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Woods in wartime

Woods in the Chilterns have been a valuable and managed resource for the last thousand years, supplying wood for fuel and building, and later for chair and furniture making.

These woods were heavily exploited during both world wars to supply timber for the war effort. Much timber had been imported during peace time but with increased demand and attacks on shipping after war broke out local supplies had to be found.

Woods, such as The Chiltern Society’s own Bottom Wood at Radnage, near Stokenchurch, were heavily felled of their better timber trees. In Bottom Wood this felling took place in 1940 and the area was then left to regenerate naturally from seed.

A post-war Forestry Commission survey of private woods in the Chilterns recorded that 650 hectares (5%) had been "devastated" by the felling and 937 hectares (7.5%) had been felled. This led to many woods being replanted with faster growing conifers after the war. Many other woods had been over thinned. Beech, the main tree, was used for wartime essentials such as tent pegs (e.g. in Stoke Row, Oxon), rifle butts and plywood for aircraft.

Wendover Woods was heavily felled during the First World War to support the war effort. It was sold on the death of Alfred Rothschild to the then Air Ministry in 1918. Much replanting was carried out, using conifers, between 1919 and 1939. Further planting of the thin chalk soils of the scarp was carried out between 1944 and 1967 by the Forestry Commission using beech, spruce, larch and pine.

Film clips of felling and sawmilling during World War 2

Brenda Bridgeman (née Siarey) sent the Chiltern Woodlands Project an old black and white film of woodland work in 1942 and 1943, featuring the Siarey family sawmill in Chinnor, Oxfordshire, and she has agreed that clips of the film can be shown on this website. The sawmill was on Station Road in Chinnor. Nearly all the buildings are now gone and the area has been redeveloped, but both the Chilterns Conservation Board and the Chiltern Woodlands Project are based in the old sawmill office.

The original film ran to about 12 minutes. It has been edited into five short clips from 1942 which show the hard manual labour needed to fell and extract timber and convert it at the sawmill into planks.

1. Felling a mature tree using axes and two man felling saw. Possibly near Stonor, Oxfordshire.

2. Attempting to load a large nine tonne beech tree on to a timber trailer, note the caterpillar tractor. Cross cutting a piece of the log using a two man cross cut saw.

3. Timber extraction, using adapted wagons to haul large logs.

4. Moving timber around the sawmills in Chinnor.


5. The workforce of Siarey’s sawmill in Chinnor in 1942.

Railway transport of timber from Wendover Woods in 1917

During 1917 the Military were faced yet again with another acute shortage of timber, not only for duck boards and trench props, but also, particularly hardwood for aircraft fittings. Alfred de Rothschild gave permission for the beech trees to be felled from the woodland on his Halton estate above the Icknield Way (Tring Road). The railway was immediately used to facilitate the removal of this timber for the military, and the line continued as a supply source for the later Royal Air Force Camp, being used extensively during World War Two.

The Halton light railway ran from a specially constructed platform adjacent to the North end of the Up Line platform of Wendover Station and terminated close to the workshops at Chestnut  Avenue, Halton. The total length of the line including its sidings was approximately 1.75 miles (2.82 km). With the military's approval the railway was built by German POW's being held at Halton and supervised by military personnel in just 8 weeks and ran from the junction of the Metropolitan/Great Central railway at Wendover and finished at the Halton Camp. The line opened for traffic in 1917.

 From RAF Halton website

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