Jump to content
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Pioneer battalions


Scrumdown
 Share

Recommended Posts

My Nan recently went into an old folks home and while clearing her house, we discovered letters and photos of her Dad who apparently served in a pioneer battalion during the GW. My Nan is too worse the wear from dementia to ask (she IS 94 this year) and the only info I can get is from my Dad who remembers talking to him about his experiences.

My Dad says that amongst other things during the war, his grandad was involved after 1918 in "battlefiield clearance." He implied this was destroying ordnance, filling in trenches and remains recovery. The first two I sort of figured out for myself, but were there not special units unconnected with pioneers who carried out the third instead, presumably supervised by the CWGC? I'm afraid I don't have access to the pics and letters at present and I have no idea what unit he was in, but any clarification on pioneer roles would be appreciated.

Thanks in advance.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Pioneers were fighting soldiers who carried out battlefield engineering tasks. They were different to Labour Corps who carried out all sorts of work behind the line and, after the war, in battlefield clearance. Labour corps, especially but not only Chinese, recovered bodies but destroying ordnance would normally have been done by RE. Clearing a battle field would have required different kinds of work and would have been carried out by diferent types of unit.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My great uncle served in the 14th Northumberland Fusiliers, a Pioneer Battalion. One of their first jobs after arriving in France was clearing and burying bodies at Loos, as noted in the war diary

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My GF was conscripted into a labour battalion in 1917 but quickly moved to the newly created Labour Corps simply because the amount of work was far too much for Pioneers and their specialist abilities were wasted. I think the dividing line between what was actually done by pioneers and labour corps may have been hazy at times and we all know that most of the time the infantry were simply manual labourers. I was trying to distinguish between Labour Corps, Royal Engineers and Pioneers.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Scrumdown,

As I read your post your Grandfather was a member of a Pioneer Battalion which,after the War ended,was employed in clearing the Battlefieldclearance.

If you want to read the History of a typical Pioneer Battalion,including its role,please access John Duncan's Web-site-Newbattle at War-and "pull up the History of the 8th Royal Scots.

As regards Battlefield clearance post-War unfortunately I am unable to suggest a source reference.

George

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Scrumdown

This book might help:

Pioneer Battalions in the Great War by K.W. Mitchinson

Hardcover: 288 pages

Publisher: Pen & Sword Books Ltd (14 Feb 1997)

ISBN-10: 0850525667

ISBN-13: 978-0850525663

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Boysoldier,

Mr Mitchinson's Book is a good one but for free you,and everyone else,can read the contemporary History(work that one out,I can't :D ) of a Pioneer Battalion if you access the Web-site I have suggested.

George

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A pioneer battalion was not a Labour Battalion. The Pioneers were a line battalion, infantrymen, who specialised in earthworks. They dug communication trenches, consolidated frontline trenches, dug saps, listeninmg posts, latrines, dug outs. They levelled roads, light gage railways, tramlines, filled and repaired shell holes and damage, built and repaired artillery emplacements. During periods of attack, they were responsible for converting newly captured German trenches to face the 'other way' turning parados into a fire step for example. At Messines, and other places immediately after a mine detonation, the pioneers were sent to consolidate the mine lips, with, or without additional infantry cover. They sometimes worked under RE directives on special projects, but mainly worked on a Divisional level according to needs.

They were the troops used by the Tunneling Companies in digging mines, and underground constructions. At Loos, for example, the 4th RWF pioneers dug a tunnel under the Double Crasier at a stupendous rate to 'consolidate' the lines. They were very active at Messines, with to quote the 4 RWF bat history " special units of old men in their fifties- quarrymen and miners from Ffestiniog and Cefn, were working quietly digging mines."

Also, at Passchendaele, the pioneers were sent out under cover of darkness to excavate a new front line attacking trench three hundred yards into no man's land with only the battalion machine guns provided as cover.

They were front line soldiers, and not to be confused with the Labour Corp and ASC who were mainly reserve area troops working in the arms, supplies and various other equipment dumps stretching back all the way to the coast.

Involvement in immediate battlefield clearance would have been minimal and incidental to their main work.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...