Remembering the ‘Sawdust Fusiliers’ at Stover
Posted on: 7 September 2018
A sculpture to commemorate the role of the ‘Sawdust Fusiliers’ based in Devon during the First World War has been unveiled at Stover School.
The life-size wooden carving, situated beside the Stover Heritage Trail near Newton Abbot, depicts two members of the Canadian Forestry Corps with one of the horses they relied on to work the forest.
It was commissioned by ‘Devon Remembers’ (a partnership project co-ordinated by Devon County Council) and created by sculptor Andrew Frost as part of a range of projects to mark the centenary of the First World War.
The first contingents from the Canadian Forestry Corps arrived at Stover in 1916, following a request from the British Government for skilled and experienced lumbermen to harvest the country’s ancient forests to supply the Western Front.
Until then, Canadian timber had been imported to the Front, but the growing threat of German U-boats in the Atlantic put stop to the supply. Using British grown wood instead also freed up space on transatlantic ships that were used to import crucial munition and food supplies.
The expertise needed to fell, haul and process wood were in short supply in Britain, so a battalion of 1,600 men were recruited from Canada to undertake this vital war work.
By October 1917, when the Canadian Forestry Corps left Stover, the 250 skilled foresters and sawyers based there had felled 700 acres of the estate, producing over 650,000 cubic feet of timber for the British Army.
It was sent to the battlefields in France and Belgium to be used for constructing trenches, dug-outs and roads and to make railway sleepers, huts, planking, posts and ammunition boxes as well as for fuel.
After the initial draft, the Timber Supply Department identified several other locations in Devon, and in June 1917 new camps were built at Mamhead and Starcross. They were supported by satellite camps at Chudleigh, Ashcombe, and Kenton.
A smaller site was opened at Torrington in early December 1917, with camps at Chulmleigh, Brookland and Bratton Fleming, and operations at Plymbridge near Plymouth started in January 1918.
Local people were very curious about the Canadians and enjoyed fetes and sports days when the visitors demonstrated their skills in logging, baseball, canoeing and First Nations’ ceremonies. Several Canadian men married local women and stayed in Devon.
Lieutenant General Sir Andrew Ridgway, representing HM Lord-Lieutenant of Devon, was joined by Devon County Council Chair, Councillor Caroline Chugg and invited guests including; Canadian Army Adviser, Colonel Andrew Lussier; Devon County Councillor, Roger Croad; and Stover School’s Chaplain, Rev Fiona Wimsett.
Speaking before he unveiled the sculpture, Lieutenant General Sir Andrew Ridgway said:
“At the time I suspect they [the Canadian Fusiliers] felt they were a long way from the front line. But the contribution they made to a whole range of battles was absolutely crucial. Indeed, the defining battles of the 100 days offensive could not have been undertaken without the skilled effort of the Canadian Corps. So I think it’s entirely proper to gather here today to unveil this memorial sculpture and to pay tribute to the young men who served during World War One, and to recognise the vital contribution they made to frontline efforts all those miles away.”
Councillor Caroline Chugg, Chair of the Council, said:
“As part of the Centenary commemorations we are honouring the links forged by Devon, particularly by the Stover Estate, with the Canadian Forestry Corp, some of whom stayed after the war ended to marry and begin families here.
“This magnificent wooden carving is a fitting tribute to the vital role of the Sawdust Fusiliers, honouring the effort and expertise of these men and horses throughout the war and reminding everyone of the important part they played.”
Cllr Chugg also received an oak chair on behalf of the people of Devon, carved by the ‘Sawdust Fusiliers’ during their posting and first presented to Stover House in 1919. The chair was taken abroad after the war, and later to Canada, and has now been returned by Sergeant Charles King of the Royal Canadian Regiment as a gift to Devon to be kept at Stover Country Park.
Sergeant Charles King said:
“I’m presenting the chair on behalf of Canadian, the Canadian Armed Forces and my mother, Geneva King. I know my mum’s here in spirit, and she would be very proud. This chair was built by Canadian soldiers 100 years ago, and it’s being presented back by another Canadian soldier. We have to remember history and to tell the younger generation about history, and if we don’t remember that, history will repeat itself.”