A Sawmill in France


One doesn't ordinarily think of a sawmill as a military unit. But in fighting World War I in France, the Allied forces had to build most of the facilities they needed -- piers to land the ships and unload the tanks and supplies, barracks to house the troops, hospitals for the sick and wounded, trestles and bridges for the roads and railroads. The French forests provided plenty of material, but the mills to turn them into usable timbers and lumber just didn't exist.

The answer was found in portable sawmills, installed and operated by special Engineer units of the US Army. These "Forest Regiment" units were organized by the U.S. Forest Service. Here's the letter inviting George Royce Kenfield to join. For reasons we have not fully figured out, he first enlisted in a Medical Corps unit, was discharged, and reenlisted in the Engineers. He was assigned to Company B, 10th Engineers. The 10th Engineers was the first such unit in France.

For years, I was unable to locate anything in print on the Forest Regiments. But late in 1999, an Internet contact posted a link that led me to the U.S. Army Military History Institute in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, now part of the Army War College. The wonderful folks there located the official Army "Roster and Historical Sketch" of the Tenth Engineers (Forestry), A.E.F. (1940), as well as a privately-printed "History of the First Battalion, Old Tenth Engineers (1919)." Here's what these sources reveal.

After the war, the manufacturer of the sawmills, the Lane Manufacturing Company of Montpelier, Vermont, published a brochure describing some of the activities of one unit. A copy was handed down in the family with George Kenfield's papers.