How 15,000 lumberjills in Women's Timber Corps felled trees in WWII

The LumberJILLS: How army of 15,000 female volunteers in the Women’s Timber Corps felled millions of trees to fuel Britain’s war effort in WWII… and brought gender stereotypes crashing down too

  • Established 80 years ago this week, the Women’s Timber Corps took on the crucial role of felling trees
  • In 1939, nearly all timber was imported, meaning production had to be ramped up when war broke out
  • The Women’s Timber Corps was founded 80 years ago this week and eventually numbered around 15,000
  • The women faced hostility and prejudice from some men and had to fight for their positions in the work force 

Wearing boots and overalls and wielding an axe each, they were the women who helped Britain’s war effort in the fight against Nazi Germany – and defeated gender stereotypes in the process.

Established 80 years ago this week, the Women’s Timber Corps took on the crucial role of felling trees to provide much-needed timber in the Second World War – after most of the male lumberjack workforce had been sent to fight. 

Around 15,000 women aged mostly between 17 and 24, who became known as ‘lumberjills’, left home for the first time to be trucked off to Britain’s forests and learn their vital new skills. 

The wood that they felled was used in an array of industries, including aircraft and gun manufacture, ship building and mining. 

But despite their efforts, the women faced hostility and prejudice from some men who resented women taking on what they considered to be male jobs. 

The Government had even initially refused to employ women to fell trees, but because there were thousands of members of the Women’s Land Army insisting on doing their bit, the official position became untenable. 

Ultimately, women proved that they were capable of wielding 14lb axes, carrying logs, working in dangerous sawmills, driving timber trucks and calculating the reliable production figures that the Government depended on.

However, after the war had been won, the Women’s Timber Corps received little recognition and were not allowed to keep their uniforms or even be part of organised Remembrance Day parades.  

Wearing boots and overalls and wielding an axe each, they were the women who helped Britain’s war effort in the fight against Nazi Germany – and defeated gender stereotypes in the process. Above: Members of the Women’s Timber Corps at Culford forestry camp, near Bury St Edmonds, Suffolk, in 1942

Established 80 years ago this week, the Women’s Timber Corps took on the crucial role of felling trees to provide much-needed timber in the Second World War – after most of the male lumberjack workforce had been sent to fight. Above: Members of the Women’s Timber Corps on the Isle of Wight

Author Joanna Foat’s 2019 book Lumberjills: Britain’s Forgotten Army told the story of the thousands of brave women who felled trees for Britain. 

For her book, Ms Foat interviewed 60 surviving former Lumberjills and although many have now passed away, their stories have finally been documented. 

How the 80,000-strong Women’s Land Army helped Britain dig for victory 

The Women’s Timber Corps were part of the Women’s Land Army, which had 80,000 members at its peak in 1944.

A quarter of all land girls did work on diary farms, whilst others were employed as rat catchers, fruit pickers, crop producers and land reclamation. 

The WLA had originally been set up in 1917 during the First World War but was disbanded after the conflict ended.

It was reformed in June 1939, three months before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Women were initially asked to volunteer to serve in the Land Army, before conscription was introduced in December 1941. 

Land girls did a wide variety of jobs that had largely been vacated by men, most of whom went off to serve in the army, navy or air force.

Whilst many women lived on the farms where they worked, the conditions were often very basic. By 1944, there were 22,000 land girls living in hostels. 

The Land Army uniform consisted of a brown open-collared overcoat with deep pockets  that was worn over a shirt and tie and trousers.  

Ms Foat said: ‘I was shocked to discover how the women were treated at the beginning of the war. 

‘They were laughed at for their enthusiasm to offer their services, regarded as ornamental rather than useful and many timber merchants did not want women taking over the jobs of skilled men. 

‘In fact, the Lumberjills not only pioneered a new fashion for women in trousers, wearing jodphurs, but they also proved that women could carry logs like weight-lifters, work in dangerous sawmills, drive huge timber trucks and calculate timber production figures on which the government depended during wartime.

‘With their 80th anniversary, I hope to inspire women of all ages with the strength, courage and determination of the Lumberjills. 

‘Out in the forests away from the restrictions imposed on women by society, they realised they could sit astride a tree, smoke a pipe and fell ten tonne trees just like the men, if they wanted to.’

On the outbreak of war in 1939, Britain imported 96 per cent of its wood. It meant that there needed to be a rapid ramping up in domestic production if the country was to keep up the fight against Adolf Hitler’s forces.

Britain needed to produce millions of tonnes of wood for railway sleepers, telegraph poles, gun butts, ships and aircraft. 

The material was also needed to make packaging boxes for bombs and other supplies. 

The term ‘Lumberjills’ was coined on April 18, 1942, when the Northern Daily Mail reported that 25 Lancashire girls, who had been clerical workers, typists and hairdressers, left Manchester for a timber training camp in the South-East of England. 

Other Women’s Timber Corps training camps were then set up in England: at Culford near Bury St Edmonds in Suffolk and at the Royal Ordinance Factory hostel near Wetherby in Yorkshire.

In Scotland, camps were stablished at Shandford Lodge near Brechin in Angus, and Park House, Drumoak in Aberdeenshire.

At each camp, women were trained in four lines of work: felling, haulage, sawmilling and measuring timber. 

According to Ms Foat, many of the women rivalled men in their strength and skill. One Scottish woman, who was called Bella Nolan, challenged her foreman to a felling dual when he said he didn’t think much of his female colleagues.

Around 15,000 women aged mostly between 17 and 24, who became known as ‘Lumberjills’, left home for the first time to be trucked off to Britain’s forests and learn their vital new skills. Pictured: Lumberjils in the Forest of Dean

The wood the women felled was used in an array of industries, including aircraft and gun manufacture, ship building and mining. Pictured: Lumberjil Eileen Mark (right) and a colleague are seen burning brush wood 

Despite their efforts, the women faced hostility and prejudice from some men who resented women taking on what they considered to be male jobs. Pictured: Women at a timber camp on the Isle of Wight are seen taking a break

The Government had even initially refused to employ women to fell trees, but because there were thousands of members of the Women’s Land Army insisting on doing their bit made, the official position became untenable. Pictured: Women are seen using a two-person saw on a tree that they had recently felled

Britain needed to produce millions of tonnes of wood for railway sleepers, telegraph poles, gun butts, ships and aircraft. The material was also needed to make packaging boxes for bombs and other supplies. Pictured: Edna Holland and friends are seen at the Women’s Timber Corps camp in Wetherby

While they were felling trees that weighed several tonnes, they would often sing a song to keep up morale.

It went: ‘We’re the girls who fell for victory/ We’re the girls who chop the trees/ Every time we swing our axes/ It’s a stroke for victory.’

Despite the high morale of the workforce, tree felling was also a very dangerous job and many lumberjills were injured, including some who lost fingers and others who suffered broken legs and and arms after being hit by toppling timber. 

One jumberjill, Mary Broadhead, recalled in Ms Foat’s book: ‘I was on the machine and I had my hand on the piece of wood that I was cutting.

‘Then a gust of wind blew straight across the mill and there was sawdust blowing all over and it blew in my face.

‘I wanted to wipe it out of my face. But my fingers were near [the] saw and I didn’t know what to do.

‘Anyway, the wood clinched on the saw, the wood came up and my hand went into the gullet of the saw.

‘When it got to the top guard, I couldn’t go any further and it just chopped it off corner ways.

‘I went to Johnny the engineer and said ‘I’ve cut my thumb off’.

‘He ran up the yard looking for Mr Wilson, the saw doctor, who came running back.

‘But the lorry had gone down to the garage and there was nothing we could do but wait for the lorry to come back.


The term ‘Lumberjills’ was coined on April 18, 1942, when the Northern Daily Mail reported that 25 Lancashire girls, who had been clerical workers, typists and hairdressers, left Manchester for a timber training camp in the South-East of England. Pictured: Former lumberjill Audrey Broad (left during the war and right, more recently) 

Former Lumberjill Dorothy Scott is seen posing with a wartime photograph of herself. According to Ms Foat, many of the women rivalled men in their strength and skill

Former lumberjill Violet Parker is seen posing with a photograph of herself during her time in the Women’s Timber Corps

‘So, I was sat by the stove in the hut and they made me a cup of tea.

‘When the lorry returned two hours later, they took me down to the doctor and he said he couldn’t do anything with it because the bone was splintered.’

Despite their commitment, some people rejected the women’s involvement in the felling of trees.  

One newspaper, The Western Morning News, even greeted the news with the headline ‘Forestry Handicap in the South West’.

And the men running in charge of forestry camps often angered the female workforce with their condescending attitudes.  

Lumberjill Olive Edgley stated: ‘Captain Blunt’s job was to annoy us. 

‘We worked so hard and never took lunch breaks, but he would always turn up just the moment we sat down.

‘It was weird we’d been working our butts off and in all sorts of weather and he’d say ‘what are you doing girls?’

‘I remember one day saying have you any quarrel with the figures we send in and the amount of work we do?’

‘No. Right then, just leave us alone.’

The Women’s Timber Corps was disbanded in August 1946, around a year after the war had ended. Each girl handed back her uniform and received a letter from Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who was its patron.

However, it was not until 61 years later, in October 2007, that the women received their first formal recognition for their efforts, when the Forestry Commission unveiled a life-sized bronze statue of a lumberjill in Aberfoyle, Scotland.  

As many as 15-18,000 young women left home for the first time, aged 17-24, to fell trees with an axe and saw for the war effort. Pictured: Women felling trees near Grantham in Lincolnshire

Author Joanna Foat spent two years interviewing sixty of the remarkable lumberjills who made up the Women’s Timber Corps. Pictured: Lumberjils on top of a haulage truck as male colleagues stand below 

Lumberjill Eileen Mark is seen (left) burning brush wood with a colleague at a Women’s Timber Corps site during the Second World War

Sisters Nancy and Brenda Harrison (top right) are seen posing with female colleagues on top of a stack of processed timber

Members of the Women’s Timber Corps are seen processing wood at a forestry camp during the Second World War

Despite the high morale of the workforce, tree felling was also a very dangerous job and many lumberjills were injured, including some who lost fingers and others who suffered broken legs and and arms after being hit by toppling timber. Pictured: Women stand amid the trees they have felled

Women’s Timber Corps member Marjory Stark is seen felling a tree with an axe at Bowmont, Northumberland

Ms Foat (pictured) added: ‘Many of the lumberjills I met were still upset that they remained a footnote in history, so I wanted to make sure they were remembered’

The then Prime Minister also presented the women with a badge, but many survivors were disappointed because it bore a wheatsheaf – the general emblem of the Women’s Land Army – rather than a pine tree or pair of crossed axes.

Ms Foat added: ‘Many of the lumberjills I met were still upset that they remained a footnote in history, so I wanted to make sure they were remembered. 

‘Now their incredible feats of physical and mental endurance inspire women today, especially female forestry workers and arborists from across the world. 

‘Given the freedom and opportunity to work together in sisterhood out in the forest, naturally the lumberjills were a huge success.’  

For King and Countrymen: First ever video of women’s football match from Essex in 1918 is discovered – revealing dozens of WWI troops cheering female staff at UK munitions factories as they raised cash to help the war-wounded

By Harry Howard, History Correspondent for MailOnline 

What is believed to be the earliest footage of a women’s football match in the UK has been found in a Norwegian archive. 

The 41-second video, which was filmed on April 20, 1918 – when the First World War was in its final months – was found by author Patrick Brennan. 

It shows the amateur players of Dagenham-based Sterling Ladies and Dartford’s Vickers Ladies competing in Chalkwell Park, in Southend-On-Sea, Essex. 

The women, who played out a 2-2 draw, are seen dressed in long-sleeved sweatshirts, ties and bobble hats.

Also seen in the footage are dozens of soldiers who had turned out to watch the women play, including one officer who has his arm in a sling after being wounded in fighting against Germany.  

Both sides were made up of amateur players who were competing to raise money for three war hospitals in Southend. 

Whilst Sterling Ladies were made up of workers in Britain’s munitions industry, the Vickers side worked for the engineering firm of the same name, which manufactured items including guns, artillery, ships and planes during the war. 

Women had been drafted onto assembly lines to fulfil production needs after most British men had signed up or been conscripted to fight against Germany. 

As a way of keeping fit, they were encouraged to play sport – leading to the foundation of women’s amateur football leagues across the country. 

Author Mr Brennan, who wrote 2007 book The Munitionettes: A History of Women’s Football in North East England During the Great War, found the footage in the archives of The National Library of Norway.

He then worked with Swedish firm Spiideo to verify its status as the UK’s oldest known footage of women’s football.  

What is believed to be the earliest footage of a women’s football match in the UK has been found in a Norwegian archive

An article in The Sportsman newspaper from Tuesday, April 23, 1918, reported on the match between Sterling and Vickers Ladies. 

It read: ‘Played on behalf of the three war hospitals at Southend, the meeting of the undefeated teams, Sterling (Dagenham) and Vickers (Crayford and Dartford), attracting several thousand spectators to Chalkwell Park on Saturday. 

‘Both sides played hard to maintain their untarnished season record, and after an exciting game a draw of two goals each enabled them to do so.’

The report also praised the performance of Vickers’ goalkeeper, who is named only as E.Dunn.

It added: ‘The Dagenham team opened the scoring through A. Tennyson. 

‘Vickers drew level by means of an opponent putting through her own goal, shortly after which O. Wood gave the Kentish team the lead.

‘Just before the interval Sterling got on terms again, A. Tennyson finding the net. 

‘In the second half, despite the determination of the rivals, all efforts to increase their scores were frustrated, the game ending as stated.’ 

The 41-second video, which was filmed on April 20, 1918 – when the First World War was in its final months – was found by author Patrick Brennan

It shows the amateur players of Dagenham-based Sterling Ladies and Dartford’s Vickers Ladies competing in Chalkwell Park, in Southend-On-Sea, Essex

The video also shows the male referee tossing a coin to decide on who can kick off the match before it gets underway. 

Sterling Ladies, in the darker two-tone kit, are seen bunkered in the opposition’s half before one of their players scores.  

Women’s football burgeoned in popularity during the First World War, after the Football Association had postponed the professional men’s leagues. 

However, in 1921, the women’s professional game was effectively killed off by the FA’s decision to prohibit women from playing in registered stadiums. The ban was not lifted until 1971. 

England’s national women’s team did therefore not play their first official match until 1972.  

Mr Brennan said: ‘The 19th century witnessed an industrial revolution in Britain which, in turn, led to dramatic social change. 

‘The struggle for Universal Suffrage, the right of all citizens to participate in electing the government, was the major political issue in the second half of the century. 

Also seen in the footage are dozens of soldiers who had turned out to watch the women play, including one officer who has his arm in a sling after being wounded in fighting against Germany

Sterling Ladies, in the darker two-tone kit, are seen bunkered in the opposition’s half before one of their players scores

‘This objective was fully achieved in 1918 for men, but only partially for women, who had to wait another 10 years to achieve full equality.

‘General public opinion shifted considerably during WW1 when women in their thousands were employed in the manufacture of munitions. 

‘These ‘Munitionettes’ as they were called, formed football teams, and staged competitive matches to raise money for war charities. 

‘Thanks to the early pioneers, and the Munitionettes, and the determined women who continued for 50 years to defy the FA ban, women’s football has now become a spectacle to enjoy, and has taken its rightful place in the sporting activities of the world.’

The author was aided in his research by Spiideo, which provides video recording systems for professional sports teams. 

Lisa Berg, the company’s sales development manager, said: ‘In publicising this footage, we are anchoring the incredible history of women’s football, from its grassroots origins at the end of the nineteenth century to its massive popularity and global appeal today.’  

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