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Remembered Today:

E Special Company At Vimy Ridge 1917


rvsmith64
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When my father passed on he left to my keeping my uncle Arthur Smith's campain medals. I have obtained his Death certificate and it says the following; Rgtl number 197227, Rank Pioneer "E" Special Company, name Smith Arthur, age 22, Country of birth England, Date of death 5.10.1917, Place of death near Arras France, cause of death Killed Accidentally. I have also determined that he is buried in Nine Elms Military Cemetery, Thelius, France, near Arras. I have also found out that at around 9 april 1917, there was a large battle at Vimy ridge, where the Canadians were in action. There is no mention of gas companies being used at vimy ridge.

My question is can anyone tell me what the "E" Special Company Pioneers might have been doing? Also is the term 'killed accidently' a generic term for friendly fire. One more thing Vimy ridge started on the 9 April 1917, my uncles date of death was 10 May 1917 what might have happened in between. Also he started in the Royal Artillary as a driver then some how transfrred into the pioneer corp

I read that when they signed up it was for the duration of the war, and that when they became unfit for front line duties i.e shell shocked they were transferred to the pioneer corp. Is this true or did he volunteer for the pioneers?

Any assistance would be much appreciated, as I have served in the Royal Navy and feel a special kinship to uncle Arthur.

Regards

Roger Smith

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Roger

He was a member of the Royal Engineers Special Brigade, responsible for chemical warfare. E Special Company would have been dispensing gas from cylinders or perhaps operating Livens Projectors, a crude , but very effective mortar, which launched cylinders or "drums" of chemicals. The day to day happenings of the Company were recorded in their War Diary which is held at the National Archives - the document reference is here:

WO 95/242 `E' Special Company Royal Engineers 1917 Mar. - 1919 June.

Around 1000 RA gunners and drivers were transferred to the Special Brigade in 1916. The diary may mention the incident.

TR

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Roger, welcome to the forum.

Just be careful of the dates. Just to keep you on the right tracks for research purposes, your uncle died on 05/10/1917 as on 5th October not May 10th.

Kind regards

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Roger. Just seen that 11 RE men died that day. 5 pioneers, 4 of which plus a lance corporal are buried side by side.

Sorry I dont have any photos specific to your uncles grave but thought you may like to see the general layout of where he rests.

I've marked his grave with a little red pointer.

This is as close up as I can get with the photos I have.

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  • 3 months later...

Dear Ulsterlad,

Thank you for the information.

I have obtained a copy of the E special company war diary for the period Aug 1st through Nov 30. It mentions that the company were camped at Ecurie. Rather tersely it mentions on the 5/10/17 '5 O.R accidently killed'. No names or any further details. Yet the dairy is full of details of operations and mundane officer details. The diary when read in its totality indicates a huge disdane between officers and the ranks. From the diiary I have obtained all the officer's names not one of the ordinary ranks. I find it difficult to think that 5 men can accidently die and thats all that's mentioned.

My question is this could you tell me the names of the other men who accidently died with my uncle Arther. maybe from the grave site data? Maybe I can find out more info from there names.

Also surely if an accident occured which killed 5 men their must have had to been a report or something explaining the incident submitted up the chain of command. Does anyone know how to find what or where it would be?

Also does anyone know what would have been the procedure handling of the bodies? Would not a postmortem have to be done? Would the bodies have to be handed over to the medical corp?

I appreciate any help.

Thanks

Roger Smith

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Hi Roger.

As Malcolm says, all are buried in Nine Elms, Thelus.

Jenkins IC 29

Douthwaite IC 30

Forryan IC 31

Gibson IC 32

Smith IC 33

Don't know if you caught the pics last time. This is where they rest in Nine Elms.

post-33142-1256057158.jpg

post-33142-1256057261.jpg

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  • 1 year later...

Thankyou for your information to date. I have been rather preoccupied with the poor health if my dear wife. I have not given up on the circumstances of my uncle Arthers death. Last year I visited the Royal Engineers Museaum at Chatham Kent. Unfortiunately I drew a blank. My problem is that I do not know what forms or reports to look for. There must have been an army field manual or regulations that covered accidental death reporting for commanding officers, listing the reports and enquiries to be done. Surely five men cannot die accidently without an enquiry being done. Can anyone out there help me with any information of army regs. I was in the Royal Navy and we had manuals and instructions for everything including wiping our noses. There must be some form number. There must have been some office in whitehal that kept these reports. I apprecaite your help, thanks.

Roger Smith

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Roger

Unfortunately for the researcher, not all incidents were dealt with by a court of inquiry. I could very well be the case that a statement was sent to higher command by the Officer Commanding, E (Special )Company and the matter was was allowed to rest simply because there was nothing more to say. It might be worth checking the war diary of HQ Special Companies, 1st Army, war diary, under whose administrative control E Company came under, just in case the incident is mentioned. I haven't checked E Company's war diary for that day, but I do know that the Special Brigade launched a large Liven's projector attack in support of the Canadian Corps on that day. In the event of an inquiry, it is likely that the Canadian Corps would have administered it.

TR

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Terry

Thanks once again

.I have finnaly made a break through and resolved my mystery. I located a copy of the court of enquiry into my uncle Arthur and the other four members of the working party. Oddly enough it was my uncle who first reported an abandond German dug out, on the old german line,with small arms ammunition within. He was ordered with the others to go and salvage the unused ammunition. There was an explosion from unknown cause that killed them all instantly. No cause was found there fore it was deemed an accidental death.

I found this through obtaining a copy of the Kings Regualtions for the army 1912. Also by scanning the web via the National Archives and Ancestry.com. The key was that 4 out of the five persons records have been deatroyed in the fire in WW2, including my uncle Arthur. Fortunately one of the men a Percival Few Douthwaite's records survived on micro fiche. I was able to obtain a copy of the court of enquiry from Ancestry.com

Interestingly it was hand written on plain paper. (No fancy form) Very simple 2 wittnesses before and after the incident. and a simple determination. (No forensic science in those days.)

One other interesting aspect in Douthwaites file was a letter to Mrs Douthwaite telling her that she had a pension coming for the loss of her husband for the grand sum of 18 shilllings and 9 pence a week, what price for a mans life?

Of course now it leaves me with another question. Why did the powers to be consider that salvaging the enemy ammunition was important enough to risk mens lives? Surely the ammunition of the Germans was of different sizes to the Brits. In my time in the Navy I was an ordinance artificer, and the first thing drilled in me wa s that old munitions become volitile and unstable with age. Best to just let rthe demolieion experts deal with them. What value was the munitions to the Army? In particular a special gas company who carried pistols only.

Thanks again. Bye the way if anyone need date form the Kings regs let me know.

Regards

Roger Smith

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Roger,

Very interesting story and great detective work!! It has obviously taken a lot of effort to come to a conclusion (hopefully a satisfactory one). In terms of the pension, although I've seen it lots of times, it still appears rediculous how little a life was valued. This is backs up by the second point you make, that troops were sent to collect small arms ammunition from an abandoned trench, a risk of five trained specialists for what was probably an inconsequential amount of ammunition?! The main small arm ammunition used by British (.303) and German (7.92mm) were indeed incompatable and could not be readily employed by the Allies. The thinking was probably something more like denying from the enemy the ammunition rather than using it. Although, that said, there were enormous amounts of enemy equipment captured during the three prior years and doubtless there could have been a use found for a load of german small arms ammo.

I wonder what the likely actual cause of detah was.... Targeted by Trench Mortar/Artillery/ or some form of Booby Trap (abandoned ammunition would be a good opportunity).

Either way, a great story and thanks for the update...

Dan

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Roger,

Very interesting story and great detective work!! It has obviously taken a lot of effort to come to a conclusion (hopefully a satisfactory one). In terms of the pension, although I've seen it lots of times, it still appears rediculous how little a life was valued. This is backs up by the second point you make, that troops were sent to collect small arms ammunition from an abandoned trench, a risk of five trained specialists for what was probably an inconsequential amount of ammunition?! The main small arm ammunition used by British (.303) and German (7.92mm) were indeed incompatable and could not be readily employed by the Allies. The thinking was probably something more like denying from the enemy the ammunition rather than using it. Although, that said, there were enormous amounts of enemy equipment captured during the three prior years and doubtless there could have been a use found for a load of german small arms ammo.

I wonder what the likely actual cause of detah was.... Targeted by Trench Mortar/Artillery/ or some form of Booby Trap (abandoned ammunition would be a good opportunity).

Either way, a great story and thanks for the update...

Dan

Thanks Dan

I have Question if anyone can help me in the right direction.

In the court of enqiry it mention a map reference A16. h88. sheet 5 Can anyone tell me how to get hold of a map so that I can locate the dug out I plan to visit the area next year.

.I know that the base camp for "E" special company was Ecurie. I have a basic map showing Vimy Ridge 9 April 1917, it shows the Canadian and German lines.

Before the battle I think.

Any help will be much appreciated. Thanks

Roger Smith

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Roger, it does sound like a booby trap, the Germans became very skilful in deploying them I believe there was a huge explosion near Ypres where a Town Hall had been commandeered after being "cleared" and 2 days or so later a hidden time bomb wiped out most of the HQ staff.

It doesn't state whether the small arms cache was captured British or German. I would suspect that he and his colleagues were detailed as they would have been cautious around explosives, given the specialist nature of their usual work. I can see the attraction if the small arms ammo appeared to be British, as that would be readily required, so a grenade primed or some such would be all that was required. If it was just to haul out stored ammo, a "volunteered" working party from soldiers nearby would be all that was required. They obviously suspected a booby trap, so that's why specialists were used. There was much similar about defusing UXB's in WW2, the Germans kept trying different booby traps, so that specialists would be caught out until that type had been mastered.

I'm glad you have found out what occurred, and wish you and your wife well.

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Thanks Guys

I suspect you are right about a possible booby trap.

Bye the way. I was thinking of visiting my uncles grave and try to locate the site of the dug out.. I have a map location from the court of enquiry. Unfortunately from research it look like the French have built a Highway (Aoutoroute) right through were the front was back in WW1. I doubt if there is much to see these days. I know that the Canadians have a big memorial near bye.

Thanks once again.

Roger Smith

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