On the Somme.

Very little is recorded about Australian forestry efforts during WW1.

Huge quantities of timber were needed on the Western Front and by 1918 the British were exploiting about 44,500 hectares in a dozen locations north of the river Seine.

But it’s reported that relations between the Allies over forestry issues were not always cordial and that French authorities were unhappy with the extent of the forest harvesting and wastage.

Large sawmills were operated in France by British Royal Engineer units as well as by the Canadian Forestry Corps.

But some small scale mills were operated from time to time by the AIF engineer field companies who tended to move around with their Divisions.

It’s thought that while in a rear area in June 1917 some Western Australian sappers from 6 Field Company operated a sawmill at Blangy-Tronville and also supplied logs to another sawmill at Glisy by floating them down the Somme River to avoid damage to the roads.

Timber was felled locally and the sawmill was operated entirely by Australians which turned out over 1 million super feet (2,360 m3) per month.

The labour was chiefly from 200-300 German prisoners, working under Australian supervision but men from the British army were also attached.

The Australians also undertook forestry patrols to prevent wasteful and unauthorised felling of trees in the various woods in the area.

In the early stages of the conflict timber for engineering and construction was generally imported. So to save on shipping space and to reduce waste, the Australians established an ANZAC Workshop in late 1916 at Meaulte near Albert in northern France to meet the timber needs for the Somme winter.

The workshop was run by skilled officers and men detached from the engineers, pioneers, infantry and other branches from all the Australian Divisions.

The Australian workshop manufactured pre-fab huts, duckboards and revetting panels for fortifications and even turned the sawdust into coal briquettes.

Later in June 1917, the ANZACs left the Somme for the Ypres offensive and the sawmill complex was handed over to a British unit.

Two proposals to form a more permanent Australian Forestry Unit did not materialise and by July 1917 all the men returned to their original units.

By the end of the Great War in November 1918 the extensive felling carried out by all armies and the damage caused by field artillery had decimated the forests of northern France.

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