The Lumberjills – Stronger Together by Joanna Foat – A novel of the Land Army women who specialised in forestry

The Lumberjills  – Stronger Together by Joanna Foat

This is a novel set in the Second World War which looks at some important themes which had a great impact of women. There are undoubtedly many books which look at groups of women brought together in the wartime effort, often through specific jobs and places of work that had previously been all male preserves. This well written and sympathetic novel has been thoroughly researched like many others and takes a very serious line which marks it out. Its focus on the women of the Land Army who specifically worked to cut down trees to provide pit props and other items for the immense war effort has been tackled in non -fiction books but less often in novels, and this book fictionalises the difficulties they faced. Apparently, it is based on interviews with some sixty women who had experience in the Land Army and a great deal of solid research. It has the tone of authenticity in every chapter which distinguishes this novel from some others in some respects.

Another aspect of this novel is the writer’s own appreciation of the places in which the girls worked – the woodlands and forests of Britain. It means that even when the girls are in real difficulties, they catch something of the beauty of the trees and their setting that can provide the material. There are descriptions which are genuinely lyrical, of light, the effect of the branches in diffusing the sunlight, the target of obtaining the best trees to provide the vital pit props for the mines. The author has chosen to focus on three young women who start as Land Girls on the same day, as part of a group brought in as a desperate attempt to increase the production of wood in early 1940 in the Forest of Dean. Keeva is from a family with a very different lifestyle and beliefs; she has experienced rejection because of her father’s objections to fighting in this second war in his lifetime. She finds it difficult to get on with the other young women in the group, especially when they make certain discoveries about her. Rosie comes from a family where domestic violence is a way of life, and she has had to become streetwise in a way beyond the understanding of the other young women. Beatrice comes from a wealthy background and has very different expectations of the Land Army – she believes that she can offer her mathematical skills and is surprised at what she is asked to do. All the girls are running away from something, but they have difficulty in understanding what they are aiming for in such challenging circumstances.

Another character who appears in this novel is the very real Lady Denman, who appears in many accounts as the important woman who argued the case for the Land Army at the highest level. She is frequently depicted as a formidable and powerful advocate for women’s work, but this novel looks at the woman from a different perspective.   

I found this a very vivid and well-expressed book which took a thoughtful and empathetic view of an important group of women whose efforts made a real difference to the war effort. It is authentic and realistic, a powerful piece of writing which deserves to be widely read. I recommend “The Lumberjills” as an important novel, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.