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The Foresters' Scribe

Remembering the Newfoundland Forestry Companies Through the First World War Letters of Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant John A. Barrett

By Ursula A. Kelly
Categories: History, Autobiography/biography/life Writing, Newfoundland And Labrador Studies, North Atlantic European Studies
Series: Social and Economic Studies
Series Number: 87
Paperback : 9781894725736, 354 pages, November 2020

Table of contents

List of Images   ix
Foreword by Melvin Baker   xi
Acknowledgements   xv
Abbreviations   xix
1. Introduction   1
The Newfoundland Forestry Companies, 1917–1919   7
Wartime Correspondence and the Letters of Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant John A. Barrett   33
John A. Barrett: A Short Biography   49
2. The Letters of Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant John A. Barrett, June 1917 to January 1919   53
3. Conclusion   251
Commemorating Those Who Served   256
The Newfoundland Forestry Companies and the Great War   259
Appendix A – The Newfoundland Forestry Companies: A Timeline   271
Appendix B – The Newfoundland Forestry Companies: The Nominal Roll   275
Appendix C – The Newfoundland Forestry Companies of the First World War by John A. Barrett   297
References   307
Index   325
About the Author   333

A poignant and comprehensive study of the Newfoundland Forestry Companies of the First World War, as told through letters sent home from Scotland.


  • Short-listed, Newfoundland and Labrador Book Award 2021


The Foresters' Scribe is the first comprehensive study of the Newfoundland Forestry Companies (NFC) of the First World War. It adds a long-overdue and essential chapter to the Great War history of Newfoundland and Labrador.

A century has gone by since the NFC was formed in 1917, yet little is known of this small unit of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. Its members were men recruited for woods work in the United Kingdom. Their assignment: to cut and mill Scottish timber to supply wood for the war.

During the NFC's time overseas, thirty-seven letters were written home by "the Foresters' scribe," Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant John A. Barrett. Published in Newfoundland newspapers, they provided a detailed and articulate account of the NFC's service in Scotland. This book compiles Barrett's letters and examines their historical significance. In addition, it includes letters from other foresters, descriptions of key events that Barrett omitted, and rare photos of the foresters at work. Ursula Kelly complements this material with her own comprehensive account of the formation of the NFC and related issues, and an examination of what the NFC story suggests about the socio-cultural politics of war service and commemoration. The Foresters' Scribe is an insightful and celebratory account of an overlooked military unit that made an important contribution to the Great War effort.


"Kelly takes an insightful angle into this topic, via the letters of John A. Barrett, the Regimental Quartermaster. "

- Joan Sullivan, The Telegram

"The Foresters’ Scribe is a rich depository of primary material, under-pinned by insightful and fresh analysis that deepens our understanding of Newfoundland and Labrador’s experience in World War I. It accomplishes the admirable feat of combining scholarly rigour with an ease of readability and clarity of presentation that will appeal to a broad audience."

- Jenny Higgins, Newfoundland and Labrador Studies