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Remembered Today:

Variations in Royal Engineers unit names


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In my R.E. research, I've come across quite a few variations on unit names that seem very confusing to me. These variations appear as both written by hand and from rubber stamps. The biggest seems to be the Inland Waterways & Docks. I've seen it also written as Inland Water Transport, Inland Water Transport Corps, Inland Water Transport Section and Inland Waterways & Transport. Which of these is the actual correct name or is the IW&D different from the IWT?

Another I've seen a lot deals with light railroad companies. Some are written as "Railway Construction Company" and others as "Road Construction Company". At first I thought the roads in question were for trucks and other vehicles, but my research shows that nearly every man in the Road Construction Companies were railroad men, from navvies to station porters. Did both these types of companies work light railway or are they two different names for the same thing. If so, which title is the most correct?

Still another I've come across just tonight of the usage of Field Survey Company and Field Survey Battalion. One man in his service record as being in the 4th Field Survey Company. The next entry says that he joined the 2nd Field Survey Battalion from the 4th Field Survey Battalion and later transfers back to the 4th. This is the first time I've ever seen R.E. companies listed as battalions.

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Hello Matt

I have seen Inland Waterways & Docks and Inland Waterways and Transport, and also Waterways & Railways as a branch of the RE. I think they are all "right" in context. You normally find "Inland Water Transport" after "Director of" and IW&D associated with units. "WR" was used as a prefix for the men's service numbers. "Inland Water Transport Corps" is unlikely to be official, since their Corps was the Royal Engineers.

I think that "Road Construction Companies" (in one of which my grandfather served) relate sepecifically to the laying of track-bed, sleepers and track, whereas "Railway Construction Companites" would also have built trackside fittings such as water-towers and perhaps signal boxes and the like.

"Field Survey" is the easy bit! At first each Army (of which the BEF had five) had a Field Survey Company, but as the war progressed they expanded in size and scope until by 1918 they were called battalions. You are right that the RE rarely used the battalion description: there were a few Labour Battalions RE before they were absorbed into the Labour Corps, and the Lines of Communication Signal Company, originally about 270 men, expanded to around 1500 and was then called the L of C Signal Battalion.

One small further correction: in British usage it is always "railway", never "railroad."


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The answer lies with the reforms brought in by Sir Eric Geddes in 1917, after a review by him the previous year. This brought together, under various Directorates, the Railway Operating Division, Railway Construction Companies, the Light Railways Directorate, the Inland Waterways Transport which was to include Docks, Road Construction Companies and other units involved in transportation. They all received new numbers in early 1918, pre-fixed with WR. With due respect to Ron, Road Construction Companies did build roads. The Railway Construction Companies laid the plate (track), the permanent way, and also constructed bridges, buildings ect. That is not to say that RC Companies did not assist, in the same way that Army Troops Companies some times built light railways.


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