The female forester whose remarkable skills helped provide timber for the war effort

Marion Watkins was one of 400 female foresters during the First World War

The daughter of a respected 19th Century photographer joined the Women’s Land Army to wield an axe for the war.

Timber was in high demand during the First World War as wooden props were needed for trenches. By 1916 the foundations of the Women’s Forestry Corps were in place. The corps later became part of the Women’s Land Army (WLA) and by 1918, 400 women were working as foresters. Between March 1917 and May 1919 23,000 women passed through Women’s Land Army training centres and became full-time land girls.

Marion Watkins, daughter of respected photographer Alfred Watkins, was born in Hereford in 1890 and was working part time as a bookkeeper in a photographic instrument factory at the outbreak of war.

Photos taken by her father in 1916, when she was 26 years old, show Marion as a very skilled forester. She was quite probably part of the forestry corps and remarkably was able to use the heavy English Felling Axe with both her left and right hands.

Marion Watkins Small
Marion at Ramshill Wood

These photos were taken in Ramshill Wood, near Leominster, Herefordshire. We can see the branch wood in the background neatly piled and held in place with round rods. We can also see a coppice in the background and Marion is felling some of the oak standards. Not a hard hat in sight!

Marion eventually moved to the Channel Islands, living until the grand old age of 98.

Say thank you to Marion and the 399 other female foresters and mark their invaluable contribution by dedicating one of millions of trees being planted in our First World War Centenary Woods.