THEY were the forgotten women workers of the Second World War, now a member of the North East Timber Corp has lifted the lid on the life of the “lumberjill”.
Catherine Pinnington, 90, from Whitley Bay, North Tyneside, was 19 when she enlisted. She was happy to serve her country but was adamant that she didn’t want to be cooped up in a factory.
As soon as she heard about the opportunity to work outdoors as part of the Women’s Timber Corps, she jumped at the chance.
The great-grandmother says: “When you got to 19 you were conscripted and expected to go and work in a factory somewhere, but I wanted the outside life.
“In 1942 they brought in the Timber Corps dealing with the forestry. One girl in the office I worked in at the Co-op on Newgate Street in Newcastle suggested I volunteer for the Timber Corps because it involved maths and I was good at that.”
So Mrs Pinnington and a number of women from the North East were sent to learn the trade of a lumberjill at a training camp in Wetherby, Yorkshire, before being posted down in Oxfordshire.
She assumed the role of timber measurer, which involved measuring the size of the trees felled and calculating how much the men who chopped them down would get paid.
“A gang of men would fell the trees and they were paid depending on the measurements of the timber,” she explains.
“We took the length of a tree and the girth and we’d check a book we had called a hoppus’ measurer and that would give us the cubic content of tree, because the men were paid per cubic content.”
Living and working at a time of war may have been challenging but Mrs Pinnington says it was one of the happiest times of her life.
She adds: “I loved every minute of it. In the winter we used to have to brush the ice off and we would think about the summer coming and all the sunbathing we would be doing.
“In our free time we would go to the canteen, and some evenings we would go to dances if there was an air force camp nearby. They’d send a lorry along to pick us all up. That’s actually how I ended up meeting my husband.”
Husband Cyril worked for the air force and continued to do so for two years after his future wife was demobilised in 1946.
He was posted to his native Liverpool while she came back to her family in the North East, but once he left the air force, the couple moved to London where they started their family, which saw them have three children. Sadly, Mr Pinnington died suddenly in 1992 and his widow decided to move back to the region.
Mrs Pinnington is now keen to highlight to work of the Women’s Timber Corps, which she feels has gone unnoticed for decades.
It was only in 2008 when former Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave members of the Timber Corps a medal in honour of their service. “We’ve never been recognised – we got medals but that was a very long time afterwards.
“There were lots of people during the war who did things and were never recognised.”
But all that is due to change after Groundwork North East, the Forestry Commission, Friends of Chopwell Wood and Gateshead Council teamed up and received £29,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to create an exhibition on the work of Tyneside lumberjills.
Based in Chopwell Wood, the volunteers’ project will tell the little-known story of the Women’s Timber Corps.