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15 October 2014
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Reminiscences of a Timbergill

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

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Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Audrey Broad (formerly Ansell, nee Wilcock)
Location of story: 
Arundel, West Sussex
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
11 July 2005

Audrey Wilcock as a Timberjill in the forests of Sussex

‘This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Jim Farr from Horsham and has been added to the website on behalf of Mrs Audrey Broad with her permission and she fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.’

In 1939 I was 14 years old and I finished school at Christmas and started full time work with a tailoring company. I was living at home in Arundel, Sussex with my parents, 3 brothers and a sister. My eldest brother eventually joined the Royal Navy and went right through the war. Our house was so well built, heavy timber beams it was considered that a shelter was not required and we children had our beds on the ground floor.

I heard a German plane crash in Swanbourne Lake and was told later that the pilot’s parachute had caught on the tail and he had died.

By 1942 I decided that a change was required so what follows is a short history of my days in uniform with the Woman’s Timber Corps.

Audrey Broad (formerly Ansell, nee Wilcock) W.L.A. No. 106812

Woman’s Timber Corps of the Woman’s Land Army 22.3.1943 to 18.2.1948

Ministry of Supply, H.G.T.P. Dept 4a, The Limes, Hawkhurst, Kent. Why does this address come to mind? I assume because I wrote it so many times. This was the District Office of the Home Grown Timber Production Department 4a.

It was in November 1942 that I started work for the Ministry of Supply, in the woods outside Arundel in West Sussex, as a civilian employee. It was not long before it became known that mathematics was my subject and I was then employed in the office in Maltravers Street, Arundel, as a junior, dealing with pay, consignment notes and various returns for both Arundel East and Arundel West, forests either side of Arundel, estates which had been leased from the Duke of Norfolk.

Work at Arundel included the felling of Beech trees for the Ministry of Aircraft Production for the manufacture of Mosquito aircraft.

In April 1942 the Women’s Timber Corps was formed as part of the Land Army, giving a months training for some, but for others as I did, training on the forest. It was in March 1943 that I became a member of this small group. Recruitment ended by the middle of 1943, numbers standing at 4,700 in England and Wales.

The uniform consisted of breeches, fawn socks and brown shoes, cream Airtex short sleeved shirts and poplin long sleeved shirts; green pullover and a short length overcoat. Instead of the Land Army hat we wore a green beret with the Women’s Timber Corps badge. Working clothes included dungarees and overall coat, black ankle length boots with gaters which came up to the knee. We also had wellington boots and a heavy raincoat.

In July 1945 I was transferred to Poynings Forest, being billeted in Brighton. Travel to work was by lorry, in the back with about 10 other W.T.C. girls. They were timber fellers and I was the measurer. My job was to measure the felled trees, count the pit props cut (for the coal mines), measure the cordwood (4ft x 4ft x 8ft = 128 cu. Ft., if memory serves me correctly). I stayed at this forest for 6 months.

The start of 1946 sees me at Southwater. The forest leased from the Burrel Estate. Here I was a Chief Measurer, with an Assistant Measurer, the only 2 girls on this forest. We were measuring timber for the male civilian employees. The transport was bicycle. The equipment we carried consisted of a long tape, a quarter girth tape, a timber sword which was a slightly curved length of metal with a hooked end and a wooden handle, used to push under a felled tree, attach the quarter girth tape and pull it through to take a measurement. We also had a book to record the timber felled, pit props cut etc. The men were mainly on piece work. We also carried a pot of paint and brush, the allocated number had to be painted on the but of the tree. We had of course to be able to recognize the different species of trees.

The work at Southwater forest finished in November 1946 and I then went to work in a private sawmill, also in Southwater. Here I was measuring timber coming in from Germany, sawn timber coming of the saw benches and also stacking some of the timber.

My marriage in February 1948 ended my days in the Women’s Timber Corps, but I stayed at the sawmill for several months, retiring then due to family commitments.

Some odd notes;

I saw a crashed doodlebug in the forest at Eartham near Arundel.

My wages for the year ending 5th April 1945 were £159 5s 7p and the tax deducted was £18. 19s. My lodgings were £1. 5s. per week.

I attended a meeting in the Black Horse Hotel, West Street, Horsham (long gone) for information on the start of PAYE (? April 1944).

Top Tip
When handling fresh sawn Oak hands can be stained blue. To remove rub with freshly sawn Elm sawdust.


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