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Last Updated: Monday, 28 January 2008, 00:05 GMT
The harsh life of a 'lumberjill'
By Caroline Mallan
BBC News

Women who worked the land during World War II to keep Britain supplied with food and timber can now apply for a badge commemorating their efforts. One such sturdy soul is Rosalind Elder, who now lives in Canada.

Rosalind Elder was first rejected by the nursing recruiter and then by the Royal Air Force as she set out to do "her bit" for the war effort in the autumn of 1942.

Rosalind Elder
The 'lumberjills' worked for little more than pocket money

"They told me to come back with my birth certificate. I couldn't very well do that since I was barely 16 at the time," she recalled.

But when she approached the Women's Timber Corps, no one asked to see proof that the recently orphaned, 5'4" slip of a girl from Glasgow was old enough to sign up for service.

"Next thing I knew, I was a 'lumberjill'.

'Home free'

"I thought I was home free," the 81-year-old said with a laugh.

"Before I knew it I was in a forest sleeping in a wooden shed that looked like something where you would keep your sheep," she said from her home in Canada.

After years of struggling for official British government recognition for their contributions to the war effort, the women of the Timber Corps and the Land Army can now apply for badges commemorating their role in the Allied victory.

"I just wish more of the girls were still here to see this day," Mrs Elder said in an interview from her home in British Columbia.

"We were as much a part of winning that war as every other service," she added.

Rosalind Elder
Rosalind was a 16-year-old orphan when she became a lumberjill

Despite the time it has taken for the badges to be issued, Mrs Elder said the greater reward was the friendships she made and the laughs she had as one of 5,000 young women who volunteered as "lumberjills".

Their camaraderie blossomed amid gruelling days spent felling, hauling and cross-cutting trees that in turn provided timber for everything from telegraph poles to road blocks to the crosses which were destined to adorn soldiers' graves.

"Oh, it was hard work, we were mostly city girls and the blisters and the cuts and the wounds, it was a very dangerous job.

"But you know what young people are like, no matter what, we had fun, despite it all, the war and the discomfort, we found a way to have fun," she said.

Victory essential

A young Rosalind volunteered to be a horsewoman, which involved the added duties of caring for the horses and the dangerous job of attaching chains to fallen logs and to the horses without getting entangled.

"I was a bit small and I was quick and agile, so I was good at it."

Rosalind Elder
Before I knew it I was in a forest sleeping in a wooden shed that looked like something where you would keep your sheep
Lumberjill Rosalind Elder

Rosalind was transferred to a string of camps in the Highlands, living in sparse wooden huts in the middle of the forest with no running water, one small woodstove for heat, thin army cots and grey woollen blankets.

"Oh, but the men, there were four men for every girl and we had plenty of dates and never sat out a dance," she said of the upside to life as a lumberjill.

She said despite the good times and the hard work, the young lumberjills and their many suitors all knew - despite their youth - that victory over Germany and Japan was vital.

"That was what it was all about, winning the war so we could bring our children up in peace and that is what we got, it was worth every minute," she said.

Rosalind married a Canadian soldier when she was just 19, moved to Canada and went on to raise five children in the peacetime that the hard work she and her fellow Women's Timber Corps lumberjills helped secure.

Life as a Land Girl

Commendation for WW2 'Land Girls'
06 Dec 07 |  UK Politics
Statue to 'lumberjills' unveiled
10 Oct 07 |  Tayside and Central

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