Friday, January 08, 2010

The Newfoundland Forestry Unit in WW2

Derwentwater and Borrowdale (English Lake District)
[Photo: J. Ritson]

During the Second World War about 3000 men from Newfoundland (now part of Canada) crossed the Atlantic to work as loggers in the British forests to help the war effort. The vast majority of the unit’s members were based in or near forests in Scotland and the English Border counties (i.e. Cumberland and Northumberland) and worked outdoors in all weathers. The above photograph shows a view towards some of the wooded areas of Cumberland (English Lake District), one area where the Forest Unit worked during the war.

For additional information click on 'Comments' below

9 Comments:

Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

At the outbreak of the Second World War many young men from Newfoundland (now part of Canada) volunteered to help the British and Commonwealth war effort. In civilian life many of these servicemen were employed as foresters / woodcutters. Because of the importance that supplies of timber would be to the war effort, in September 1939 the Newfoundland Government formed the ‘Newfoundland Forestry Unit’.

The first loggers from the unit came to Britain in January 1940, in the midst of a severe winter. Much of Britain experienced heavy snowfalls at that time, which while giving picturesque views of the countryside made some difficulties in establishing camps near the forests and also to do the tree felling.

However, the foresters would have been used to severe winter weather conditions in their homeland. Also, having volunteered to be employed in forestry work for the war effort one would presume they coped with settling into their new surroundings reasonably well.

So vital was this war work of timber felling regarded that the foresters from Newfoundland were discouraged from leaving the unit to serve in the Armed Forces. The felled timber was deemed essential for supplies, such as for pit props in the British mining industry and other important wartime projects.

Members of the unit were issued with a special badge in their lapels displaying the head of a Newfoundland caribou and the inscription: "Newfoundland Forestry Unit". By the end of the war almost 3000 Newfoundlanders served with the Newfoundland Forestry Unit in the British forests.

Inevitably there were a number of wartime deaths among the members of the unit, caused either by accident or illness. These men were buried in cemeteries close to where they passed away. Inevitably their final resting place is many miles from their homes and close family.

Usually, the graves of civilian casualties of the two World Wars tend to be regarded as 'war graves' by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission only when the death was the result of enemy action. An example of this would be when a civilian died as the result of night time enemy bombing. However, while the graves of the members of the Newfoundland Forestry Unit could not be regarded as 'war graves' by the CWGC a special arrangement was made at the request of the Canadian Government. Hence, these WW2 graves are maintained by the Commission although not listed as such in their 'War Dead' registers.

Although the graves of most of the Newfoundland Forestry Unit wartime casualties are in Scotland, five of these 'Non-War Graves' supported by the CWGC are in my home county of Cumbria (as it is known following the 1974 county boundary changes). One of these graves is at Arthuret (St Michael Churchyard), Longtown, not far from the Scottish border. The other four Newfoundland Forest Unit casualties were buried at Carlisle (Dalston Road) cemetery, one of the largest cemeteries in the county. During WW2 there were 538 burials within the old (pre-1974) county boundaries of Cumberland, of which 146 took place in Carlisle (Dalston Road) cemetery.

In 1961 the CWGC published a series of booklets listing the 'War Dead' from 1939 - 1945, each booklet covering a certain geographical area. It is from this CWGC booklet that I have obtained most of the information about the Newfoundland Forestry Unit.

Friday, 08 January, 2010  
Blogger Catherine L said...

I often think that the Canadians' role in WW2 is not praised enough in Europe. So thank you for this interesting post that highlights their courage, dedication and major contribution in a field that proved essential to the war effort.

Friday, 08 January, 2010  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

During the First World War it would seem as though there were also Canadian loggers in Cumbria, although they were part of the Army. While looking for these fellows in WW2 I came across one Canadian Forestry Unit casualty at Arthuret Churchyard (Longtown).

There also seemed to be a number of Canadian Foresters and railwaymen etc in France in WW1, both as Army and civilians, although not in WW2, Catherine. The reason why there were none in WW2 would of course be due to the Occupation.

Sunday, 10 January, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It should also be noted that Newfoundland - Labrador became a Province of the Federation of Canada in 1949 first ensuring that they would be supported by the wealthier Provinces - which was effective until just three years ago when oil started to flow from Sable Island

Monday, 11 January, 2010  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

As 'Anonymous' states in the previous posting, later on Newfoundland became a full part of Canada. According to the person I spoke to at the CWGC, certain 'Non-War' civilian graves are maintained by the Commission. In the case of these Newfoundland Forest Unit Graves' the support is from the Canadian government (hopefully I have got this situation clarified now).

I will post the names of these five casualties in a separate comment below, as they are not found on the CWGC website. I t hink their sacrifice is also worthy of remembrance.

Monday, 11 January, 2010  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Newfoundland Forestry Unit casualties buried in Cumberland:

These are the five WW2 Newfoundland Forestry Unit casualties buried in Cumberland
(Listed chronologically)

1. Thomas O’Keefe
Date of death: 24 August 1940
Where buried: Carlisle (Dalston Road) Cemetery

2. Ray Elliott
Date of death: 5 November 1940
Where buried: Carlisle (Dalston Road) Cemetery

3. Stanley Reeves
Date of death: 22 March 1941
Where buried: Carlisle (Dalston Road) Cemetery

4. Samuel Lodge
Date of death: 28 June 1941
Where buried: Carlisle (Dalston Road) Cemetery

NB – Ray Elliott and Stanley Reeves were laid to rest in the same communal grave (Plot 15, Section W3, Joint Grave 253). The headstone is a private memorial with the badge of Newfoundland Forestry Unit engraved on it.

5. Philip Janes
Date of death: 18 April 1943
Where buried: Arthuret (St Michael) Churchyard, Longtown

NB: (a) The headstone is a private memorial made out of sandstone (5 feet 2 inches high). The grave is situated SW of the church and the headstone has the badge of the Newfoundland Forestry Unit engraved on it.

(b) Checking a copy of the Burial Register for Arthuret Parish Church in the County Archives office I could not make out whether the surname of the Newfoundland Forester buried in the churchyard was JANES or JAMES. Please accept my apologies if I have spelt his surname incorrectly in the above text.

[Acknowledgements: Thanks to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in identifying the whereabouts of the above casualties and the Cumbria County Archives for access to the Arthuret Church burial register].

Monday, 11 January, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to let everyone know that i visit the cemetary in Carlisle regularly. The graves are well looked after and in one of the nicest Cemetaries in the U.K. Every year, a service is held for all the war dead including a number of Canadian Air Force guys.

Sunday, 04 December, 2011  
Anonymous Mr Alan Janes said...

With reference to the above named Canadian Forestry worker Mr Philip Janes, you are correct in assuming the surname is JANES and not James.
I can tell you wth confidence as this gentleman was m father.
Regards
Mr Alan Janes.

Tuesday, 11 June, 2013  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Thank you, Alan, for confirming the details of your father. If you have a photograph of your late father and / or write write a little about him we would be delighted to add the details to this website as a tribute to his memory.

Tuesday, 11 June, 2013  

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