In early August 1950, President Kim Il Sung summoned several officials to his office. Among them was a senior official of the Forestry Bureau under the Cabinet.
Kim Il Sung informed him of the reason he had summoned him, saying: “As you, vice-director, are present, let us discuss the matter of firewood for the people of Seoul.”
What he said was so unexpected that the officials looked at one another in disbelief.
It was the height of summer and, moreover, wartime.
“Now that Seoul has been liberated and is under the jurisdiction of our Republic, we cannot let its citizens live in distress as they did in the past. We should help them in every possible way to lead a stable life as soon as possible; we should show foresight, and solve the problem of firewood for them.”
He pointed our that the on-going war was aimed at ensuring a happy life for the south Korean people, and continued: In general, the cold weather starts in October in Seoul; it would be difficult to supply people there with coal as the enemy destroyed the railways and coal mines when they fled. So, the most rational way is to supply them with logs. In view of the population and number of households in Seoul, 400 000 cubic metres of logs will be needed as winter firewood. Although it would be easy to gather firewood from Mt. Thaebaek which is near to Seoul, this will inevitably mean mobilizing people in the liberated area who have already suffered a great deal; so I think it would be better to enlist the people in the north to collect the firewood, though it will entail a lot of work. If we fell the pine and oak trees on Mt. Sorak where they grow abundantly and transport the logs along the Han River, it will be easy to send them to Seoul. Also, fire produced from pine and oak has high caloric value and lasts a long time.
Then he explained the detailed measures for felling the timber, before ordering the Forestry Bureau official to the site.
By late September the planned amount of firewood had been secured.
But then the tables were suddenly turned in the war, and the People’s Army had to make a temporary strategic retreat.
The logs which had been obtained with such great efforts could not be surrendered to the enemy. Then, how to dispose of them? The official concluded that they would have to be burnt. He reported his decision to Kim Il Sung. On receiving the report, Kim Il Sung said that it would be better chop the logs into pieces and float them down the Han instead of burning them. Then he ordered that soldiers should be mobilized for several days to chop up the logs.
The campaign to provide firewood for the people of Seoul which had started in the sweltering heat continued into the grimmest days of the war.
Some days later, numerous logs drifted down the Han. The Seoul citizens used the logs as firewood that winter, but they knew nothing of the story behind them.