New Zealand Engineers, Middle East
The site for the new mill to be erected in Herefordshire was fixed at Tram Inn station, at a level crossing on the Truxton-Much Dewchurch road, while the men were billeted in Much Dewchurch village about two miles distant. Timber in the neighbourhood was calculated to provide about a year's work for the mill as well as pit-prop work for Italian prisoners of war. Eleventh Forestry Company, which had just got a band mill, its third unit, into production at Cirencester, was given the job of erecting and running its fourth mill at Tram Inn.
There must have been some fairly outspoken comments in letters written home about this period, some of which appeared to have found publication. Methods of milling in England are very different from those followed in New Zealand and not necessarily inferior, taking into account the controlled felling practised in cultivated forests where each tree has been planted by hand and tended throughout its life. The English method of felling to within a few inches of the ground took a lot of getting used to, for the Kiwi bushman always left a waist-high stump—until the appalling wastage was pointed out so often that low cutting became the custom. Another English practice was to trim the log boles of protusions instead of leaving it to the breaker-down men in the mills, but that was a policy of perfection that the New Zealand bushmen never got around to. But whatever factors induced the remarks, they produced a quiet reproof administered by the Deputy Assistant of Military Administration (Forestry) in a letter to Colonel Eliott, part of which read:
‘The Country Gentlemen's Association's Magazine for July 1942 contains a lengthy extract from reports made by officers of your Group with regard to sawmilling in this country, the report being compiled from publications in the New Zealand press. I am letting you know this unofficially as the article has caused a certain amount of comment in this office, and you may like to have an opportunity of considering the general question page 339 of the views of serving officers being published in the press, in relation to ACI's15 on the subject, in case the matter should be brought up officially.’
No doubt the nicely worded warning was passed on—not so nicely worded.
Time was lost during this period of summer by lack of water for the saws and boilers. This was an unusual situation, but up to 240 man-hours a month were generally lost through machinery breakdowns. Several of the mills taken over as going concerns were temporary, with decrepit and out-of-date plant. Securing parts for these was a constant source of trouble and delay.
A change in establishment about this time added more drivers to the strength of each company. They were needed, for it was the duty of the Group to deliver all sawn timber to the railhead, sometimes necessitating hauls of up to one hundred miles. In the early stages pole wagons drawn by rubber-tyred Fordson tractors were provided for such transport but proved too light. They were replaced by Leyland Hippo trucks from which the body had been removed and bolsters fitted instead. These, in turn, were replaced early in 1942 by semi-articulated diesel-driven vehicles.
Woolmer was the only mill that had no transport, because it was on a railway siding and timber was loaded straight on to railway wagons from the yard. There was no accumulation of slabs for the same reason and even the sawdust was no problem, for Canadians in a nearby camp had sawdust-burning stoves and they were only too happy to provide transport for free fuel.
The Tram Inn mill commenced working on 11 September but only for a few hours daily while adjustments were made and improvisations tried out. Nevertheless comparative figures for July-September 1942 (13 weeks) show that the average output per three-company group per week was:
|New Zealand Engineers||33,589 cubic feet|
|Royal Australian Engineers||31,753 cubic feet|
|Royal Engineers||27,674 cubic feet|
|Canadian Forestry Corps||23,371 cubic feet|
This result might be considered satisfactory, particularly as more than average time was lost through breakdowns. Mills erected as temporary structures had been running at peak production for more than a year and the strain was beginning page 340 to tell. Two mills were shut down for a full week of the above period, while others had major machinery troubles that slowed down production. The New Zealand Forestry Group might have been forgiven its minor trespasses under the stress of constant reminders from the Ministry of Supply on the necessity for increased output. It had consistently, whenever comparative figures had been published, produced the highest tallies in the United Kingdom, but it was not enough.
Forestry Commission officials, more concerned with silviculture than with timber getting, complained bitterly that the New Zealand sappers left forests untidy, and indicated that effective supervision of felling was lacking.
The answer was that clearing-up was a secondary consideration to timber production and could be done by unskilled labour. It was in fact done whenever possible by Pioneer Companies attached from time to time.
If any further reasons were wanted for leaving unskilled work to unskilled hands they were provided by the October production figures, when in spite of time lost through the usual breakdowns and the running in of the Hereford mill, Grittleton bettered the previous mill record by 4000 cubic feet, and the grand total of disposals exceeded the previous best output by 14,000 cubic feet.