Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Canadian Forestry Corps

The United Kingdom had a crisis in wood supply during World War II. Pre-war domestic production covered a small fraction of needed timber. Besides civilian requirements, every soldier was estimated to need 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.
The Canadian Forestry Corps was created during the First World War when it was discovered that huge quantities of wood were needed on the Western Front for use as duckboards, shoring timbers, crates—anything that needed wood had to be provided. Who was more experienced or qualified in the British Empire to harvest timber than the Canadians? At first, it was thought they would harvest trees from Canadian forests and ship them overseas. But with space at a premium aboard merchant ships, the Canadians went to Europe and cut down forests in the UK and France.
The CFC had been disbanded at the end of WWI, but quickly reinstated for service in the Second World War. During 1941 and 1942, thirty companies drawn from all regions of Canada.

Two members of the Canadian Forestry Corps saw a tree. Pressure was applied to Canadian fallers to cut trees close to the ground in Scottish fashion, rather than higher up, which left unsightly stump-fields so common in home forestry operations.
Canada bore the cost of pay, allowances and pensions, all initial personal equipment, and transport to and from the UK. The British paid for all other services connected with equipment, work or maintenance and certain others, including medical services. Canada covered the cost for Medical Officers and Britain paid for hospitalization.
            The main difference between the CFC of WWI and that of WWII was they considered to be combat troops. The men had 5 to 7 months military training.
The decision to provide military training to these men was made in June 1940, given the danger of a German invasion prevalent at that time. As combatant troops, they received additional training on Saturdays after their week’s work in the woods. This included practice on rifle ranges and tactical exercises with other military units.

A member of the Canadian Forestry Corps works at a timber mill, helping a log up the runway to the sawmill.

            The CFC brought with them the most up-to-date logging equipment then available in Canada. The companies 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. The felling crew consisted of three men, two sawing and one trimming. Hand saws and axes were the tools employed, and three man “Cat” teams yarded the logs to the roadside landings, either by dragging them or use of sulkies.
            The corps cleared approximately 230,000 forest acres in Scotland during their stay. However, by the spring of 1943, manpower problems in the Canadian Army caused several hundred soldiers suitable for other employment to be remustered to other overseas units. In October, 1943, ten companies were repatriated to Canada (totaling close to 2,000 men) for forestry duties there. A company in Scotland 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.

A group of seven men gathered around a sawmill. A large log is headed into the mill. The men are dressed in partial uniforms or work clothes. Members of the Canadian Forestry Corps were allowed to wear civilian clothing while working, but uniforms were required for military activities and when on leave.

            After the landings in Normandy in June 1944, the CFC delivered timber to the allied invasion forces in Europe. Rather than use precious cargo space in ships, logs were formed into huge rafts. 77 square timber rafts and 54 round timber rafts were created in Southampton. The huge rafts were moved with tugboats across the English Channel to the continent in the late summer of 1944.  Ten companies eventually moved to the Continent to continue operations there. Six companies of the CFC were called out to hold the line during the German Ardennes Offensive in Dec 1944, when Allied reserves were stretched to the limit.
            On 1 Sep 1945 the CFC was officially disbanded (forestry operations had already ceased in Scotland in June) and all 20 companies returned to Canada. In all, at its peak, the overseas strength of the corps had been 220 officers and 6,771 other ranks. A total 442,100,100 foot board measures of timber had been cut in Scotland, England, and France during their time in Europe.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Wine and War

Wine is important to France, dear to Frenchmen’s heart and soul. With Germany warmongering in the late 1930s, French winegrowers faced the prospect of losing their vineyards as they had barely a generation before. The battles of World War I had destroyed many vineyards, carving them up for trenches and cratering them with artillery. Chemical weapons poisoned the ground.
After the war, the Great Depression brought further devastation when the wine houses could not afford to buy grapes. Many winegrowers were forced to find other jobs to survive.
Weather ruined the harvest of 1939. And then war was declared. Men were called to military service, leaving a shortage of labor. In May of 1940, Germany attacked France, and six scant weeks later, France surrendered. Life changed drastically.
For many restaurants and wine houses, guarding their cellars was paramount. Working fast, they sorted out bottles of their best vintages and walled them off. Some brought in spiders to weave their webs over the new walls, making them look old.

The French hid wine in cellars and caves from the occupying Germans during World War II. 

The famous La Tour d’Argent restaurant in Paris walled off their best. The German troops occupied Paris on June 14, an emissary from Field Marshall Hermann Göring came too. He went right to La Tour d’Argent and asked to see the wine cellars, especially the bottles of 1867, their very best. He and a contingent of soldiers were allowed to search the cellars, which they did for over two hours. They didn’t find the 1867 wine, but when they left, they took all 80,000 bottles of remaining wine.
Adolf Hitler did not care for wine, but he recognized it’s prestigious and profitability, and decreed Germany should have France’s best. During the first two months of occupation, looting was rampant. Soldiers pillaged millions of bottles from private homes and wine houses. Many of the worst worked for Göring, a copious plunderer.
Even the good requisitioned for Germany were being stolen. German authorities finally realized they had to control their troops. A trio of wine merchants (called weinführers by the French) were assigned to different regions in France to buy as much good French wine as possible to be taken to Germany and resold internationally. The franc had been sharply devalued, creating terrific bargains for Germany. The French had no choice in selling to them. They were forbidden to sell their wine to anyone else.
As much as possible, the French filled orders with their poor quality. They stole back their wine from railway cars and siphoned barrels bound for Germany. In one case, when a squad of soldiers stayed overnight, the French fobbed off earthenware bottles of “gin,” actually a strong laxative.
The Vichy French government, little more than a puppet government to the Germans, needed to pay horrendous occupation costs to their masters. They imposed a twenty percent tax on all wine sold by growers. Stores had to tack on another twenty percent when they sold the wine. A black market soon flourished.
As conditions worsened, and the Germans and the French Milice police became more oppressive, winegrowers increasingly helped the Resistance. They allowed their property to be used for air drops of weapons and as hiding places for the thousands of men gone into hiding to avoid being sent to Germany to work in war industries.

American soldiers relax with wine found at the Eagle's Nest, Hitler's Alpine retreat.

When the war finally ended, millions of bottles of wine had been stolen. Hitler’s cache of wine was discovered at his home high in the Bavarian Alps at Berchtesgaden. Half a million bottles of the finest wines in the world
Many vineyards had suffered from years of neglect with no one to prune or weed, no copper sulfate to combat fungal diseases that attacked grapevines during wet seasons, no plowing because Germany had requisitioned French horses.
But the French winegrowers had their own rescue. They broke down the added walls, dug up their gardens, and brought out their hidden reserves. They were back in business.

For Further Reading
Kladstrup, Don & Petie. Wine & War: the French, the Nazis & the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure. New York: Broadway Books, 2001.