As proud as I am of Scotland’s many achievements, I was recently surprised to learn that during WWII, Scotland outperformed Nazi Germany in cut timber production by 20:1.
The twentieth-century style of warfare required five trees’ worth of wood per fighting man, for everything from temporary buildings and packing cases to high-explosives ingredients. Yet, in 1939, 96% of Britain’s wood was imported.
Most came from the USSR, the Baltic states and Finland, and so was even more severely disrupted by the Nazi conquest of the Baltic than the Great War supply had been by Imperial U-boat attacks. After Dunkirk, school pupils as young as 14 were paid 15s a week to fell trees here.
The Women’s Timber Corps or ‘Lumber Jills’, who trained at Park House on Deeside, were better lumberjacks than the children, but their numbers were small.
Fortunately, the British government’s urgent call for loggers from throughout the Empire was answered by nearly 7,000 Canadians.
The 1,400 men of Canadian Forestry Corps District 2 (Deeside and Southesk) came from Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. They were based at Ballogie, Glen Tanar, Blackhall, Abergeldie and Mar Lodge. Their colonel stayed at Guisachan House, Aboyne until August 1941, and thereafter at Struan Lodge.
Events laid on for the Canadians included a concert at Dunecht House, performances by the Feughside Dance Band, Ballater sheepdog trials, and a dance at Crathie attended by Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. Hockey was also attempted on Aboyne Loch, but the ice was too thin.
The usual army keep-fit exercises were totally unnecessary: two men using axes could fell a tree in 70 seconds, and many local roads that are still in use were greatly improved, or first built, by the Corps. But this laudable efficiency was offset by wild behaviour.
Drunkenness, poaching, and even murder were not unknown, and there was a huge inter-company brawl in Kincardine O’Neil in 1941.
The Canadians hated Deeside’s rapid alternation of snow with rain, and its winter daylight hours as short as those of the Yukon.
Disappointment cut both ways, as Scottish landlords criticised the unsightly stump-fields which typical Canadian working practices produced.
Nevertheless, relations between the Canadians and local people remained excellent, and scrap wood was often sneaked to needy local families to use as firewood.
Of the logging camps themselves, only overgrown sawdust piles are left, and today the CFC is unknown even to most Canadians.
Lost Deeside is published by Birlinn at £14.99 and is available at Yeadon’s of Banchory.