Lumberjacks from Muskoka were an important part of the First World War.
While thousands of soldiers filled the ranks of the Canadian army in the First World War, one Muskoka unit is being remembered for its unique contributions. The Canadian Forestry Corps, 122nd Regiment, pulled hundreds of skilled woodsmen from Huntsville, Bracebridge, and Gravenhurst to ply their trade in England, Scotland, and France during the Great War.
Wood was in great demand during the war for creating railway ties, and lumber to strengthen forward positions on the front for the thousands of trenches.
Jim Armishaw, 72, of Bracebridge has researched a personal connection to the unit. His grandmother, who lived on Ravenscliffe Road, had a neighbour who served in the 122nd Regiment of the CFC, which was also known as the Sawdust Fusiliers.
He found an original handwritten letter from Bennet Richards to his grandmother May Campbell and transcribed it because of the delicate condition it was in.
Photo of Huntsville’s Bennett Richards, who was in the 122nd Regiment of the Canadian Forestry Corps.
In the letter dated July 25th, 1917, Richards describes his first few days in France.
“The old 122 is gone now and we are divided among eight different companies,” wrote Richards. “We hardly know where our old chums are, they are scattered all over this country.”
Richards goes on to note his surprise at how much lumber is available for cutting in France.
“There is a great deal more timberland here than I had any idea there would be from descriptions I have read about France,” he writes.
“The machinery was supplied by England and Scotland to be able to process the trees,” explained Armishaw, a retired bus driver. “They had nobody over there that had any (lumber) knowledge.”
Another item Armishaw uncovered was a dispatch from the 43rd Company of the CFC reporting on their operations during the summer of 1917.
It describes how “cutting operations were started on July 5th with three small gangs.” By July 14th 90 members had cut down 1520 trees netting 3924 logs and 1376 hauling logs.
Armishaw is happy to gain some interest in the regiment because he believes its story is largely untold in the area.
“From my point of view (the men of the regiment are mostly unknown),” says Armishaw. “It’s not something we learned in school, that’s for sure.
“We learned about all the great battles and how many people were killed and all the rest of it,” he explains. “We never learned about the background people that were doing a great effort.”
In his research, Armishaw discovered an English tribute to the Sawdust Fusiliers. A photo from Devon, in England, shows wood carved figures made by English carver Andrew Frost. They’re of two men and a horse, along with a Canadian flag planted. The photo is from September of this year.
The CFC was disbanded in 1918, but reinstated in 1939 at the start of the Second World War.