Last week I went to a very interesting talk about the Canadian Forestry Corps in the Highlands of Scotland. I was interested to learn more about this as the CFC worked locally – both here at Kiltarlity and where I work at Glenmore.
The Canadian Forestry Corps. was composed of professional woodsmen and was first organized during World War One at the request of the UK to help meet Britain’s timber needs during the war. It was re-formed in World War Two to play the same role. Most of its activities were centred in the Highlands of Scotland during the latter conflict. There were 33 camps scattered in north-eastern Scotland.
Last winter I had taken a walk to a local former sawmill and accommodation block in the forest, which housed some of the CFC. I first explored this building about 20 years ago when it was much more intact than it is now. The track along to it is very overgrown now and I had to cross a old wooden bridge with a sign saying “Danger Do not Cross”. As the bridge was pretty much covered in snow it was a wee bit tricky to see where the holes were and where the planks were still intact, but I reckoned that if the worst came to the worst and I fell through it wouldn’t be a big fall and it was only a wee burn.
Records of the local camps are patchy and for the one closest to the village is further muddled by the fact it is known by 3 different names. The official war record name is “Lovat No 1, Teanacoil” – there was also a Lovat No 2. Following the war it was passed to the Polish Resettlement Corps and became known as the Poles Camp and/or Paterson’s Camp as it became a sawmill run by a Polish gentleman who took his wife’s surname. Unfortunately they are no photos of what it looked like during the war.
In some places the work camps were set up ready to receive the forestry workers, but in others one of the first tasks for the CFC was to build their accommodation block and sawmill. They’d use a mobile sawmill to obtain the timber for the building projects.
These were built rapidly and as temporary structures – as were the timber mills – and as concrete was in short supply, they were mainly built from wood with no foundations. This means there is very little evidence of these in the woods now. Being constructed of thin timber construction, the accommodation must have been cold in winter.
In addition to meeting its primary objective the Canadian Forestry Corps’ presence in Scotland was influential in other ways: as a defensive element in the earlier years and as a social factor in many smaller communities. It was common practice for the forestry workers to pilfer some of the vehicle fuel ration to give to the local taxis in exchange to a lift to the village to the bar and dances.
Other structures which were associated with the CFC were narrow gauge railways and aerial ropeways or Blondins which were used to transport the cut logs. Locally it is known that several narrow gauge railways transported the timber from the forest to sawmills in Beauly and the mainline railway station at Beauly. From here it went south to be used for pit props and for ammunition boxes, buildings and props for the trenches during WW1. There is an archaeology group currently working in the woods hoping to trace the line of some of these railways.
One of the local guys at the meeting I attended remembered the camps. He spoke about him and friends playing on the zip-lines and the railways wagons when the forestry workers were off duty.
It is known that a number of LumberJills worked in the camps in the Highlands of Scotland. They were mainly involved in measuring the timber as the landowners were paid for the timber removed from their land.
Follow Up – I returned to Teanacoil Camp the following week and explored inside what is left of the building to take more photographs. Canadian Forestry camp revisited