THE FIREPLACE IN THE FOREST: THE WAR MEMORIAL TO THE PORTUGUESE LABOURERS OF WORLD WAR I

With its location so close to major ports, the New Forest not surprisingly saw a large military presence and a great deal of change during World War I. There is very little evidence left of that time in the forest’s history as nature has reclaimed much of it, but a few little pockets remain. One of these is a stone fireplace, standing alone in the forest surrounded by trees, ferns and horses, which now acts as a memorial to the Portuguese who helped with the Allied war effort.

The Portuguese fireplace in the New Forest against a backdrop of trees.
The lone fireplace stands as a memorial to labourers of World War I

In one of the most picturesque spots in the New Forest, the fireplace is more than just a poignant reminder of the war. Built of stone and surrounded by trees, ferns, bracken and assorted wildlife, with horses munching contentedly nearby, birds hopping around the overgrowth and barely a distant hum of traffic, the fireplace also stands as a testament to how nature can reclaim places which were once filled with human activity.


It is a beautiful location for a walk, a picnic, a gentle meander through the forest exploring its sights, sounds and scents. Easily accessible to the slow traveller, it is close to other sites that may be of interest, such as the Knightwood Oak, Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary and the Canadian Memorial. Pubs and restaurants are within easy cycling or walking distance, and a day spent exploring these places in the forest would see you experiencing nearly every type of forest landscape in one very peaceful day.


HISTORICAL BACKGROUND


THE NEW FOREST DURING WORLD WAR I

The New Forest played a significant role in World War I. During the 19th century it had been used for military maneuvers, but with the outbreak of war in 1914 it became far more significant; a location for soldiers to train and stay, for staging posts, airfields for the newly formed Royal Flying Corps, as an embarkation point, Trench Mortar School, War Dog Training School, Bombing School and countless military hospitals.


The ‘Immortal Seventh’ was stationed at Lyndhurst at the start of the war. Their soldiers were recalled from overseas postings and encamped in the forest, marched around it and put through their paces in replica trenches. In October 1918 they marched the eight miles to Southampton and embarked for France and Belgium, where they went straight into the first Battle of Ypres, with the loss of thousands, who were dead within weeks of arrival.


The New Forest was also valuable for its industrial output, being used as a major resource. Many of its hardy ponies were drafted into becoming war horses, with few returning. Charcoal production, which had been on the decline, was massively increased and New Forest charcoal was used in the filters of gas masks. The ubiquitous heather was used for packing munitions, and thousands of acorns were collected to produce acetone, a key component of cordite used in shells, of which the British Army and Navy fired 258 million over the course of the war. The other valuable resource was of course timber.

NEW FOREST TIMBER DURING WORLD WAR I

Timber was an essential commodity during the war. Unable to rely on imports, yet with an increased need and a drastically reduced workforce who were now off fighting, the Canadian Timber Corps was swiftly formed and dispatched to the UK from Canada in 1916. With their own equipment and methodology, they swiftly established sawmills and lumber camps and were able to ensure the supply of timber for the war. Timber was needed for pit props for coal mines, whose coal fuelled the warships, and was also used for the construction of the trenches – about 12,000 miles of trenches were built by the Allies alone.


Inside the New Forest showing all of the trees.
Trees surround much of the area

About 2,000 tonnes of lumber was felled in the New Forest during the war, with mainly broadleaved deciduous trees being removed, and replaced with quick growing conifers. By World War II, when timber was again a necessity, much of the pine planted during the first war was felled for the second.

The site near Millyford Bridge is now an area of typical forest, with a mixture of trees and open heathland, a small stream and an abundance of wildlife. A narrow, little-used road runs through this part of the forest, and all you can hear is bird calls, the harrumphing of ponies and the wind swishing through the trees.


It is hard to believe that just over 100 years ago, this area was a hive of activity, with a Canadian sawmill on the site occupying several acres and surrounded by fences. Inside were assorted buildings which housed sleeping quarters, a canteen, bath houses, a mess, a laundry, hospital, tailors, cobblers and more. A narrow gauge railway ran through the forest to take the timber to and from the sawmill.

A horse eating amongst the trees in the New Forest.
Ponies graze near the fireplace

As the war progressed, with more Canadian lumberjacks being sent to the front, the UK called on its old ally, Portugal, for help. In 1917, an army unit from neutral Portugal took their places at the sawmill, with a camp being built especially for them nearby.

THE PORTUGUESE FIREPLACE

When the war was over, the entire camp was dismantled, except for the stone fireplace which stood in the Portuguese cookhouse. It stands alone amongst the greenery, as the only memorial to the Portuguese who helped with the British war effort.

A lump of concrete which is all that remains of the timbermill.
Remains of the timbermill

The land around it bears little trace of what had gone before, just a few raised earthworks covered in a soft moss.


A couple of concrete blocks with rusted metal poles are hidden underneath ferns and brambles and are all that is left of the sawmills.


There used to be a plaque next to the fireplace which said,


‘This is the site of a hutted camp occupied by a Portuguese army unit during the First World War. This unit assisted the depleted local labour force in producing timber for the war effort. The Forestry Commission have retained this fireplace from the cookhouse as a memorial to the men who lived and worked here and acknowledge the financial assistance of the Portuguese Government in its renovation.’

The plaque is no longer there and the fireplace stands alone, with nature slowly encroaching into its nooks and crannies. Fresh ash in the hearth shows that must still be used at times, but otherwise the fireplace looks abandoned, a poignant and silent memorial to the impact of the war on the now peaceful Forest.

The Portuguese fireplace in the New Forest
Peaceful and aloof, it is hard to imagine now just how busy this forest once was

VISITING THE PORTUGUESE FIREPLACE


How to get to the Portuguese Fireplace


Postcode: SO43 7GR

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Public transport: The nearest train station is in Brockenhurst, but there are regular and easily accessible buses which will help you get around. See the New Forest Area Guide (coming soon) for more details or use the Moovitapp, which will give you public transport options to and from anywhere in the country.


Parking: If you are driving, there is free parking at Millyford Bridge, a car park off the narrow road between Emery Down and the Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary. It is only a short walk to the fireplace. Park at what3words: retina.budgeted.lace


When is the Portuguese Fireplace open?

You can visit at any time.


How much does it cost to visit the Portuguese Fireplace?

It is free to visit.


What facilities are there at the Portuguese Fireplace?

There are no facilities at the site, but the nearby village of Emery Down has a traditional 18th century pub, The New Forest Inn, for refreshments. It is a four minute drive or thirty minute walk away.


Which is the nearest town to the Portuguese Fireplace?

Lyndhurst is the nearest town. See our New Forest Guide (coming soon) for details on how to get to the New Forest, locally owned accommodation, restaurants and shops, further places to visit and things to do.