Two men in the Canadian Forestry Corps.

Research and Our Memoirs

People are resources too

Memoirs don’t just have to be written purely from our memories. Research adds layers to our stories and can clarify information. Researching also doesn’t have to be online or book work or digging through dusty archives. People are also good resources. I’ve been talking to Robert (Bob) Briggs, of the Canadian Forestry Corps in WWII website, about my maternal grandfather’s role with the “Sawdust Fusiliers,” the Canadian Forestry Corps in the Second World War.

Two men in the Canadian Forestry Corps.

My grandfather died when my mother was young and so she didn’t hear any Second World War stories directly from him. She knew a few basics but not much. A few years ago, I sent a request to Library and Archives Canada for my grandfather’s information. I received some papers this past summer. I hate to admit that I didn’t know much about the Canadian Forestry Corps. You see to me, it wasn’t as exciting and as brave and adventurous as the Allied soldiers who used weapons to fight in battles on land, sea and in the air. It wasn’t until I started digging into the Sawdust Fusiliers, that I understood their part in the war was just as vital.

Online historical research

I started with some online searches about the Canadian Forestry Corps. I learned that it was an organizational corps of the Canadian Army. In the Second World War, the forestry corps were trained as soldiers and nicknamed the “Sawdust Fusiliers.” The majority of men were deployed to the U.K. to cut timber, prepare lumber and clear land. The wood was used to build crates, bridges, barracks and much more. 

There isn’t a lot online about the Sawdust Fusiliers so when I found Bob Briggs’ site, a whole new world opened up to me. He has links to resources, tonnes of information and stories from veterans. Bob also posted a brief bio that says his family has long-standing military ties and he himself has served in the Canadian military. His email address is included on a page and I thought I’d message him and see what he might be able to add about my grandfather’s time during the war.

Bob responded in hours. It was amazing what he found out about my grandfather, Jim Booth, his identical twin brother, Jack, and one other brother, Martin. Not only did Bob share information, he had photos. I had never seen these images before and my mother hadn’t seen them in years. It was amazing.

Unearthing backstories

Chopping down trees doesn’t sound like the kind of fighting that’s usually portrayed in the films but as I learned more, I realized the forestry corps was a major cog in the Allied machine. The Sawdust Fusiliers were in the U.K. to be close to the action in Europe. Without lumber, there wouldn’t have been fuel, infrastructure and an Allied victory. The men who did the work on the land, also helped farmers harvest crops, did other agricultural jobs, made roads and defended the locals.

I now have information to add to the memoirs of my grandfather. I have dates, records, place names and new connections to other stories about the Canadian Forestry Corps. All thanks to some online sleuthing and one email address.