Women’s Forestry Heritage Celebrated In Landmark New Exhibition

Women’s forestry heritage celebrated in landmark new exhibition

They played a vital role in the war effort and spearheaded the careers of women working in the forestry industry to this day. Now, the remarkable careers of the Women’s Timber Corps is to be celebrated through a photography exhibition at Forestry England’s Grizedale Forest.

In 1939 Britain was the largest timber-importing nation in the world, with 96% of the country’s needs coming from overseas and only 14,000 men employed in the forestry industry. With the outbreak of the Second World War came a sudden need to produce millions of tonnes of timber, just as thousands of young men were conscripted. As a result, the Women’s Timber Corps was established in 1942 and up to 18,000 young women aged between 17 and 24 left their homes (often for the very first time) to take up axes and saws – bringing gender stereotypes crashing down as well as trees!

Battling discrimination, the women referred to as the ‘Lumberjills’ rose to the challenge of the hard physical labour involved, some even felling trees in a blizzard to prove the naysayers wrong. Their commitment and dedication made a tangible difference to the war effort, with the timber produced used in railways, mining, aircraft and even for charcoal gas mask filters. Yet, whilst many may have heard of the Women’s Land Army – the story of their Lumberjill colleagues has been all but forgotten, until now.

Forestry Minister Trudy Harrison said:

“The remarkable story of the Lumberjills highlights the important role women play in forestry sector, which is fundamental to the country’s tree planting and net zero ambitions.

“We must create a diverse and inclusive sector, and open up even more careers for women – from foresters to ecologists, woodland officers and business planners. I’m encouraging women from all backgrounds to join this growing sector.”

Hazel Stone, Arts Manager at Grizedale Forest said:

“It’s been amazing to see so many individual memories come together to tell the incredible story of the Lumberjills, not only here at Grizedale but right across the country. The exhibition includes text by author Joanna Foat, author of Lumberjills: Britain’s Forgotten Army, and also includes photographs and artefacts from a series of private and public sources including the Imperial War Museum. The exhibition is so much richer thanks to everyone who responded to our calls for information and it’s fantastic to share these amazing stories.”

Women in Forestry, the Lumberjills’ Story is free to view at Grizedale Forest until 10 December. The fascinating history of the women and their crucial work supporting the war effort is engagingly told through photos, tools and artefacts.

The exhibition also includes a giant (12 square metre) photo mosaic created by the People’s Picture featuring over 2,000 publicly submitted photographs, past and present, of women from across the forestry sector and general public. This first of its kind celebratory image has been commissioned jointly by the Forestry Commission, Forestry England and Forest Research and will be on display for the length of the installation, as well as available to view online as a virtual interactive artwork at thepeoplespicture.com/forestryengland.

As well as celebrating the achievements of the past, the exhibition aims to inspire the next generation of women in forestry to expand, protect and improve our forests, woods and trees. Roles are available from apprenticeships to experienced positions through the Civil Service Jobs website and those looking to build and diversify their forestry skills (such as chainsaw maintenance, coppicing, woodland management, and marketing and selling timber) can apply to the Forestry Training Fund for 100% funding for eligible short, practical courses.  

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