World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Marjorie Wenderby 

Women at War - Timber Corps Girl

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Marjorie Wenderby (nee Coates)
Location of story: Yorkshire
Unit name: Womens Timber Corps.
Background to story: Civilian Force


WOMEN AT WAR - Timber Corps Girl

Marjorie Wenderby (nee Coates)

From a very early age I was brought up to learn all about trees, my Father was a forester on the Earl of Harewoods estate. Every Sunday morning he and I used to enjoy a walk through the woods, he was very knowledgeable and taught me all about trees, the way they grew, the seeds and fruits they bore. On our walks he would point to different trees and I would have to tell him the names, also I learnt how to recognise them in midwinter when there were no leaves, then the bark would be the main identification.

I would be sixteen shortly, and Dad who now worked for the Home Timber Production Dept. was sent to take over a wood at Swinsty near the reservoirs. We had to leave our house at Harewood as Dad had ceased to work for the estate, he had thought to better himself no doubt, but life had begun to feel very uncertain. I loved Harewood and did not want to leave. Now Dad had to take lodgings, he stayed with Mrs. Dibbs at Washburn farm. There was no house for us, we had no idea what was going to happen, then we were told the Dept. was allowing us to have the use of a caravan which would be situated in the forest near the portable office, and as I could no longer travel to my work in Harrogate I had to leave, and Dad told me I could work in the forest and then when I was older I could join the Womens Timber Corps. Which at that time I knew nothing about.

He told me how young women worked in the forests, felling trees crosscutting, working with horses etc.Britain could no longer import timber from Scandinavia, so we had to supply pit-props for the coal mines, telegraph poles, ladders, newsprint, etc.

So one snowy winters morning he and I took the bus to Buttersyke Bar about halfway to Harrogate, then we would have to walk from there towards Otley, by this time it was snowing heavily, I recall a man stopping and giving us a lift to Otley, from there we set off to walk across country towards the Dibbs farm where we were to stay until the caravan arrived. Dad had walked that way before. I just followed blindly having no real idea where I was going, he said it was about four miles, it was a blizzard by that time and very windy, we must keep moving, I knew this, the journey was a nightmare to me, finally we reached the farm, Mrs. Dibbs was a kindly lady, she made us a nice hot meal. During the night I had earache although I never told anyone, I was used to it just wished I could have a hot water bottle, that would have helped.

Neat day was February 10th, my birthday, no one had remembered, no cards, this was Wartime, more important things to think about. I spent my birthday peeling pit-props or trying to, they were covered in ice. I suppose this was my first introduction to forestry work which would result in my joining the Woman’s Timber Corps when I was older.

Finally the caravan arrived and we moved from Harewood forever, I was devastated, my Mother had given my cat away!! This was a miserable time, my Mother called it the "valley of desolation". The only enjoyment I had in the three months we were there were the dances that were held sometimes at the village of Norwood about two miles away, although my Father always had to escort me there and back. Mr. Nicholson worked in the forestry office, his wife was a measurer, I used to help her this was the work which although I did not realize it at the time, would also become my job when I finally could join the Timber Corps, we used to measure the trees that had been felled and calculate the volume using the Hoppus Ready Reckoner, the tree fellers were usually on piecework. Finally towards the end of April, Dad was moved again to take over a wood at Goldsborough, near Knaresborough, this was going to be better I thought, a bit nearer civilization.-So eventually after the worst three months of my life we moved once more, and Dad had managed to rent a cottage in the village, and once again we had somewhere we could call home.

There were quite a number of Timber Corps girls at Goldsborough when Dad took over, I wanted to join but had to wait until I was seventeen, there were sisters Mary and Lily, also Connie and Imogene, they became my friends, they were older than me but we had some great times during that summer of 1942, I was beginning to enjoy life and the work, I was still measuring, and Dad had taught me how to sharpen saws which always seemed to need doing. Also there was office work, wages to make up, and sometimes I would help to stack pit-props, or help to load the lorry which then transported them to the station, one day we were at the station when a goods train pulled up with one of the wagons on fire, we helped to extinguish it by running backwards and forwards with fire buckets, we received a letter of appreciation from the Station Master at York.

It was now 1943 and I was seventeen, now I could join the Timber Corps, the uniform was the same as the Land Army except we wore green berets instead of the hat, I felt quite proud and grown up as I fist tried the uniform on. During that summer there was a "Wings for Victory" march at Knaresborough, we marched round the town and then to Goldsborough, I think it was to help raise money for a Spitfire.

The wood at Goldsborough had now been felled and cleared, we travelled every day to a wood near Staveley, I found a kitten it was very wild, eventually I caught it, Dad said I could take it home, we called it Timber, Tim for short. After Staveley we worked at a wood near Wetherby, travelling every day by lorry driven by Robbie our incompetent driver, we had two previous near misses. One dense foggy morning he must have lost his way, eventually we stopped and the next thing we heard was the tremendous roar of an aeroplane engine, it sounded on top of us, we abandoned the lorry in great haste, and discovered we were practically under a Lancaster bombers wing, we were actually on the runway at Tockwith aerodrome in the fog, Robbie as usual had lost his way, strangely the barrier had been lifted for us, our lorry probably been mistaken for the R. A. F.’s, we were escorted politely but firmly out of harms way, the bombers engine was probably just being tested, I don’t suppose it would have taken off in the fog, but it certainly gave us all a fright.

As the year of 1943 was drawing to a close we were moved once more, this time it was further a field to Settle which was beyond Skipton, this would be the furthest away yet, it would mean lodging away from home, Dad would have to lodge as well now that I was older I looked forward to being away from maternal control, that was how I saw it, my Mother did not approve but could do nothing about it.

I remember clearly the day we went, I was to lodge with a lady called Mrs. Hall at 11 Craven Terrace, Settle. She was very nice and friendly, told me to call her Hilda. Dad was in lodgings at the other side of the street, already I was beginning to enjoy my independence, the other Timber Corps girls were billeted in various houses. And so another wood, more pit-props, I loved it. After work there was a good social life, a cinema, also there were dances every Saturday. I had to share a bedroom with another Timber Corps girl called Freda, I did not care much for that but had to get used to it. Freda had been working at Clapham a few miles away but was now joining our gang, she was also a measurer.

That winter was quite a bad one, we had some hair raising incidents while on the lorry driven by Robbie, his driving never improved. The lorry was allowed to take us home once a month for the weekend, some of the girls liked to visit their previous digs in Harrogate, Dad and I enjoyed a weekend at Goldsborough. I recall one incident as we were returning to Settle after a weekend at home, there had been heavy falls of snow, " our route back lay over Blubberhouse Moor a wild and desolate part of Yorkshire at any time, I don’t suppose it was fit or indeed safe to drive over the moor, but Robbie ever confident insisted he was capable of doing it and so we set off. As we approached the more desolate part of the moor the snow was very deep and a blizzard was now raging, the inevitable happened, he drove straight into a snowdrift and got stuck, the snow was as high as the cab, in his inexperience he probably thought he could force his way through. Fortunately there was a farm nearby, the people were very kind and invited us girls in to keep warm, while their men folk helped to free the lorry, there were animals and poultry everywhere, I remember the hens strutting about the kitchen, but it was warm and we were very grateful for their kind hospitality. Eventually the lorry was dug out, turned round and we returned to Harrogate and home. Next day we returned to Settle via Otley.

Eventually the weather improved, Spring was on the way, one evening in March we had left work, Freda and I were returning to Craven Terrace when we saw a boy cycling down the street, he stopped to have a word with Freda as she had known him while working at Clapham, Freda introduced us, his name was Charlie, I always remember the first time I saw him, he was wearing a flat cap like my Dad wore, he took this off as we were being introduced and called me Miss Coates, I was impressed.

He looked nice and eventually we got to know each other better, but at this stage never went out together, he was very shy did not talk much, but then neither did, I he used to go to the dances sometimes but never danced, but we used to talk, he still called me Miss Coates. He lent me a book once, we both discovered we enjoyed reading, after I had read it I waited until I saw him go past taking his landlady’s dog for a walk and followed him to return the book, we went for that walk and so started to go out together. we went to the pictures on April 5 th.1944 for the first time. As the friendship grew we had same nice times that summer, we both liked walking a favourite one was to walk to Giggleswick a couple of miles away. My Dad had already met him, my Mother appeared to like him, she said he was "Well mannered and quiet" his home was at North Stainley near Ripon, everyone was scattered about in wartime.

As the year wore on Charles, [ I did not like Charlie] told me that he would most certainly be called up for the Army, sure enough in the Autumn he was, and was posted
to Colchester, we wrote to each other often, the days dragged, I never went out with anyone else, everyone now seemed hopeful the war would soon end, but we in the Timber Corps were still working hard producing pit-props, Charles was posted to Catterick which was a bit nearer, just before Christmas 1 travelled to Darlington and we spent the day together.

It was my nineteenth birthday in February 1945, we asked our parents if we Could get married, my Dad said "yes" but Charles’ Mother was not too happy, she stood to lose the small Army allowance made to her as next of kin. But things sorted themselves out and on Charles embarkation leave we were married on 7th April 1945 at Goldsbrough Church. Although the war was practically at in end, troops were still stationed abroad, he was sent to Palestine, I never saw him again until Christmas 1946.

The war was now at an end, rationing was still with us, but we coped with that, knowing eventually that would end, and a normal life for most of us would resume. And no more pit-props, we said goodbye to some lovely friends vowing to keep in touch, f wonder how many did. We Timber Corps girls had done our bit, we were proud to have made our contribution to the war effort. Now I looked forward to my husband coming home, looking forward to our future whatever it may hold.