Wartime Foresters

Wartime Foresters

“The King’s Government call for lumber men and all skilled workmen not eligible for the Regiment or the Royal Naval Reserve for service in the forests of the United Kingdom.”

call for foresters in evening telegram-7-apr-1917-heritage-nf

In World Wars I and II, Britain needed foresters. Lots of timber available, especially in Scotland, and both military and civilian need for lumber. But not enough people left in the UK with the necessary skills and strength to cut and mill it. That’s where Newfoundland, Canada and other British dominions came in: to provide the skilled labour.


The Newfoundland Forestry Corps sent about 500 men overseas in 1917 to cut and mill wood. From 1939 to the end of WWII, the Newfoundland Overseas Forestry Unit sent about 3,680 men. They worked in Scotland, England and France.


According to Neary and Baker (2010:9), “the largest single group of Newfoundlanders to go overseas during the Second World War did not go in uniform, but as members of the Newfoundland Forestry Unit.” In both wars, the forestry units were classified as civilian rather than military.

Foresters as Soldiers or Civilians

The same rules for recruitment applied in the Canadian Forestry Corps (CFC) but it was part of the Canadian Armed Forces. The CFC was created in 1916 and disbanded in 1920. It resumed service in 1939 to 1945.

The difference in civilian or military categorization didn’t matter at the time, but it did afterwards. In Newfoundland, men of the forestry units were not eligible for veterans’ benefits. The same was true for veterans of the Merchant Marine, a civilian unit responsible for keeping shipping channels safe for military and commercial vessels. Finally in 1962, the forestry units and Merchant Marine were recognized under the Civilian War Allowance Act. In 2000, their veterans received the same benefits as those of military branches.

Nfld foresters nofu-log-loading-duthil-1944-ngb-chebucto

In both wars, many men left the forestry corps to sign up for combat units. Either they reached legal enlistment age or got the required education level. The war dragged on, and needed more and more fighting men. So the physical requirements changed. Men rejected earlier for combat due to maybe not meeting the height or eyesight standards became eligible.


Lumbering was still needed too, however. So men continued to be recruited to replace those who had left. And there were injuries and deaths. It may not have been combat, but woodswork is dangerous. While working, 335 NOFU men were injured severely enough to be sent back home and 34 were killed. That’s one tenth. In WWI, 14 names are on the honour roll for the NFC.

2010 Peter Neary and Melvin Baker (eds.), Introduction, History of the Participation by Newfoundland in World War II, Allan M. Fraser (pdf)

The story of NOFU is in They Also Served by Tom Curran, St. John’s: Jesperson 1987. See Newfoundland’s Grand Banks for names, records and photographs from WWI and II.

This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. Hi Wilmore, there is a Simon Raymond Hancock service number 2778 who was in the Newfoundland Offshore Forestry Unit and was killed June 20, 1941. He is buried at Abbey St, Bathans Parish Churchyard Berwickshire, United Kingdom. He was 29 years old. I have a picture of his headstone but I don’t know how to upload it here. Hope this helps you.

  2. Hi David, I’m a Newfoundlander living off the Island. I’m an avid collector of militaria artifacts from both World War 1 and World War 2. I try to buy up anything related to Newfoundland participation in both wars because I believe those items should be kept in Newfoundland. I plan on returning my collection to Newfoundland in the future. It’s a shame that people are selling this stuff to collectors abroad. Anyway there is a Newfoundland Forestry Unit badge for sale in Calgary. It’s being sold by Arctic Medals. The price in my opinion is rather high ( $ 750 ) but I don’t see them as often as I once did. If you would like to contact me about the war badges send me a text at 416-270-2668.

  3. Trying to find information on my great grandfather.
    He was in the forestry unit WW2.
    His #2845 Donald Hewlett
    Born in 1913 and passed 1990. He was originally from Robert’s arm, but live in Grand Falls when he past. Any information would be amazingm

    1. Hello April I purchased an estate a while ago that had your Grandfathers medals in it. If you wish to see them simply contact me on fb ok

  4. My father peter Kavanagh of Ferry land was in the forestry in Scotland during the second world war. He married Agnes Sheehan of Cappahayden and had 6 children.I think he spent time in Ballitor, Scotland and his enlisted number was 22222 I think ,and maybe he was registered in a place called Sterling. Trying to find out some info on my father. His comrades were Larry White of Aquaforte or Ferryland and Joe Rossiterr of cape Broyle

  5. I would like to get information about Raymond Hancock from Englee nl. I’m a very close relative

    1. Hi Wilmore, I found a Simon Raymond Hancock of NOFU on Canadian Fallen but it doesn’t say where he was from. I couldn’t find anything else, but maybe someone reading this can help out.

  6. I would love some information on Stewart dixon, he was part of WWII forestry from Newfoundland Canada

    1. Hi Jean, all I could find on him was on the NOFU page on Nfld Grand Banks site. It lists his residence as “Goulds, Brigus” and regiment number #3507. You likely know that, but maybe it will ring bells for someone reading. Hope so!

  7. My Grandfather was a member of the forest corps from Newfoundland durning WW2 , I have his logging lumber chart and his compass that he carried with him while he was overseas . I really can’t find a lot of information or pictures so it was great finding this story and the pictures

    1. Hi Sheila, I’m glad you saw this post then. I’ll think of your grandfather tomorrow, as I’m sure you’ll be doing too. Thanks for writing.

  8. One of my relatives was enlisted in the NOFU during WW1. His name was Obediah Cooper. Is there anywhere that a cap badge would be available for purchase.


    1. Hi David, I did a quick google and didn’t see any for sale. I see there is a NOFU Facebook page – maybe they could help in finding one. Good luck. The badge really is beautiful.

  9. Hello we are doing some research into members of our masonic lodge who joined before and during the first world war. There was a detachment of Canadian lumberjack stationed not far from the town of Forres. A number of them joined the lodge and we have a list of their names. Before they left they presented a ballot box which is still used. Just wondering if you could help with any info on the camp at slui, photos ect.

    1. Hi Allan, thank you for this information. According to the University of Edinburgh’s Scotland’s War, “early in June 1917 The Forres Gazette reported that ‘a party of about one hundred and fifty Canadian soldiers arrived at Forres by afternoon train’. Their destination was Sluie near to the Forres to Grantown Road.” Looks like it was 122 Company of the Canadian Forestry Corps based at Forres (Sluie). If that rings any bells for anyone, please do write!

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