2nd April 2013

'Lumberjill' Mrs Neale Goes Back In Time

Mrs Ella Neale is going back in time with volunteers from Groundwork North East in a project to recognise the work of the ‘lumberjills’ during the second world war.

When men working for the Forestry Commission were called up to join the forces in 1939, young women were recruited to fill their jobs through the Women’s Land Army. The specialist Women’s Timber Corp was formed in 1942. They were posted across the country to the working forest areas.

This year the Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded a grant to Groundwork North East to deliver a project to train volunteers to record information from this almost forgotten group of workers.

Julie Bhabra, project leader for Groundwork North East explained: “There were around 8,000 lumberjills across the country and they worked in pairs to fell trees for the war effort. It was important work as timber was urgently needed, mostly for pit props for coal mining.

“They used the huge two person saws the men had used, and each pair cut down around 30 trees a day.” Groundwork North East is working with the Friends of Chopwell Wood, the Forestry Commission and Gateshead Council to raise awareness about the role of women during the war.

Mrs Neale, who has just celebrated the birth of her eighth great grandchild, now lives in The Manor House at Brunton Park, Gosforth. Staff member Patricia Hedley who knows Mrs Neale well spotted a news item on the project in the local paper, and asked her if she would like to be involved.

Mrs Neale, then Ella Middleton, joined the lumberjills when she was 17 in 1942.

Mrs Neale said: “I was young and strong and enjoyed the work. A lorry used to drive round to pick us up in the morning, take us to the wood then bring us back at the end of the day. After working with the Timber Corps I joined the Women’s Land Army.”

Mrs Neale was born in Scotland. Her parents moved to Newcastle and opened a shop in Scotswood Road near the Armstrong factory. After the war Mrs Neale worked in a shop, then got married and moved to Ponteland.

“Mrs Neale is one of the first Women’s Timber Corp members to come forward since our fresh appeal for anyone with information to get in touch through local press and radio coverage,” continued Julie Bhabra.

“Over the next few months we’ll be collecting as much information as we can which will be published in a book. There will be an exhibition and activities for school children so they can get an idea of what life was like for the lumberjills.

“If anyone would like to talk to us about their time as a lumberjill or any family members have information they would like to share we’d be delighted to hear from them.”

Contact Julie Bhabra at Groundwork North East on 0191 5672550 or by email julie.bhabra@groundwork.org.uk

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