The Canadian Forestry Corps
Note: Most of the content of this article comes from "TWENTIETH ENGINEERS -- FRANCE -- 1917-1918-1919"
On the 15th of February, 1916, after about 18 months of war, came the first appeal to Canada from the mother country for troops to undertake lumbering operations overseas. Canada's response was the immediate acceptance of the request and the rapid formation of her first forestry unit, consisting of 1609 officers and men and known as the 224th Canadian Forestry Batta1ion. April 28th, 400 men of the Battalion, under Lt.-Col. McDougall, arrived in England, following a small advance party of 2 subalterns and 15 men.
Hardly had the 224th arrived when Lord Kitchener asked for 1,000 of them for operations in France, but Lord Selborne of the Home Grown Timber Committee was unwilling to comply or to accept German prisoners as a substitute. More men were asked for by cables to Ottawa, some of the reinforcements being for service in France. A request was sent to Canada in May asking for 2,000 more men; on November 6 for 2,000 more and at the end of that month for further forestry troops to the number of 5,000. At the close of 1916, 11 companies were operating in Great Britain and 3 in France, a total of 3,038 men.
In 1916, the menace of raiding Zeppelins had become a most serious problem, and in September the Home Defense Royal Flying Corps asked the aid of the Canadian Forestry Corps in preparing landing fields for airplanes of defense. In the summer of 1917 the Corps was again called to help in aerodrome construction, with the result that at times no less than 32 detachments were on the work. A number of companies went from England at the end of 1917 to engage in the building of landing fields in France.
Late in 1917, two officers were sent to report upon the timber possibilities of the Island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean. They were twice torpedoed on the way out but arrived and made a report. Arrangements were also under way for the Corps to operate in Ireland, when hostilities ceased.
During the critical days of the spring of 1918, the Corps was demanded to furnish 500 men for the Infantry and more men volunteered than were asked for. Altogether the Corps sent 1,270 men to the Infantry, and at the time of the German drive in 1918 the whole Corps volunteered to serve in the front lines. Many troops in the Canadian combatant forces were from time to time selected for lumber work, men over age or with physical disability being chosen to join the Forestry Corps.
OPERATIONS IN GREAT BRITAIN
The first lumber was produced May 13, 1916, less than 4 months after the British Government asked for lumbermen. This initial cut was made at Windsor Great Park, one of the famous forests of the world. The troops stationed there were frequently visited by the King and Queen. A farm of 55 acres was worked in 1917; and toward the end of the operation, which covered 4,700 acres of the 7,000 composing the forest, the Corps erected for H. M. the King the Corps erected a memorial to the Corps in the form of a log cabin at the side of Windsor Castle. The William the Conqueror Oak, standing beneath the King's window, was cut by the Canadians. This tree was over 38 feet in circumference, and in the absence of a saw of sufficient length a hole was cut into the hollow trunk, enabling one man to pull the saw from the inside.
The Base Depot was at Windsor Great Park where there was also stationed a company for making the portable Armstrong huts used by the Corps. All troops, upon arrival from Canada, were mobilized at this Base where the companies were organized. Each company consisted of 6 officers, 14 Sergeants and 171 of other grades, a total of 191, including 12 attached.
Entertainment for the scattered units was furnished by the local people, by the Y. M. C. A. in its huts, and by the Church Army. In one company in Scotland 27 men found brides during a year.
More than 70 operations were tackled in Great Britain, the country being divided for administration into 6 districts, each in charge of a Colonel. The operations were usually run by one company, with a Major in command. The labor attached was composed of Finns, Portuguese, and prisoners of war. Pole tracks, carrying cars with grooved wheels, narrow gauge horse railways, donkey engines, aerial ropeways, log chutes, motor lorries, gravity railways, and small locomotives were used to get out logs under the widely varying conditions. All equipment was handled through the Technical Warehouse in London where also was established a large workshop for manufacturing complete standard Canadian mills.
The grand total production in Great Britain to the end of 1918 was as follows:
Sawn material - 257,598,648 F. B. M.
Round Material - 84,347 Tons
Slabs and Fuel - 202,918 Tons
OPERATIONS IN FRANCE
Canadian lumbering operations were started in France in September, 1916, in the center of Normandy, and by November 1917, there were 58 companies producing lumber for the British and French Armies. The final distribution found the Corps efforts centered in 4 regions: (1) the Armies Area, behind the British lines, (2) the Jura Group, (3) the Central Group, south and west of Paris, and (4) the Bordeaux Group. A clerical office was established at Paris and a technical warehouse at LeHavre. In May, 1917, there was instituted a controlling committee as the Comite Interallie de Bois de Guerre, composed of British and French and, later, American representatives.
A large amount of work was clone by the Corps in the rear of the British lines. No. 37 company had to abandon its cause of enemy fire, the important parts of the mill being buried when the Germans were only 2,000 yards away. Some of the mills were engaged in working timber left in the wake of the German retreats, and outfits in the Marne region, near Eclaron were at times under air raid and shell fire. One detachment of 3 companies, the Noyon Detachment, was sent to work up salvaged timber cut down by the Germans before their retreat in 1917. Heavy artillery fire was experienced and certain officers and N. C. O.'s, and men were decorated with the Croix de Guerre. The grand total cut in France was:
Sawn material - 555,942,912 F. B. M.
Round Material - 224,282 Tons
Slabs and Fuel - 603,584 Tons
At the close of the war there were 60 companies of the Canadian Forestry Corps in France and 41 in Great Britain, a total of some 17,000 men. Attached personnel such as the Canadian Army Service Corps, Medical Corps, and prisoners of war, brought the total to nearly 33,000.
Colonel Woodruff, commander of the 20th Engineers, U. S. A., wrote the following letter of appreciation to the Corps:
"We wish to express our appreciation to the Canadian Forestry Corps for the excellent cooperation and assistance they have given the Americans in the Vosges, at Besancon, in the Landes and in fact all over France.
"They have secured for us five complete sawmills.
"In addition to the above, the Canadian Forestry Corps have repeatedly loaned equipment to the American Forestry Troops, and have extended invitations to them to join in all their sports and entertainments, and have co-operated in the matter of policing nearby towns, and in every manner assisted to the fullest extent.
"The American Forestry Troops are also indebted to the Canadian Forestry Corps for the use of their machine shops to make repairs to broken parts of American mills, and for promptly furnishing lumber for building barracks on the arrival of the Americans at a time when it was most important that shelter be provided for the troops.
".... I am pleased to thank General McDougall on behalf of the American Expeditionary Forces.'