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New Zealand Engineers, Middle East

Forestry Units

Forestry Units

The disposition and command of the New Zealand Forestry Group, with the latest mill at Hereford in full production, was at the end of October 1942:

Headquarters at ‘Greenways’, Chippenham, WiltshireLt-Col J. G. Eliott, CO; Adjutant, Capt C. McManus, MM.13

11 Forestry Company HQ, Cirencester, Gloucestershire (OC, Maj G. A. Gamman), operating Hailey, Overley and one band mill.

Detachment at Hereford (OC, Lt J. B. Valintine14) operating Hereford mill.

page 416

14 Forestry Company HQ, Chippenham, Wilts. (OC, Maj D. V. Thomas), operating Grittleton and Bowood mills. Detachment at Burbage, Wilts. (OC, Capt K. O. Tunnicliffe), operating Savernake and Chilton Foliat mills.

Detachment at Charfield, Glos. (OC, 2 Lt J. T. Pasco15), operating Wickmar mill.

15 Forestry Company HQ, Langrish (OC, Maj Courtney Biggs), operating Langrish mill.

Detachment at Arundel, Sussex (OC, Capt G. Burgess16), operating Arundel East and West mills.

Detachment at Woolmer, Hampshire (OC, Lt C. H. Chandler), operating Woolmer mill.

Reference has been made in previous chapters to loss of time, particularly in the winter, owing to lack of lighting, wet weather and breakdowns in the older types of mill. A table attached to the production figures for November 1942 is illuminating, and gives some idea of the difficulties of sawmilling in wartime England:

Weather (Mill flooded 6 hours
(Bad light 24¾ hours
(Wet weather 77¾ hours
(Frozen pipes 21¾ hours Total 130¼ hours

Mill saws were, as in New Zealand, cooled and lubricated with jets of water, and when the jets would not flow on account of frozen pipes the whole mill was held up.

Shortages (Out of logs 94½ hours
(Out of steam 2 hours
(Out of water 1 hours Total 97½ hours
Illness 16 hours Total 16 hours
General (Hoist breakdown 5 hours
(Rough logs 55 hours
(Saw dressing 16½ hours
(Broken friction gear 73½ hours
(Adjustments 35½ hours
(General repairs 187½ hours Total 373 hours
Grand total of hours lost 616¾ hours
Possible working time 2340 hours
Hours actually worked 1723¼ hours
Percentage of time lost 26.3%
page 417

The Group reverted to a 44-hour week in November because of a decision that four hours' military training must be undergone every Saturday. It will be remembered that an increase of working hours from forty-four to forty-eight was the Group's answer to an appeal for more timber during the Battle of the Atlantic. A loss of 200 working hours per week was involved, and though output was considered satisfactory no further records were established during the month, except that the Group passed its 10,000,000 cubic feet of output.

The New Zealand Forestry Group had actually reached its zenith for, with the assistance of civilian and pioneer labour, it was operating thirteen mills, as against eight run by each of the United Kingdom groups and five by the three Australian units.

The labour position in the companies varied, but generally the felling was done by New Zealand personnel and in the mills all but key jobs were filled with Kiwi-trained labourers or pioneers.

Apart from the vexed question of cleaning up—and it was now accepted that seven good men were required to clean up after each New Zealand axeman—nine mills were maintaining a high output. Of the others, the band mill at Cirencester was not entirely satisfactory; the two Arundel mills, because of their type, were never likely to produce good figures; while the machinery in the mill at Hereford was of such ancient vintage that almost as much time was spent on repairs and adjustments as on production.

In spite of these inefficient units a table showing the comparative production of Canadian (in Scotland), United Kingdom, Australian and New Zealand forestry companies (in England) during the six-months' period July to December 1942 gives the New Zealand companies the greatest average output. The table does not take into account the production of pitwood, slabs or other by-products, nor is time lost through mechanical or technical difficulties or bad weather taken into account. Except for the Canadian groups stationed in Scotland, the weather factor was approximate for RE, NZE and RAE units.

The production was in all cases reduced to the average for three companies per month—a standard Forestry Group—and shows the New Zealand monthly output for the period as the highest with 31,593 cubic feet.

Some of the mills were nearing the end of their timber stands. Civilians had been delivering logs to Wickmar for some time; page 418 at Langrish operations had commenced on the last of the original acquisitions; at Arundel there was only six months' cutting at the east mill, while at the west mill, although there was still ample timber, outside agencies were taking the pick of the trees, making the life of the stand unpredictable.

The CO NZ Forestry Group, towards the end of December 1942, put up the suggestion that portable mills be constructed for forestry companies. He considered that the small mill at Woolmer was the best in his group. It was far from portable, but he thought it was possible to design a small mill for issue at the rate of four to each company. This question had been under consideration by the War Office, more particularly with regard to the needs of an expeditionary force, and both the Canadian and Australian Forestry Groups had evolved types suitable to their methods of working. Colonel Eliott was told to go ahead and design a mill which could be carried complete on a five- or six-ton lorry. If approved it might then be adopted for overseas equipment. Any sudden demand for the machinery for such mills could be met at short notice.

The mill which eventually emerged as the official New Zealand portable sawmill unit was designed by Lieutenant K. W. King, a civil engineer with considerable experience in sawmill design and construction in his family business before the war. Something simple to construct, easy to assemble and efficient in operation was called for. A note on the working drawings explains the chief characteristics whereby simplicity and mobility were attained:

‘The principle is that the engine and both saw benches are on the same base. This base is of stout construction.

‘The runners which carry the rack bench rollers are made to disconnect readily and these are stacked separately.

‘For transportation the engine and saw benches, fixed to the base, are loaded in one piece and the runners are loaded separately.

‘The weight of the entire mill would be about four tons.’

On 4 February 1943 the Hereford mill was handed over to the Ministry of Supply and the 11 Company detachment returned to Cirencester, where it began cutting pit props with the prototype New Zealand portable mill.

13 Capt C. McManus, MM; born NZ 13 Jun 1897; builder; NZ Maori (Pioneer) Bn 1915-19 (2 Lt).

14 Lt J. B. Valintine; Inglewood; born NZ 14 Jul 1912; logging foreman.

15 Lt J. T. Pasco; born NZ 22 Feb 1910; carpenter and millwright.

16 Capt G. A. Burgess; born Ashburton, 17 Jan 1907; sawmill manager.