Women With Axes: Looking Back at World War II ‘Lumberjills’Breaking News
tags: British history, womens history, World War 2
At 7 a.m. on any given day in 1942, as R.A.F. pilots sped back from skirmishes over the English Channel and shopkeepers doubling as Home Guard militia were hanging their tin hats up after the night’s watch, a truck would swing down a British country lane to pick up a crew of women and ferry them deep into the forest.
The women piling into the truck sported berets, bright green sweaters, belted corduroy breeches and coveted badges emblazoned with a fir tree or two crossed axes to indicate they were an elite part of England’s civilian defense efforts: the Women’s Timber Corps, playfully called “lumberjills.”
Coordinated by the Home Grown Timber Production Department, lumberjills were Rosie the Riveter’s counterparts across the Atlantic. Seen here in photographs from The New York Times archives, they harvested timber for telegraph poles, rails for D-Day splashdowns and the pit props that bulwarked vital British coal mines.
The lumberjills harvested vast amounts of timber used in wartime infrastructure.
While it was the first time that many of the women had hauled logs or stripped branches, it was often not the first time that they had held jobs. Of the 6,000 workers who toiled in the lumber fields at the peak of the corps’ staffing, a good number were “city bred” — former shop assistants, dressmakers and factory workers. The New York Times assured readers, “It has been found more often than not that the girl whose previous knowledge of tree life was often limited to the telegraph post can swing an axe just as efficiently as a farmer’s daughter.”
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