Guest blogger and Ancestry Canada Advisory Board Member: Brian Glenn
In his book, ‘Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919: Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War’, Colonel G.W.L. Nicholson said, “Canadian forestry units are said to have ‘helped to defeat the submarine… more surely than a fleet of ships.”
That’s how critical the supply of lumber & timber was to the Allied cause during the First World War and that’s what drew my Grandfather, Hugh Manley Glenn, from the forests of Pontiac County, Quebec, to those in France.
Timber was a critical commodity during WWI for sawlogs and lumber for trenches, sleepers for railways, axe handles and more. German U-Boat sinkings made it much more difficult for Britain to import lumber from its allies – USA, Canada, Russia and Scandinavia. It became necessary, therefore, to start felling trees in the British forests. For that, Britain needed more lumbermen. Requests were made to Canada beginning in January 1916 for timbermen.
Birth of a Corps
In February 1916, the British Secretary of State made a formal request to the Governor General of Canada, H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught, for 1,500 skilled lumbermen and in May, the Minister of Militia authorized the formation of the 224th Forestry Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). By the end of May, 1,600 men of all ranks had been sent to England. An additional 5,000 men were requested for forestry work by the Army Council in November and so the Forestry Corps was authorized and on 2 April 1917, the Canadian Forestry Corps directorate was established at G.H.Q. France.
On May 28, 1917, my grandfather, Hugh Manley Glenn, signed his attestation papers in Ottawa as a teamster and became a private in 71 Company (Coy), Number 12 District Workshop, Bordeaux Group, Canadian Forestry Corps (CFC), headquartered at Marcheprime in Southern France.
He embarked for England on June 25, 1917 aboard the SS Justicia, travelling from Halifax to Liverpool. He arrived at Base Depot, CFC, Sunningdale on July 4, 1917.
On August 12, 71 Coy departed for Le Havre, France, where my grandfather was immediately promoted to Corporal.
Every unit and company of the CEF were required to keep daily diaries of their actions and activities. For the Forestry Corps, the diaries recorded the administrative and lumbering activities of the company including inspections, numbers of missing or killed in action and the comings and goings of officers. Typically, the diaries included only one line or sentence per day.
Life on the Front
Every unit and company of the CEF were required to keep daily diaries of their actions and activities. For the Forestry Corps, the diaries recorded the administrative and lumbering activities of the company including inspections, numbers of missing or killed in action and the comings and goings of officers. Typically, the diaries included only one line or sentence per day. Entries from Hugh’s diaries include:
- 1 Dec 1917: Canadian Dominion elections begin this day. Soldiers vote being taken in the District.
- 10 Dec 1917: YMCA huts are being erected at each group of camps and are much appreciated by the men.
- 25 Dec 1917: Christmas Day being treated as a holiday. Companies have arranged sports and concerts.
- 1 Jan 1918: No cessation of work this day throughout the District. All operations continuing.
- 3 June 1918: Workshops. Emory (?) Wheel mandrill for 71 Coy & general repairs.
- 27 June 1918: Record cut for single shift of 9 1/2 hours by 71 Coy 81,662 FBM, 1,064 logs cut & 1,861 8-gauge sleepers produced.
A note in Col. Nichaolson’s “Official History” gives us a picture of the success of the Canadian Forestry Companies:
By September 1917 Sir Douglas Haig was able to report that his armies had become “practically self-supporting” where timber was concerned; between May and October of that year,
forestry units provided more than three-quarters of a million tons of lumber. It was during this period that a Canadian mill at La Joux set a record which, in the words of the officer commanding the Jura Group C.F.C., “cannot be obtained by any of the older firms in the Ottawa Valley, under the best civilian organization” – 160,494 feet board measure in nineteen hours running time.
While the efforts of the mill at La Joux seem impressive, the war diary of 71 Coy reports that they exceeded La Joux’s 8,447 feet board per hour by 149 feet board per hour in June 1918.
At the beginning of November 1918, Marshal Foch, Supreme Allied Commander of Allied Forces, received the German armistice delegates at Rethondes and refused their request for a provisional armistice, instead insisting that the Allies terms of armistice be accepted or refused by 11 a.m. on November 11. With rumors of the war’s end coming imminently, celebrations may have started a
bit too early. Hugh Manley’s service file indicated that he was “deprived of appointment” (rank) on the November 8 for having too much to drink. Fortunately, he was reinstated to Corporal on December 2 as the company was starting to be demobilized.
During January and February, the company’s workshops and machinery were packed up for evacuation and all the huts in District 12 were turned over to the French Authorities. On March 25, 1919, 71 Coy, comprising four officers and 112 other ranks was evacuated from the District to Sunningdale via Le Havre.
As part of the demobilization process, his field promotion ended on April 1, 1919 when he was relocated to Kimnel Park Camp in Rhyl, Wales. On May 11, 1919 he embarked for Canada aboard the SS Saturna from Glasgow, Scotland and was discharged in Ottawa on May 22.
That ends my grandfather’s war effort, but because the 71 Coy served in France, he was awarded the British War Medal, Victory Medal. Over the course of the war, the Canadian Forestry Corps accounted for 31,447 of all ranks, including more than 600 POWs who were pressed into service.
I imagine if my teetotalling grandmother had ever found out about grampa’s escapade at the war’s end, he may have become a post-war casualty as he stepped off the boat.
Brian was initiated into genealogy over 40 years ago when his mother-in-law asked if he could replicate their family history on a sheet of wallpaper. Being a “computer person” he bought a $10 family history program and dug in – and he’s still going!
Brian became involved with the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa (BIFHSGO) when he made enquiries about the reverse of the British Home Children programs (Brian’s mother was born in Montreal but was sent to England to be raised by family until the age of 18 when she returned to Canada with her mother). Over the years with BIFHSGO, Brian has been the Director of Education, Director of Research and Administrative Chair of the annual Family History Conference.
His current family history focus is on two sets of Glenn brothers who left Pontiac County, Quebec, for finer farming pastures in Western Canada and South Dakota, USA in the late 1800s and early 1900s.