Canadian Lumberjacks Go To War

Thousands of lumberjacks, members of the Canadian Forestry Corps, logged the forests of Scotland during the Second World War to produce desperately-needed lumber for the war effort. Among them were Carl and Jack Jones, two brothers from Invermere, British Columbia.

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The Canadian Forestry Corps

In a world filled with manmade materials, it is easy to forget that during wartime there was an extremely high demand for WOOD.

It was estimated that every soldier needed the equivalent of five trees: one for living quarters and recreation; one for crates to ship food, ammunition, tanks, and other equipment; and three for explosives, gun stocks, ships and factories. 

Many of them, sadly, needed wood for their own coffins.

The Canadian Forestry Corps, a military unit of the Canadian Army, was created during the First World War. At first, the plan was to ship Canadian trees overseas, but since space aboard merchant ships was so limited, our skilled lumberjacks were sent to harvest the vast forests of Scotland instead.

About 24,000 Canadians served until the end of the war, when the corps was disbanded. Here is a colourful recruiting poster from the First World War.

The same demand for wood arose during the Second World War, and in May 1940 the Canadian Forestry Corps was reinstated. Once again, thousands of volunteers came forward, many of them veterans of the First World War.

Thirty companies were drawn from all regions of Canada including Quebec. Altogether about 7,000 men were deployed to Scotland.

In addition, Newfoundland, which did not join Canada until 1949, formed the Newfoundland Overseas Forestry Unit with about 3,600 men.

Other countries like Australia and New Zealand also sent loggers, but the majority were Canadian.

Among them were the Jones brothers from British Columbia.

 

                       The Early Years

Frank Jones and his wife Dorothy Pitts were the children of early settlers from England, who arrived in the Columbia Valley in southeastern British Columbia in the early 1900s.

They had three children: John (Jack) Alfred Jones, born July 11, 1919; Carlton Frank (Carl) born November 30, 1921; and Alice Emily, born October 8, 1924. This photo shows the young couple with their firstborn son, Jack.

The children grew up amid the spectacular natural surroundings of the Rocky Mountains. Here are Jack, Carl, and Alice with their dog, Peter.

The Jones Brothers Head Overseas

The two boys enlisted on September 12, 1940 when Jack was 21 years old and Carl was just 18 years old.

After Carl finished Grade 10, he began working as a bank teller at a local bank, but he clearly longed to join his older brother in the great adventure overseas. This photo shows the two boys at the famed Lake Louise, about 150 kilometres from Invermere, taken just before the war.

As in every small community across Canada, there was tremendous local support for the men and women who enlisted. When Carl left home, the whole village gave him a party.

The Jones brothers weren’t alone in their decision to join the Canadian Forestry Corps. Other local men who volunteered were: Alexander (Sandy) Dobbie, Alex (Jigger) Johnston, Charlie Pickard, Roy Smith, Andrew Staberg, and Archie Thompson. Lucien Jimmie, Isadore Michel, and Matty Sam were from area reserves. This photo shows two local boys, Roy Smith, left, and Carl Jones.

During the First World War, the foresters had not been trained for combat. This time around, because of the very real threat of Germany invading the United Kingdom, the Canadians were considered combatant troops and were given military training.

The Jones boys received their equipment and some initial training near Victoria, B.C. and then boarded the train to Valcartier, Quebec, where they spent another six months being trained before heading overseas.

Here is their cap badge, featuring a spruce tree, a Canadian beaver, and three maple leaves.

                   Posted to Scotland

The Jones brothers sailed April 5, 1941 on the Motor Ship Batory (an ocean liner belonging to the Polish merchant fleet that acted as a troop transport ship during the war) and landed at Gourock near Glasgow, Scotland.

They took the train to Beauly, a village not far from Inverness in northern Scotland. From here the foresters were dispersed among the vast Scottish estates, owned by the nobility, including the Royal Estate at Balmoral.

Both Jones brothers were stationed near the town of Kiltarlity. They were members of No. 18 Company, Canadian Forestry Corps, District 5.

Their camp was called Lovat No. 1, named after the enormous 19,500-acre Lovat Estate. Lord and Lady Lovat lived in nearby Beaufort Castle. The lord himself was a British commando and decorated hero during the Second World War.

Here is a photo of Beaufort Castle today; it passed out of the hands of the Lovat family in 1995.

           Logging the Scottish Forest

Each of the thirty Canadian companies had about 200 men. They worked in two sections, one cutting in the bush and bringing out the timber, and the other sawing it into lumber at the company mill. Others performed the same trades as they had in civilian life, working as blacksmiths, cooks and clerks.

The men brought with them the most up-to-date logging equipment available in Canada, including caterpillar tractors, lorries, sulkies (two-wheeled contraptions with rubber tires to drag logs out of the bush) and winches for high-lead logging.

However, axes and crosscut handsaws continued to be their stock tools of the trade. Here two men cut up a fallen tree near Loch Ness in Scotland.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Scots pine, spruce and larch were most commonly harvested. The Scottish forest was characterized as “medium timber,” smaller than the huge Douglas firs of the B.C. forests, but heavier than the average woods found in the northern prairie provinces, Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes.

The men were pleased by the relative openness of the cultivated Scottish forest, in contrast to the tangled undergrowth of most Canadian bush.

Nevertheless, pressure was applied to Canadian fallers to cut trees close to the ground in the Scottish fashion, rather than higher up, which left unsightly stump-fields so common back home.

On the left is G. F. Dick from Port Arthur, Ontario; on the right is Zachary Birdstone from Cranbrook, B.C.

Since they were working even farther north than in most Canadian logging operations, the winter days in Scotland were short and dark. The work was hard, and the damp, chilly climate with mixed rain and snow was more challenging than the cold Canadian winters. The men's hands were often cut up by handling wet lumber in raw weather.

Thankfully these men lived up to their reputation as stalwart Canadian lumberjacks. This is a photo of three unnamed men, showing off their muscles! 

Photo Credit: Canadian War Museum

Although the climate was chilly, the Canadians enjoyed a warm welcome from the Scottish people. Many lifelong friendships and marriages were the happy result.

The lumberjacks were also kind to their neighbours. They sold scrap wood from the sawmills to the public for fuel, and some of it "mysteriously" fell from their trucks to land beside homes in financial need.

A notable tribute was paid by Lady Laura Lovat, who stated: “You Canadians may be cutting the Scots firs of the Highlands, but in Highland hearts you are planting something far more lasting.”

There were weekly dances and church parades. Films were shown in the mess hall, and travelling concert troupes made frequent visits. Several important personages visited the Canadians to thank the lumberjacks, including the Queen herself.

As an aside, not only Canadian men, but also British women were at work in the woods. Almost 5,000 young British women joined the Women's Land Army Timber Corps and worked felling trees and operating sawmills. 

The “lumberjills” wore the same uniform as members of the land army who worked on farms. Here two of them use a crosscut saw to cut larch poles for use as pit props, another vital use for wood during the Second World War. The wooden poles propped up the inside of mine shafts, allowing the miners to extract the metals used for aircraft, tanks and weapons.

Known as “the Sawdust Fusiliers,” the Canadian men continued their military training on Saturdays after their week’s work in the forest, preparing to protect the local residents and neighbouring airfields in case of attack. This included rifle range practice, training with bayonets, and tactical exercises with other military units.

Here young Carl Jones is looking very proud of himself in his uniform: khaki shirt and woollen trousers with two external pockets – one on the upper right thigh, designed to hold a field dressing; and a larger pocket on the left thigh, commonly called a map pocket.

Usually a khaki beret was worn, but here he is sporting his Glengarry beret, the traditional headwear of the Scottish regiments in the Canadian Army.

The men engaged in plenty of sports, track and field events, and games. They even brought the previously-unknown game of softball to the Scottish highlands, which at first was not well-received.

An article in the Edmonton Journal on September 13, 1941 said: “Sport is a feature of life in the Canadian lumber camps. There was a skeptical Scottish audience for the first softball game held on a village soccer field . . . the spectators remained silent to the end.”

Carl Jones had always been a keen athlete, and he enjoyed competing in various track and field events.

The Invasion of Europe

By 1943, manpower problems in the Canadian Army meant about 700 foresters were moved into combat engineering units or combat regiments, in preparation for an all-out assault on Europe.

After the successful invasion of Normandy in June 1944, the demand for timber to rebuild bombed bridges and roads was high. Rather than use precious cargo space in ships, dozens of huge timber rafts were assembled in Southampton and moved with tugboats across the English Channel.

Of the thirty forestry companies, ten returned to Canada to continue cutting wood to meet the fuel shortage in this country. Another ten companies went to the continent, and the rest stayed in Scotland to continue their work.

Among those who were shipped to the continent, six forestry companies were called out to hold the line in France and Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive in December 1944, when Allied reserves were stretched to the limit.

Carl Jones landed in France on July 30, 1944 and later served in Belgium and then Germany before the war ended. The lumberjacks cleared the German forests in preparation for the Canadian Army’s advance, although many trees had been splintered by shells or had metal shrapnel lodged in them.

 

After the War

Germany surrendered in May 1945, but it wasn’t until September that the Canadian Forestry Corps was officially disbanded. The foresters had cleared about 230,000 forest acres in Scotland during their stay. Many of them had been away from home for four or five years. 

Pat Hennessy of New Brunswick wrote in a letter home: “Bonny Scotland is a grand old place and the people have made us very happy. God bless them all. But now the war in Europe is over and we all have a longing for home.”

Both Carl and Jack Jones returned to their beloved Rocky Mountains in November 1945, and were greeted by a huge homecoming celebration in the village of Invermere.

Like so many other Canadians, the brothers were eager to get home, and to stay home. A note on Carl’s discharge papers read: “This man has had a good education and is very intelligent and alert, and is capable of doing bigger things than labouring in the bush, which is his present intention. However, he wishes to remain in his home district and has no desire to return to his former employment in a bank, so logging is the only field open to him.”

The brothers purchased a truck and became haulers, working in the lumber and mining industry. They even trucked Christmas trees as far as Idaho.

Carl married his wife Marion Cleland in 1946. Here are Carl and Marion on their wedding day, with best man Jack Jones on the left; and Marion’s sister Allison Cleland on the right.

Although Carl also worked as a mechanic, his greatest love was ranching. He and Marion bought a ranch overlooking Lake Windermere where they built their own log house and raised Charolais cattle, pigs, and chickens, along with a huge vegetable garden. They had three children: Sandra, Suzanne and Jim.

Jack was also an avid outdoorsman who spent most of his career in the hunting and guiding business. He had married a Scottish girl, Margaret Green, who came to Canada as a war bride. However, Margaret was homesick and she returned to Scotland with their daughter Veronica, who was only four when she died in a bicycle accident.

Later Jack married Honny Wenger in Invermere and had four children: stepdaughter Sonja, Kathi, Frank and Wayne. After Honny passed away, he married Mildred Jones.

While her two older brothers were overseas, their little sister Alice joined the Canadian Women’s Army Corps at the age of 18, serving in Prince Rupert, Vancouver and Calgary before marrying RCAF airman Gestur Palmason in 1944. She and Gestur had three daughters: Diane, Sherie, and Gloria. After Gestur passed away, she married Harold Knight. Alice died on March 1, 2008.

Throughout his life, Carl Jones continued his love of sports, both as a participant and a coach. He volunteered with the Legion sports program and coached children in track and field. He was also an avid hockey fan and coached hockey teams.

After he retired, Carl’s favourite occupation was fishing with his best friend Jim Ashworth. Jim was a former pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force who is still living in Invermere, and you may read about his adventures here: Boat-Busting In Burma.

Carl died on March 16, 1995, and Jack died on October 11, 2007. Both Carl and Jack left a legacy of local descendants. There are now six generations of Jones in Canada who descended from the original British pioneers, and many of them still reside in this area.

The photos and information about the Jones family was provided by Sandi Jones of Invermere, eldest daughter of Carl Jones, shown here with a photo book she created for her family as a permanent record of her father’s adventures abroad.

Sandi Jones made the trip to Scotland in 2014 to see where her father had spent his wartime years, about five kilometres from the village of Kiltarlity. Because the camp structures were built from wood, little remains now of Camp 10 except a rusty water tower and some crumbling foundations.

“It was a powerful experience, with tears, and I loved the idea of being on the same land where Dad lived and worked,” she said.

                       Rest in peace, Jack and Carl Jones.

                                                        * * * * *

For more information about the Canadian Forestry Corps:

1. Visit this excellent website where much of this information about the lumberjacks was compiled by Robert Briggs: Canadian Forestry Corps.

2. Read The Sawdust Fusiliers, written in 1991 by William C. Wonders.

3. Read this new book by author and historian Melynda Jarratt of Fredericton, New Brunswick, shown below. She discovered a treasure trove of more than 300 letters home written by her grandfather Pat Hennessy while he was serving as a cook for the Canadian Forestry Corps in Scotland. To order the book, click here: Letters From Beauly.

                          * * * * *      

             STAR WEEKLY AT WAR

The Star Weekly was a Canadian newsmagazine published by the Toronto Star. This image dated January 15, 1944 shows a young sailor proudly displaying a photograph of his lookalike daughter. To see my collection of Star Weekly covers, click: Star Weekly At War and scroll to the bottom.

People often give me wartime collectables, knowing how much I value them. These two copies of the Star Weekly were given to me by Caroline Soles, whose mother Louise Soles served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War. Thank you so much, Caroline!

                          * * * * *  

               CALLING ALL BOOK CLUBS

I'm scheduled to speak at FOUR book clubs on the West Coast in May about my novel, Bird's Eye View. Book clubs across Canada have been my biggest supporters, and I'm always willing to visit a book club if it works with my travel schedule. Contact me if you are interested. Please remember that there is a list of Book Club Discussion Questions on my Events page.

                        * * * * *

      HISTORICAL FICTION WITH HEART

                 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 10, 2017

 

Although this presentation is aimed at writers, the public is welcome. If you have any interest in what inspired my books and how they were created, you will enjoy my presentation to Canadian Authors group at the Alliance for Arts and Culture, Suite 100, 938 Howe Street, Vancouver. Signed copies of both my books will be available for purchase. Cost to attend: $10.

                       * * * * *

 

   QUALICUM BEACH FARMERS MARKET

                                 8:30 a.m. to Noon, May 20, 2017

I'll be signing books, and sampling the fresh produce and baking, at this lovely seaside market in Qualicum Beach. Come early for the Royal Canadian Legion's pancake breakfast on site!

                        * * * * *

            HONOUR OUR VETERANS

If you have a war veteran in your family who lived at any point in his or her life in the Columbia Valley, I’m organizing a new event here in my small community of Invermere, British Columbia.

Called Honour Our Veterans Banner Project, it will pay tribute to living and deceased veterans of the First World War, Second World War or Korean War through the display of colourful banners on light poles in Invermere between October 1 and November 12 each year.

For a cost of one hundred dollars, families can sponsor a beautiful hanging banner featuring a photograph of their loved one, which will hang for the next five years.

The project started in the Maritimes and has been gradually spreading into communities across Canada. I spotted it when I read an article about the project in Whitby, Ontario, and pitched the idea to the local branch of the Royal Canadian Legion.

The above image is a banner in Whitby, Ontario created by graphic designer Emma Inkpen (her real name) in honour of her grandfather. I wanted to show you how lovely these banners look!

Please contact me at florenceelinor@gmail.com for details if you know a veteran who qualifies.

                          * * * * *

    NORTH BATTLEFORD PAYS TRIBUTE

Several years ago, I wrote a blog post here about this young Australian flyer named Maxwell Cassidy, who died in a training accident while stationed at the air training base in North Battleford.

Recently a Cassidy cousin discovered my website on the internet and learned for the first time where Maxwell Cassidy is buried.

Stephen Cassidy is a major in the Australian armed forces, serving with the United Nations Mission in the South Sudan, and carrying on the Cassidy family’s long military tradition.

He contacted the Canadian Armed Forces, who in turn contacted the Royal Canadian Legion In North Battleford. At 10 a.m. on Tuesday, April 25 --which is also Anzac Day, the national day of remembrance for war veterans in Australia and New Zealand -- members of the local Legion will lay a wreath on Max’s grave. At Stephen’s request, they will also drink a “Gunfire Breakfast” – rum mixed with coffee, an Australian tradition.

Anyone in the North Battleford area is welcome to attend and honour the memory of this fine young flyer as well as all the other Australians who trained in our country. Unfortunately I live too far away to attend, but my brother Rob Florence will be there with his wife Wendy Florence.

To read the tragic story, click here: Maxwell Cassidy.

                        * * * * *

    MOTHER'S DAY AND FATHER'S DAY

SO MANY COPIES of my books have been purchased as gifts that I want to remind you about two important dates coming up soon: Mother’s Day on May 14th, and Father’s Day on June 18th.

The fictional but fact-based Canadian bestselling wartime novel Bird’s Eye View can be purchased for $25 plus shipping. 

My non-fiction collection of interviews titled My Favourite Veterans: True Stories From World War Two's Hometown Heroes can be purchased for $35 plus shipping.

Either or both would be appropriate for your parent or grandparent. To read a description of each book, click on the titles above.

You may order a signed, personalized, gift-wrapped copy from me by OR order online from Amazon. Either way, the book can be mailed straight to the recipient. Bird’s Eye View is also available as an ebook.

To see how to contact me, click here: Contact Elinor.

                      About My Website

If you enjoyed this blog post about the Canadian Forestry Corps, please share with your friends through Facebook, Twitter, email or just an old-fashioned phone call! I'm always seeking new blog subscribers.

All blog posts are indexed by subject and title on this page. Scroll to the top of this page to see the list, and enter your email address to subscribe to Wartime Wednesdays. You will receive ONE email from me each month.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you are loving the spring weather. 

I finally found my first crocus yesterday, on April 18th!

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During my research into Canada’s wartime past, I uncovered some fascinating facts and anecdotes. I’ll share them here and welcome feedback and stories of your own.

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