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THE SAWDUST FUSILIERS | Laurentian Heritage WebMagazine
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CFC Medal.During World War Two, the fabric of No. 2 Company of the Canadian Forestry Corps drew heavily on the English-speaking sons of Argenteuil, leveraging their skills with the axe and the crosscut saw, honed on the family bush farms of their native county. No. 16 Company was formed around their French-speaking “bucheron” counterparts.

The war created a crisis in wood supply for the United Kingdom. Pre-war domestic production covered only a small fraction of the timber needed to support the war effort. In addition to civilian requirements, it was estimated that every soldier needed five trees: one for living quarters, messing, and recreation; one for crates to ship food, ammunition, tanks, and so on; and three for explosives, gun stocks, coffins, ships, factories, and direct or indirect support for the fighting line.

Canadians stepped up to fill this need. During 1941 and 1942, thirty companies drawn from all regions of Canada, totalling 220 officers and 6,771 regulars, were deployed to Scotland.

High rigger.Each company worked in two sections, one cutting in the bush and bringing out the timber and the other sawing it into lumber at the company mill. Three-man felling crews chopped, sawed and trimmed. Hand saws and axes were the tools used. Three-man teams yarded the logs to the roadside landings, either by dragging them or using sulkies. From there the logs were hauled by lorry to the company saw mill and cut into whatever sizes and shapes were required.

Each CFC Company of about 230 men was set up as a self-contained community, including men capable of turning their hand to any task, from blacksmithing and mechanical repair to snow clearance on the highland roads. Unlike during the First World War, the Canadian Forestry Corps of the Second World War had to be combat-ready, so time was devoted to military training, as well.

The CFC was apparently well liked in the Scottish Highlands. The men became active participants in local functions, from fundraising to staging Christmas parties for the local children. Many times, scrap wood mysteriously fell from lorries beside homes in need of fuel. A notable tribute to the CFC was paid by Laura Lady Lovat when she stated, "you Canadians may be cutting the Scots firs of the Highlands, but in Highland hearts you are planting something far more lasting".

Bridge on the River Dee.CFC No. 2 Company, initially located in Aboyne, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, was disbanded in late 1943, but most of the personnel were reassigned to other companies, combat engineering units or actual combat regiments, in preparation for an all-out assault on Europe.

After D-Day (June 6, 1944), the CFC delivered timber to the allied invasion forces in Europe. Due to the shortage of hold space in ships, logs were transported to the English ports of Southampton and Barry and formed into huge rafts. The Royal Engineers, originally tasked with building the rafts, relinquished the job to the more able Canadian foresters. During July and August 1944, 77 square-timber and 54 round-timber rafts were built. The huge rafts were moved with tugboats across the English Channel to the Continent in the late summer of 1944.

Following the successful allied campaign in Normandy, ten mobile CFC companies were deployed to the Continent. Ten static companies remained in Scotland to supply reinforcements when needed and to continue cutting timber. While the Canadian First Army was spearheading the liberation of Holland, the mobile CFC companies followed the allied armies from France into Belgium.

On December 16, 1944 Field Marshal von Rundstedt launched a counter-offensive with a force of twenty-four divisions and broke through the American VIII Corps along a forty mile front in the Ardennes sector of Belgium. The Battle of the Bulge, as it became known, was underway.

The six CFC companies cutting timber in the Ardennes were caught in the thick of things and had to scramble. Some units had time to pull out while some were called into sporadic combat roles to help hold the front line in the fighting.

Three allied armies tangled with three German armies for over a month and a half during the Battle of the Bulge. Over a million men participated. 600,000 Americans and 55,000 British fought 500,000 Germans during one of the coldest, snowiest winters in the Ardennes. On the allied side, 20,000 troops were killed and 90,000 were wounded. On the German side: 16,000 killed and 85,000 wounded. Ultimately the Germans were routed.

After the Battle of the Bulge, the mobile CFC Companies were assigned to other timber areas in the vicinity of Brussels, Antwerp, Charleroi, Louvain and Lierre. During the last week of January 1945, parties from the companies displaced by the Ardennes battle returned to the area to salvage equipment they had hastily abandoned.

A few of the more important tasks performed by CFC personnel, outside of normal timbering, were the lifting and transporting of pontoon bridging from the River Orne to forward areas, the design and construction of a boom to protect the Nijmegen bridge from floating mines which the Germans were putting into the River Waal, upstream, and the supervision of lumber yards for imported lumber at Brussels and Ghent. The companies working in the Antwerp and Nijmegen areas suffered a number of casualties from the incessant flying bomb and rocket attacks which continued during the winter.

In February 1945, CFC Companies 5 and 9 were sent to the Reichswald forest and, later, to the Hochwald forest, immediately following bloody battles in those areas. There they prepared lumber and timber for the Rhine crossings. CFC companies also did considerable work cutting wood for the repair of corduroy roads which had been badly cratered by enemy shelling. The companies which returned to the Ardennes forest began cutting 75-foot pilings for the bridges to be built over the Rhine. In order to cut these abnormally long lengths it was necessary to build special sawmills in the Ardennes.

Billy Rainey and Vernon Bennett.After VE Day (May 8, 1945), the CFC carried on operations in the forests at thirty-three sites, over a distance of almost 500 miles, from Bruges, Belgium to Bad Segeberge, Germany. New timber operations were started in the forests near Osnabruck, Minden, Bassum, Hanover and Hamburg while some companies remained in the Reichswald and Rhine areas. Two lumber yards were set up along the Rhine, at Pfazdorf on the west bank and Drevenack on the east bank, to store and season lumber prior to shipping. During June 1945, it was necessary to concentrate once again on piling materials, this time for the structures being erected over the Dortmund-Ems Canal and the Weser River.

The CFC was completely disbanded by November 1945, and the “Sawdust Fusiliers” returned to Canada. However, the mixed forests of maple, beech, spruce and white pine of their native lower Laurentians could no longer hold some of these men. Their horizons had been so expanded by their wartime experiences that the only remaining forestry challenges for them were in the giant Douglas fir stands of British Columbia. Buster and Billy Rainey, my veteran uncles, together with their younger brothers, Edward and Gilbert, were among those that headed west.