ANC-C95386 | Bushmen and sawmill hands wanted

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Bushmen and sawmill hands wanted
About 1916, 20th century
This artefact belongs to : © National Archives of Canada
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Keys to History

By the summer of 1916 volunteer recruiting had dried up across Canada. Despite the best efforts of colonels, committees and newspaper proprietors, only a trickle of men showed up to enlist. Scores of battalions fell far short of the authorized strength of over a thousand men.

Yet the war was not over. In fact, for Britain and her allies it was entering a desperate phase. The French Army had been bled white trying to defend Verdun. British troops had sacrificed themselves to gain a few miles in the Somme Offensive. Worse, Russia's huge armies were dissolving in the face of German attacks, and by early 1917 the largest of the allies would be defeated. Germany also warned that she would use her dreaded unterseebooten or submarines to sink every ship bringing passengers or cargo to Britain or France.

In this crisis Canada could help. Rather than import lumber, France and Britain could cut down their own forests and Canadian loggers could help. Instead of soldiers for the Western Front, colonels turned to Canada's huge lumber industry to raise battalions for the Canadian Forestry Corps. Other battalions recruited railway workers to build and staff the light railways that carried munitions up to the trenches and brought back wounded. By the end of the war almost 20,000 members of the Corps of Canadian Railway Troops or CRT, with 22,000 members of the Canadian Forestry Corps, were turning trees into timber for the Allied war effort. Most of the men were older than the C.E.F. average and had been turned down for service. Now, by using their job experience, they could help meet Canada's promise of half a million.

  • What

    Thick timber made bomb-proof dugouts in the trenches and behind the lines. Timber ties connected the rails that brought up train-loads of supplies. Older men, rejected for service in the line, could bring their special Canadian skills to the forests of Scotland or the Jura region of France.

  • Where

    The 238th Battalion recruited most of its men from the Quebec side of the Ottawa river. At a time when other battalions were lucky to find a few hundred men, Colonel Smyth enlisted 1,081 volunteers for his battalion.

  • When

    The 238th Battalion was organized on July 15, 1916 and went overseas in the autumn.

  • Who

    As members of the Canadian Forestry Corps, members of the 238th Battalion were enlisted soldiers but they were not expected to fight. Originally they had been promised extra pay for their skills, but that was cancelled as an economy measure, and because they ran fewer risks than other soldiers the Patriotic Fund refused to subsidize their families when they were overseas.