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Canadian Forestry Corps

Canadian Forestry Corps

Initial creation: 14 November 1916

Disbanded: 1920

Reraised: 1940

Disbanded: 3 December 1945

The Canadian Forestry Corps was an organizational corps of the Canadian Army during both World Wars. 

Lineage

  • 14 Nov 1916: Canadian Forestry Corps created, formed from an existing forestry battalion (224th Battalion, CEF) and the conversion of other infantry battalions (including the 238th Battalion, CEF) for forestry duties.

  • 1920(?): Disbanded.

  • May 1940: Canadian Forestry Corps once again created.

  • 3 Dec 1945: Disbanded.

Functions

The Canadian Forestry Corps provided lumber for the Allied war effort by cutting and preparing timber in the United Kingdom and on the continent of Europe in both the First World War and the Second World War. Forestry units also cleared terrain for the construction of installations such as airfields and runway, prepared railway ties, as well as lumber for the creation of barracks, road surfaces, ammunition crates, trench construction, etc. These units were sometimes called on in the First World War to perform as infantry.

History

First World War

Above - Light railway in use by men of the Canadian Forestry Corps. LAC Photo.

Right - Aboriginal member of the Canadian Forestry Corps in the UK. LAC Photo.
 

The success of German U-Boats in the Atlantic in the First World War caused a restriction on the number of imports to Britain. Millions of tons of lumber has travelled across the ocean from Canada to the UK in 1915. In Feb 1916, the British government requested assistance from Canada with regards to the production of timber, hoping to utilize resources available in Britain. The 224th Canadian Forestry Battalion was raised and arrived in England in Apr 1916, less than three months after the initial request. The battalion moved to Virginia Water Camp in Surrey, to produce sawn lumber. Detachments were sent to other places in England and Scotland.

A second British request for additional forestry units resulted in the formation of the 238th Canadian Forestry Battalion, which arrived in England in Sep 1916.

In Oct 1916, authority was granted to form the Canadian Forestry Corps. Both battalions joined the corps; by Nov 1916, six forestry battalions had arrived overseas, including the 242nd Battalion, CEF.

In Dec 1916, the battalions were broken up to form independent forestry companies. Eventually 102 companies were formed in Europe. A small group was already operating in France at Bois Normand, with the first headquarters at Conches (Eure). This headquarters was expanded into a Canadian Forestry Group headquarters (eventually designated Centre Group) divided into two districts. By Jun 1918, three other groups were in operation; Jura Group, Bordeaux Group, and Marne Group, and each of these groups also had two district headquarters under command. Canadian Forestry Corps headquarters for France was established at Paris-Plage, near Boulogne, with an office in Paris linking the district and group headquarters with a corps supply depot where technical equipment was warehoused, at Le Havre. Arrangements had been made in Canada for the purchase and shipment of necessary machinery and equipment to operate saw mills and other facilities. The corps also ran three forestry hospitals. In Mar 1918, the corps was called on to train 800 men as reinforcements for the Canadian Corps, to be drawn from across all the districts.

On 2 Feb 1917, independent forestry companies were formed in each Military District in Canada as well. On 17 Jul 1917, Forestry Depot Companies were formed in each Military District in Canada.

At the end of the war, 56 companies were in operation on the Western Front, including 13 made up of German prisoners of war. In total, 19,162 men were on strength. Seven more companies were engaged exclusively in technical work for Allied air forces, including clearing, grading, leveling and draining land in the creation of airfields. A scarcity of rivers and waterways in France had necessitated the adoption (and creation) of broad, narrow-guage railways.

Six districts were in operation in the UK at war's end (at Carlisle, Egham, Southampton and East Sheen in England and Stirling and Inverness in Scotland). Some 43 companies were in operation, with a strength of 12,533 including 3,046 attached labourers and prisoners of war. Their base depot was located at Smith's Lawn, Windsor shortly after the 224th Battalion arrived overseas, and all newly arriving soldiers for the corps arrived at the depot before reinforcements for companies in France or the UK were selected. The average monthly turnover at the depot was 1,500 men. In total, the combined strength of the corps on 11 Nov 1918, including attached officers, foreign soldiers (including British, Portugese, Finns and prisoners of war) was 31,447.

Second World War



Lumberman and teamster Royal Fournier of Maniwaki, Quebec, with the 26th Company of the Canadian Forestry Corps at a logging camp in Quebec in 1943. LAC Photo.

The attempted blockade of the UK in the Second World War once again required the British to look to Canada for assistance in meeting the need for timber. The first request from England for forestry companies was actually made in Oct 1939.1 Wood was needed for living quarters, messes, and recreation facilities, as well as crates for vital supplies such as food, ammunition and even vehicles, and for the creation of explosives, stocks for weapons, the construction of ships, aircraft and factory facilities. After the success of the original Canadian Forestry Corps, a new corps was created in May 1940 to perpetuate their work, and twenty companies were initially raised. Ten more were formed as the war progressed.

Canada agreed to shoulder the expense of pay, allowances and pensions, all initial personal equipment, and transport to and from the United Kingdom by individual members of the corps. The British Government paid for "all other services connected with equipment, work or maintenance" and certain others such as medical services (though Canada covered the costs associated with Medical Officers, Britain paid for actual hospitalization). While the British designated the areas of work, and the final disposal of the lumber created, military operations were under the purview of Canadian Military Headquarters in London.

Both anglophones and francophones were recruited from across Canada, including many veterans of the corps from the First World War, including the corps' first commander, Brigadier J.B. White, who had commanded timber operations in France in 1918. Unlike the First World War, where "Canadian Forestry Corps personnel did not receive military training other than basic drill, courtesies and protocols",2 personnel of the CFC in the Second World War received five to seven months of training, mainly at Valcartier, before moving overseas. The decision to provide military training to these men was made in Jun 1940, given the impending danger of German invasion prevalent at that time.

For the most part, the C.F.C. camps were constructed from scratch, and the personnel built barracks, roads, bridges and set up power plants. Each company's sawmill usually was located close to their camp and employed both "Canadian Mills" and the smaller "Scotch Mill" but the later was not viewed with approval by the Canadians. The average time lag between arrival at the camps and the start of logging operations was 97 days.

The companies 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. The felling crew consisted of three men, two sawing and one trimming. Hand saws and axes were the tools employed and three man "Cat" teams yarded the logs to the roadside landings, either by dragging them or use of sulkies. Each C.F.C. Unit was a self-contained community, including men capable of turning their hand at any task from black smithery and mechanical repair to snow clearance on the highland roads. A regular potion of each unit's time was devoted to military training, each company preparing defensive positions in its area in cooperation with the troops of Scottish Command in the event of German invasion.3

By May 1941, Corps Headquarters was in operation in Scotland with 13 forestry companies (each about 200 men strong), organized into five Forestry Districts each with its own headquarters (in the counties of Inverness, Ross, Aberdeen, Nairn and Perth). Seven more companies arrived in late Jul 1941.

The corps cleared approximately 230,000 forest acres in Scotland during their stay. In 1942, ten additional companies had been raised, the last arriving in Oct 1942. By the spring of 1943, however, manpower problems in the Canadian Army caused the remustering of several hundred soldiers suitable for other employment to other overseas units. In Oct 1943, ten companies were repatriated to Canada (totalling close to 2,000 men) for forestry duties there.

After the landings in Normandy in Jun 1944, ten companies eventually moved to the Continent to continue operations there; 77 square timber rafts and 54 round timber rafts had been created in Southampton to moved timber across the English Channel with them. By the end of Aug 1944, operations had commenced on the continent; six companies of the CFC were called out to hold the line during the German Ardennes Offensive in Dec 1944, when Allied reserves were stretched to the limit.

On 1 Sep 1945 the CFC was officially disbanded (forestry operations had already ceased in Scotland in Jun) and all 20 companies returned to Canada. In all at it's peak, the overseas strength of the corps had been 220 officers and 6,771 other ranks. A total 442,100,100 foot board measures of timber had been cut in Scotland, England and France during their time in Europe.

Also of note is the fact that Newfoundland had also contributed foresters to the war effort; the Newfoundland Overseas Forestry Unit was created in Nov 1939 of civilians; in Dec 1942 they numbered 1,497 men who had volunteered for the duration of the war. They conducted operations in Scotland similar to that of the CFC.

Notes

  1. Stacey, C.P. Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War Volume I: Six Years of War (Queen's Printer, 1955) p. 65

  2. Love, David W. A Call to Arms: The Organization and Administration of Canada's Military in World War One (Bunker to Bunker Books, Calgary, AB, 1999) ISBN 1894255038 p.249

  3. MacPherson, John. Echo Two website accessed 13 Jan 2006

 

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