World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Doris Muriel Beeston 

Timber Corps Days - May 1942 to September 1945

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Doris muriel Beeston
Location of story: Andover
Background to story: Civilian Force


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Muriel Beeston.

After meeting and talking to Doreen Hall, Alan's sister, about her life in the Timber
Corps, my friend Dorothy Chilton and I decided that we would volunteer for this.
We were approaching 18 ½ years and would either have to go into the forces, or a munitions factory. We went to Ranby for an interview, and about two weeks later we had been accepted and our uniform and instructions arrived. We were to report to Wetherby for a month’s training there. We were shown how to use an axe - bushman's saw and cross cut saw, also to identify soft and hard woods. It was April or May and very hot; we got very sun burnt and I remember not being able to sleep because we were so sore, the sheets hurt. When we were asked what county we wished to work in, Dorothy and I said Gloucester, so that we could be near Doreen - the nearest we got to this was Wiltshire and we never saw Doreen until after the war.

It was the Thursday before the Whitsuntide weekend when we arrived at Ludgershall by train and were met by our new boss Mr Alee Robertson, who was about 30 years old. He told us he would take us to our digs on his motor bike. I told Dot to go first and after being told which way to go, I was nearly there when he came back for me. I didn't fancy riding the pillion. Later on, I often had a ride to work on one of the timber fellas’ bikes and enjoyed it. We stayed with Mr & Mrs Andrews (this was my mother's maiden name) for 2½ years. The bungalow was clean and we had good food except our sandwiches, which never varied at all like Mother’s Pride flour - namely marmite on 2 slices and soapy cheese on the other 2. As you can imagine working outdoors, we were very hungry and often went scrounging round the gangs for anything they couldn't manage. One amusing incident was when we reported for work on the first Friday morning. They told us the sawmill was going to close until the Tuesday after Whit, so we were told we could go home. Now we had already sent a telegram to my Dad to say where we were, but instead of the post mark being Andover it was Dover. My parents were very upset and went to tell the Chilton's. All they could think of was that we must be loading timber at the Docks, which were being bombed at that time. We arrived home after travelling all night, and they were very relieved when we said we were stationed at Collingbourne Forest near Andover.

After we got back, I was sent to work with two brothers who were the best timber
fellers in the area. I had to help crosscut -very low not like they do today -just
clearing your knuckles, then when the trees were down. We lopped off the
branches. The trees were then measured by the two Molly's one short and dumpy and one tall and slim. They spent their days going to the different gangs of timber fellers measuring and counting etc, and depending on what they could get out of the trees decided the men's pay. They always liked a good big tree; the base usually went for the saw mill then probably a 9 ft pit prop, then into 6ft pit props and so on, the branches were trimmed and cut into cord-wood which the girls did and was stacked into a cord (measure) of wood between 2 stakes. This was collected by tractor and trailer by the girls and taken to the charcoal burners. 2 Swedes ran this and depending on their drinking, operated almost every day.

Once a month we had to take turns in collecting the charcoal and taking it to
Ludgershall rail sidings where it was loaded and despatched somewhere. Another job we did was to saw 3ft pit props from the smaller trees. My husband used to say he hoped I sawed the wood better than I did the bread. My Dad told me we sent some of our props to Whitwell pit. Sometimes we were sent with the large timber lorry to fetch the trees for the sawmill. These were snagged out by girls driving tractors and then loaded up by the help of skids, which we had to stand by and help roll up the trees. It was fun riding on top - dangerous I think now, looking back. Then came the clearing and burning which always seemed to be in very hot weather, the branches etc., which were no use, were gathered and burnt leaving the woods nice and clear.

The Silver Birch twigs were collected, bound together and trimmed, and then were made into besoms - brushes to clean the charcoal furnaces. On odd occasions we were sent to load pit props into wagons at the sidings. This was a bit scary and looking back, I don't think at all suitable for girls to do. We were taken into the woods in the morning and unless it rained, we stayed until 4.30 - 5 o'clock depending on the distance we had to travel. If it was raining when we arrived at work, we waited in the sawmill until it cleared up, or were later sent home. If it started to rain or snow whilst at work, we had to stay until 2 o'clock under a tarpaulin or what was available when the lorry would come for us. I think this contributed to my Rheumatism as I was invalided out by Dr Evans after 2 ½ years’ service. Dot Chilton stayed on a few more months working in the sawmill, operating a huge saw which she preferred to being in the woods. We were very brown and developed a few muscles and enjoyed it very much indeed.

If I remember correctly, our wages were 25 shilling (£1.25p) per week and our board was about that every 2 weeks. We didn't get underwear provided and had to buy all our personal things - toothpaste etc, bus fares into town, Andover once a week and Salisbury perhaps every month. We could wear civvies or uniform when we went out, 2 travel passes a year (took all day or night). My parents sent me my bike, which I used to ride to the sawmill instead of waiting for the lorry. The people in the village used to ask us where we had been felling and they went along with prams or handcarts to collect the chippings or spare wood which they stacked up ready for winter to burn in their homes. Dialect was strange but so was ours to them I suppose - we were a mixed bunch! We always mash tea; they brewed or made it.

The Italian prisoners of war worked close to us and would bring us a taste of their rabbit stew, which they cooked, on a fire in the woods. Buses in the little villages only ran about once or twice a week. We went walking and asked for a bus home. They told us there wouldn't be one until Wednesday. We were given tinned food from the Americans, which I brought home to Dad, and we were allowed a bag of sugar a month and one tin of condensed milk for tea in the wood. A billycan was placed on the fire between two sticks and we were told to throw a twig into the can to stop the tea tasting of smoke.

Most of the people I met were ships that passed in the night, but good memories remain with me. I am glad that I was guided back to my church and my family. I married my husband the following year and had 56 years of happy marriage. Looking back it is only then we realise just how much we owe to early days and guidance by loving parents and God’s grace to us. We didn't receive a gratuity and had to return all our uniform. All I could keep was my Timber Corps Badge.