Sheffield women were among the 'lumberjills' whose forestry work boosted war effort

“The land army fights in the fields. It is in the fields of Britain that the most critical battle of the present war may well be fought and won”.

Thursday, 5th September 2019, 13:21 pm
Former Land Army Girl, Joyce Smith of Matlock, pictured with a colleague during training at Moulton Agricultural College in Northamptonshire; Joyce is on the right of the photograph.

Lady Denman, director of the Women’s Land Army, sums up the importance of Land Girls during World War Two.

Locally, Sheffielders responded and the first women trained at Low Laithe Farm near Wombwell before being sent on to their billets.

The Women’s Land Army looked for physically fit young women, who had no dependants (usually unmarried), who were mature enough to be sent anywhere in the country.

A Women's Land Army advert, recruiting to a "healthy, happy job". Picture: Imperial War Museum

Many propaganda posters were used to entice women into the Land Army.

Training varied hugely: some had four to six weeks, some had none at all! If girls were trained, this could take place at an agricultural college or by working at a training farm.

The Timber Corps was started in 1942 due to the German occupation of Norway causing a shortage of imported timber. This branch received even less recognition than the typical Land Girl.

The WTC uniform was slightly different as ‘lumberjills’ had a beret instead of a hat and a different armband. Their badge showed a fir tree, as opposed to the sheaf of wheat for the Women’s Land Army.

'Lumberjills' from the Timber Corps of the Women's Land Army

Between 6-8,000 women are reputed to have been lumberjills, although records say contractor numbers may well have been much higher.

The women worked alongside men who had to teach them everything from chopping down a tree through to loading it on to a lorry.

The work didn’t just include the wielding of an axe, but also the skilled work of measuring trees and administrative work out in the forests.

Lifestyles varied according to where their accommodation was and how many other girls were billeted there.

A relaxed moment for members of the Timber Corps

If they were lucky enough to have an RAF base near them, or indeed an American base, then the social life was going to be livelier when compared with a single Land Girl billeted with an elderly couple.

The girls had very little time off work. Due to isolated work, the women were encouraged to learn new skills and hobbies.

Records of the Women’s Land Army and lumberjills are particularly sparse.

Of those who worked locally in the Sheffield Lakeland area, we know of Evlyn Jenkinson (nee Rodgers) from Grenoside, who was a rat and vermin catcher and rode a 500cc motorbike. Her sister Edna Bailey was drafted into forestry work in the Bradfield area.

A group of Land Army women striding out in uniform

Another lumberjill from Sheffield, Dorothy Crofts, nee Swift, returned after the war to her job as a tram conductress.

Sheffield Landscape Partnership and East Peak Countryside Associates are researching the impact of the wartime lumberjills and Land Army women.

To help, email Eastpeakcic@gmail.com

Bamford had a contingent which we would like to learn more about. It’s very likely these women were billeted here for a short while and then moved to other areas.

Gladys Bronham, Milly Crookes, Gradys Hadfield, Ivy Rooks and Marjorie Walker are recorded as being lumberjills and we would like to learn more about them.

The Workers Education Association (South Yorkshire) is interested in hearing stories and memories of the Land Army for a project they are working on, in particular the role that Lady Mabel Fitzwilliam from Wentworth Woodhouse played in both wars.

Women learned their skills from male forestry workers

*Richard Godley will be giving a talk on lumberjills on Saturday, September 7 in Stocksbridge, as part of the Three Parish Woodland Celebration events.

This event is a collaboration between the parishes of Stocksbridge, Ecclesfield and Bradfield and the Heritage Lottery-funded Sheffield Lakeland Landscape Partnership.

They are putting forward a vision for the future of woodlands in the area.

The events cover heritage, archaeology, woodland management, wildlife conservation and supporting species.

See www.wildsheffield.com/whats-on or call 0114 263 4335.

A Women's Land Army Timber Corps badge