Joanna Foat has recently published a book highlighting the work of the Lumberjills, the Scottish Women’s Timber Corps, who joined the war effort to produce the timber needed during both world wars while men were off fighting, and ports were closed.

Even as an employee of the Forestry Commission, Joanna was unaware of the Lumberjills story and when she started to learn the history, she was determined that this was a story that needed to be told.

“I was fascinated by the stories I was hearing and knew that if I didn’t put it down on paper, then their stories would remain a secret.I wanted to find these women, to find out what their life was like, the barriers they faced, which must have been quite extreme back then.”

The Forestry Commission put out a press release looking for ex-lumberjills, and more than 100 replies came back. Some from ladies who did join up, and others from the families of ladies who were involved.

“I had to go and see them,” says Joanna. She spoke to 60 in total from all over the UK, and their stories didn’t disappoint.

She found that they joined up not only to help the war effort, but in a bid to have freedom, to be physical, gain confidence and be strong. Being a women during the war years could be a suffocating experience, women were ‘kept down’, tightly controlled by their parents, and they often never saw their own potential.

The Lumberjills brought an opportunity to reach that potential, and Joanna was determined that their efforts would not be a footnote in history, that their extraordinary stories were collected in their own words for posterity.

The book is a wonderful collection of stories talking about working with horses, felling trees, crosscutting trees by hand, operating sawmills, rafting logs across lochs, and driving timber from Aberfoyle to Shandford Lodge and ultimately doing their best for the war effort. The camaraderie and making friends for life was an important part of the experience, but there is no denying the prejudice they endured, the ridicule and overt sexism of wartime – however, it is told with great honesty in their own words, for the first time.


Buy on Amazon

By Joanna Foat

ISBN: 9780750990905

£13.19 for paperback edition, 272 pages.