing to see them again.

Hennessy, who farmed and worked all his life in the New Brunswick woods, was 56 when he signed up with the 15th Company of the Forestry Corps in 1940. Despite having only a Grade 3 education, his letters describe in touching detail the wartime home front in Scotland, and the beauty of the Scottish landscape.

"There's one amazing letter where he just describes the scene around the cook house," said Jarratt. "He describes the birds and flowers in the most loving way for his wife, whom he knew would never have a chance to see it for herself.

"'Bee,' he writes, 'I wish you could be here to see it.'"

In other letters — every one of them opened by army censors — he writes about the news of the deadly Canadian raid on Dieppe, the triumphant Normandy landings and the Battle of the Atlantic.

And in others he frets about how his wife and children are keeping up the family farm, and he pleads with his Beatrice — in vain as it turned out — not to allow his 18-year-old sons to enlist.

The war in Europe, he writes again and again, "is no place for a boy."

Jarratt, a Fredericton historian who has chronicled the story of Canada's war brides, is in the process of putting every one of Hennessy's letters on a website — www.lettersfrombeauly.com — and is looking for surviving veterans of the Forestry Corps, to gather their stories alongside her grandfathers', for a book about the service.

The letters themselves will be donated to the New Brunswick Archives.

"They sat up in that attic, in the dark, in the heat and cold, for who knows how many years," she said. "Now we've found buried treasure that has united us as a family, and made us all very proud of our loving, tender, grandfather and what he did during the war."

There is a short book written about the history of the forestry corps in WWII.  Released in 1991 or so, sponsored by the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association (now the Forest Products Association of Canada), it is titled "The Sawdust Fusiliers".  It's out-of-print and copies go for around $100 USD.

For more info, see:

And from the Directorate of History and Heritage

The following documents are available for downloading or viewing:

Title: The Canadian Forestry Corps, 1941-1943.
Date of Publication: 1 Jun 1943
Version: PDF
File Size: 0.06 MB
Type: CMHQ Report
Report #: 97
Author: Stanley, G.F.G.

Title: The Canadian Forestry Corps 1944-45.
Date of Publication: 18 Mar 1946
Version: PDF
File Size: 0.06 MB
Type: CMHQ Report
Report #: 151
Author: Hitsman, J.M.

This document does not appear to be available for downloading.

Title: Visit to Units of the Canadian Forestry Corps, Scotland. Notes on the History and Work of this Corps
Date of Publication: 31 May 1941
Type: CMHQ Report
Report #: 29
Author: Stacey, C.P
Here is a casualty record for Thomas Sullivan of the Newfoundland Forestry Corps during The Great War. He was 71 years old. Not all men listed on the Honour Roll are contained in the CWGC records.

Here is a site for the Newfoundland Overseas Forestry Unit during the Second World War.
Here is a quote from the site.
On November 17, 1939 the Commissioner for Natural Resources announced by radio the need to recruit volunteer loggers to work in Great Britain. The men would be paid the sum of  $2:00 / day or $12:00 / week. Accommodation,  transport and medical requirements would be supplied. All personal needs such as clothing were to be supplied by the men themselves. There would be a  $1:00 / day compulsory deduction from wages which was forwarded to the families back in Newfoundland.

Here is the agreement they signed.
AJFitzpatrick said:
Thanks for this

The history of the equivalent corps in WWI is even murkier

I managed to find this digitized 1919 history of the Corps: