The Timber Corps Revisited
Scotland August 17, 2003 
By Rosalind Elder
CLICK HERE TO SEE NEWS ABOUT THE NEW WOMEN'S TIMBER CORPS STATUE

 

A nostalgic trip, returning to the North of Scotland with the BBC’s Rhona Brudenell, Producer, and Edith Stark, Presenter.

I was invited back to Scotland by BBC4 to participate in a program about the Women’s Timber Corps. My eldest daughter volunteered to accompany me on this lengthy journey of 7,036 km from Vancouver, Canada to Glasgow, Scotland. On our arrival at the Glasgow Airport, a staff member from the BBC met us and drove us to the Moat House Hotel on the banks of the River Clyde. We observed the many changes that Glasgow had undergone since our last visit, now it is a much more attractive city than it was when I left it in 1946. In fact swans were gliding on the river, public walkways lined the banks and on the opposite side of the bridge was a Science Centre.

After a relaxing evening, we set out early the next morning on our journey by car to the North with Rhona the producer, and Edie the presenter. Our first stop was in Fyffe where we met Bonnie Macadam another ex-member of the Timber Corps who had been an instructor at Shandford Lodge in Brechin. Unfortunately, Bonnie was unable to join us on the journey owing to ill health. We reminisced about our years in Corps and sang a few of the songs the lumberjills did during those bumpy lorry rides on the way to the woods. Enroute once more we made our way North to Brechin, Angus, the weather was ideal, sunny and dry, which boded well for our journey.

On to Shandford Lodge, Brechin, Angus ( Click to see picture ) to meet the present owner of the Lodge John Mather. He and his delightful family own two working farms they were busily engaged in harvesting oats and barley for the local distilleries. He kindly took time out to show us around the Lodge and the stables. I was surprised to see that the small one in which I stabled my first horse was still being used, and with the addition of several new ones.    

It was sad to see the grounds where our damp wooden huts had stood, just beyond what is now the rose garden, some 200 ft from the actual lodge. How cold, wet and uncomfortable we were most of the time that November of 1942, and I believe the ministry could have better provided for us. Scott Mother was very helpful indeed, he is quite a photographer, and had corresponded with me in Canada by email sending photos of the magnificent views of the surrounding countryside. His father drove up the hill with us to the site above the lodge where the lumberjills trained, the trees were thinned out and it was just as windy as I remembered it to be almost 60 years ago. I could picture myself, back then, young and enthusiastic, hauling trees with a horse from the top of that hill to the crosscutters down below. The view hadn’t changed much and is still as breathtakingly beautiful as it was back then.

Later that day we traveled north to Boat-of-Garten where we stayed overnight at the Boat Hotel. We strolled around the village, and had a look at the railway station where some of the program “Monarch of the Glen” was shot. Boat-of-­Garten was a popular place during the war years with Canadians and other service personnel. The W.T.C. members attended many dances held in the village hall and knew a number of the servicemen from other countries who trained in the area, as well as those stationed there.

 

Early next morning we headed to Carrbridge, Inverness shire on a highway that my Canadian daughter thought was a secondary road. The roundabouts were a nightmare with heavy vehicles cutting in; we thought we had had it several times, as they came so close. I closed my eyes and hoped for the best. The hills were covered in purple heather, which was quite lovely, and their beauty impressed us, especially as my daughter had not been that far north in Scotland before. Seeing the Grampians again, I felt somehow that I had come home; everything was as I remembered it during those war years.
 

Our next stop was at the home of lain Maclnnes the owner of Carrbridge Trekking Centre. lain is the son of Jimmy Maclnnes who supplied the horses to the lumber camps back in the forties. In fact, lain who was about 14 years old at that time had also worked in the woods. He was outside waiting to greet us and had a splendid young horse awaiting our arrival. We talked about the days of the Timber Corps and of the people we once knew, lain accompanied us to the field where Auchterblair Camp had stood and to the forest where I was stationed back in 1943. Of course, the wooden huts had long since been demolished; it was so quiet and peaceful in the forest. The tall scotch pines were swaying in the breeze and the pine needles were soft underfoot, it was hushed and silent now.

 


  Auchterblair Woods 2003

The trees had grown again after all those years, and I could recall the voices of the girls calling out “timber” and the sound of the axes and saws. I imagined that I could hear the laughter of the lumberjills as they went about their work, it was deeply moving, and I longed to see them all just once more. When we returned with lain back to Carrbridge Trekking, he had set up a display of the tools we used in the woods. The heavy 6 lb axes, crosscut saws, and cant hooks we rolled the logs with are all outdated now.

On leaving Carrbridge, we stopped at the local village hall, where I first met my husband Louis at a Saturday evening dance. The hall was always crowded as we danced to the music of Coutt’s Jubilee Band. Some wild evenings were spent there, especially when the Newfoundlanders were present.

I often attended the dances given by the Canadian Forestry Corps who had their own band and held their dances in their log camps.

However, after they were repatriated in 1945, we had only the local dances.

Our camp was closed down in 1945 and we were transferred to Inverchoalain Lodge, near Dunoon in Argylleshire. A very comfortable billet after many years of living in huts, the war was over and we were awaiting our release from the service. During this time several of the members married their returning sweethearts and a number of us married Canadians and other overseas service men who were due to return to their own countries. I left for Canada in March of 1946 to begin my new life.

 

The next part of our trip took us to Aviemore where we were introduced to a Newfoundlander who had remained behind after the war, and was married to a local girl. We talked of the many people we knew and of those who had gone overseas after the war. The trip was all too short and did not cover half of the places I had been stationed. Advie, Morayshire, Grantown on Spey, and Inverchoalin Lodge. by Dunoon, Argylleshire.

Nevertheless, the visit sponsored by BBC4 was at least a beginning and perhaps will help to create some interest in that the Women’s Timber Corps existed and that we were a valuable part of the war effort. Sadly, we have gone unrecognized for the past 60 years and will probably remain the “Forgotten Army”. However, we do have fond memories of friendships formed during those troubled years, and the knowledge that we rose to the occasion and helped win a war by the dint of our labour. Therefore, Lumberjills wherever you are, be proud and enjoy the remainder of your days, rejoice in the many happy memories we shared and a job well done.

 

Rosalind Elder's Return visit with the BBC in 2003

 
 
 

 

Copyright © R. Elder May 2007

    

In Scotland, "You can still hear the wind whispering in the trees"