France remembers the Canadian Forestry Corps

Eleven people pose in front of a monument with French and American flags in the background.
Left to right: LCol David Burbridge (CME), Jean Michel Mormone (CFAA), Kevin Laussu (CFAA), CWO Bruce Blanchard (CME), Consul Daniel Hall (for US in Bordeaux), LCol Lee Goodman (CME), Mr. David Devigne (CFAA), Major David Kopecky (US Army), Sgt Peter Schiller (US Army), Mr. Christophe Haen (friend of David Devigne), Mr. Christian Tauziède (CFAA), Absent: Mr. Al Gaudet (CFAA). Photo: ADM(IE)

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By LCol David Burbridge and CWO Bruce Blanchard

A group of dedicated volunteers is working hard to commemorate the rich history of the First World War’s Allied forestry corps, which included the Canadian Forestry Corps (CFC), in France.

The Corps Forestiers Alliés en Aquitaine 1917-1919 (CFAA), working in France for the last five years, has organized the installation of interpretive plaques at notable locations to commemorate the Allied forestry corps.

Although the CFAA is only composed of a few dedicated volunteer researchers, with the cooperation and support of local communities, their goal is becoming a reality.

In June 2017, interpretive plaques were installed at locations within the Gironde and Landes Departments of the Aquitaine region of France — sites of Canadian, American, and British forestry operations. A number of additional plaques were also unveiled in several small towns in France.

“It was definitely a special experience,” said LCol Audrey Murphy from ADM(Infrastructure and Environment), one of the Canadian Armed Forces delegates at the ceremonies. “At one of the ceremonies, the town went all out. It was pretty cute — there was a band of about 50 kids playing music.”

During the First World War, Allied operations required vast amounts of lumber to construct everything from facilities and tunnels, to trenches, bunkers, railways and bridges, as well as wood for heat in the winter. By early 1916, Great Britain was experiencing significant lumber shortfalls and made an urgent request to Canada for 1500 men skilled in the various aspects of lumber production. Canada’s response was immediate, and within six weeks, 1600 men were recruited from across Canada.

On May 13, 1916, lumberjacks of the 224th Canadian Forestry Battalion near Windsor, England, were the first to produce lumber overseas. By the end of the war, the CFC had been formed and comprised 41 companies operating in Great Britain and 60 companies in France, totalling approximately 17 000 men.

Though operating far from the front lines, by the end of the war it had enormously contributed to the war effort and was supplying the majority of Allied timber requirements, with American and British forces primarily supplying the remainder.

In the months following the war’s conclusion, the CFC was disbanded. While it was re-established during the Second World War, it was disbanded once again after hostilities ended.

Despite the CFC’s critical contributions during the First World War, its historical importance has remained relatively unknown to the public.

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