This week marks the 80th anniversary of the Women’s Timber Corps, a branch of the Women’s Land Army which worked in Britain’s forests during the Second World War.

As many as 18,000 young women left home for the first time, aged 17 to 24, to fell trees with an axe and saw for the war effort.

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Doing what was thought to be ‘a man’s job’, these pioneering women brought gender stereotypes crashing down.

The government at first refused to employ ‘the fairer sex,’ who they thought would be unable to cope with the tough work.

Isle of Wight County Press: Lumberjills at work on the Isle of Wight. Photo: Joanna Foat.Lumberjills at work on the Isle of Wight. Photo: Joanna Foat.

But thousands of members of the Women’s Land Army wanted to do their bit for the war like their brothers and the government’s position became untenable.

Britain was the largest timber importing nation in the world in 1939, importing 96 per cent of its wood but with the advent of war, home-grown timber supplies became vital.

Starting in 2010, author Joanna Foat spent two years interviewing 60 of these remarkable women, who became affectionately known as Lumberjills.

While many of these women have since died, their stories are immortalised in Joanna’s book Lumberjills Britain’s Forgotten Army, published by The History Press in 2019.

Lumberjills worked here on the Isle of Wight during the Second World War, including Ann Moffat, who was among those Joanna interviewed.

Joanna said: “I was shocked to discover how the women were treated at the beginning of the war.

“They were laughed at for their enthusiasm to offer their services, regarded as ornamental rather than useful and many timber merchants did not want women taking over the jobs of skilled men.

“In fact, the Lumberjills not only pioneered a new fashion for women in trousers, wearing jodphurs, but they also proved that women could carry logs like weight-lifters, work in dangerous sawmills, drive huge timber trucks and calculate timber production figures on which the government depended during wartime. With their 80th anniversary, I hope to inspire women of all ages with the strength, courage and determination of the Lumberjills.”

The term ‘Lumberjills’ was coined in April 1942, when the Northern Daily Mail reported 25 Lancashire girls, former clerical workers, typists, and hairdressers, left Manchester for a timber training camp in the South-East.

Women’s Timber Corps training camps were set up across England and hundreds of young women were trained at each camp in four lines of work: felling, haulage, saw-milling and measuring timber.

At the end of the war the Women’s Timber Corps received no recognition, grants or gratuities and the director of the Women’s Land Army, Lady Gertrude Denman resigned in protest.

More than 60 years later, when most of the women were in their 80s, the prime minister, then Gordon Brown, finally presented them with a badge.

But to their disappointment the badge bore a wheatsheaf, the emblem of the Women’s Land Army, not a pine tree or a pair of crossed axes.

For further information about the book, visit

  • Have you got memories of those who served with the Women's Land Army, or the Lumberjills? if so, you can email me on

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