Stoke Newington's Eileen, 99, part of unsung WW2 operation

Eileen Mark

Eileen Mark - Credit: Joanna Foat

An unsung heroine of the Second World War is featured in a book celebrating the efforts of women affectionately known as Lumberjills.

Author Joanna Foat spent two years interviewing 60 women who were part of the Women’s Timber Corps, a branch of the Women’s Land Army, that worked in Britain’s forests during the war. The corps this year celebrates its 80th anniversary.

One of those to be featured is Stoke Newington’s Eileen Mark, who turns 99 this year. Eileen was one of up to 8,000 young women aged 17-24 who felled trees to help the war effort. She personally was part of a team who made D-Day landing tracks. 

Joanna obtained unique first-hand accounts and evocative photographs of their lives in the forest for her book Lumberjills: Britain’s Forgotten Army, which is out now. 

She said: “I was shocked to discover how the women were treated at the beginning of the war.

“They were laughed at for their enthusiasm to offer their services, regarded as ornamental rather than useful and many timber merchants did not want women taking over the jobs of skilled men.

“In fact, the Lumberjills not only pioneered a new fashion for women in trousers, wearing jodhpurs, but they also proved that women could carry logs like weight-lifters, work in dangerous sawmills, drive huge timber trucks and calculate timber production figures on which the government depended during wartime.” 

Most Read

Many women rivalled the men in their strength and skill, Joanna said. One Scottish woman Bella Nolan challenged her foreman to a felling duel when he said he didn’t think much of the women. Each took one end of the cross cut saw and together they felled 120 trees in a day. 

Joanna added that at the end of the war the Women’s Timber Corps received no recognition, grants or gratuities. The director of the Women’s Land Army, Lady Gertrude Denman resigned in protest. 

“With their 80th anniversary,” Joanna said, “I hope to inspire women of all ages with the strength, courage and determination of the Lumberjills.

“Out in the forests away from the restrictions imposed on women by society, they realised they could sit astride a tree, smoke a pipe and fell ten tonne trees just like the men, if they wanted to.” 

Lumberjills: Britain’s Forgotten Army by Joanna Foat is published by the History Press. For further information visit www.thelumberjills.uk