Lumberjill’s war years remembered

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SHE boosted the war effort by helping men cut down trees.

Now Whitburn pensioner Ethel Oliver has recalled her life as a little-known lumberjill.

Lumberjill Ethel Oliver with husband Randle.

Lumberjill Ethel Oliver with husband Randle.

More than 70 years after her brave efforts aided the home front, she is being remembered through a new research project.

Ethel was 19 when she volunteered to work in woods at Chopwell, Gateshead, to fill gaps left by men heading off to fight.

Dressed in the distinctive uniform and green beret of the Women’s Timber Corp (WTC), she spent nine months working in the 900-acre beauty spot.

There she measured the length and girth of trees after they were cut down by male lumberjacks.

The wood was used as pit props, in aircraft, packaging for bombs during transit, and even wood-based mine sweepers.

Of her time as one of 7,000 women with the WTC nationally – which included working in woods along the River Wear – she said: “It was a busy place with trees being felled and charcoal burning going on.

“We also had to be able to identify the kind of tree by looking at leaves or the bark. It was hard work and I remember being cold during the harsh winters.”

Keen on the countryside, she signed up with the Land Army in 1941, but a year later switched to the WTC.

Ethel, of Nicholas Avenue, trained for the back-breaking work in the Lake District, learning how to cut down trees, measure them and peel off the bark.

The 88-year-old said the lumberjacks would try to influence the sizes she marked the trees as it helped determine their pay packet based on volume of timber felled.

The mum-of-two, who left the woods in 1946 and married husband, former RAF man Randle, 86, five years later, added: “If you could afford it you would go home at weekends for a bath.

“But I loved being outside and the whole experience has left me with very fond memories.”

She later became an interior designer, with her story coming to light after a plea for information by The Forestry Commission, Friends of Chopwell Wood and Groundwork Northeast.

They are applying for Heritage Lottery funding to record the stories and experiences of Chopwell’s Lumberjills.

Future plans could include a website with personal stories and images and the staging of open days and school visits to celebrate these remarkable women.

Anyone with information on WTC can contact Joanne Norman on 567 2550 or email joanne.norman@groundwork.org.uk.s.

Twitter: @janethejourno