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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Recruiting for Territorial Force Engineers


Hoplophile
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One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Royal Engineers of the pre-war Regular Army was the policy of restricting enlistment to qualified tradesmen. That is to say, one could not join as a sapper unless one had already developed a considerable degree of skill in a manual trade - carpentry, brick-laying and the like. (Drivers and musicians were exempted from this rule.)

Can anyone tell me if the same rule applied to the Royal Engineer units of the pre-war Territorial Force?

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Hoplophile

I cannot confirm whether it was a general policy followed by all Territorial Force Royal Engineer units, but from research I have done on 1/2nd North Midland Field Company, the policy of recruiting skilled artisans was adhered to.

The 2nd North Midland Field Company, Royal Engineers, owed its existence to the support of Captain W.B. Harrison, the owner of The Cannock Chase Colliery Company, who not only offered to raise the new unit from his employees but also offered his family’s ancestral home, Norton Hall in Norton Canes, to the Territorial Force Association for use as its Drill Hall. As this company was a new unit and was not based on a cadre from a Volunteer Force detachment, the 2nd North Midland Field Company had to recruit from scratch. To overcome this problem the officer commanding the 2nd North Midland Field Company, Royal Engineers, Major William Harrison, began his recruiting among the employees of his family’s collieries. Among the first men who joined the Company were miners employed at the Cathedral and Grove Pits at Brownhills. Harrison also used the novel technique of ensuring that any men seeking work at one of his collieries would only be employed on condition that they enlisted in the Territorials. Recruiting for the Company proved to be sufficiently successful that by the time the unit attended its first camp at Towyn that August it was able to send three officers and 105 other ranks.

The reliance on recruits from the mining communities around the 2nd North Midland Field Company’s drill hall in Norton Canes is particularly notable. Among the first recruits to join the Company was Sapper Ernest Lester. Lester was 26 years old at the time of his enlistment and was employed as an electrician at the Aldridge Colliery. Another early recruit was an eighteen- year-old miner, Driver Wilfred Rose, who worked at the Conduit Colliery at Norton Canes. One of the Company’s Sergeants, Harold Harrison, was employed as the sales manager to the Cannock Chase Colliery Company. This link was continued among later recruits for the unit. Albert Morris, who lived at Heath Hayes and was employed at the Conduit Colliery, enlisted in 1910 and in the following year won the Company Cup for marksmanship. Two brothers serving with the Mounted Section of the Company, William and Alfred Yates, also worked at the Conduit Colliery. Various skills were represented amongst the men recruited from the collieries, including carpenters, wheelwrights, boilermakers, drivers (for wagons on the surface) and electricians.

In November 1914 a county-wide appeal was made on behalf of the 2nd North Midland Field Company for skilled artisans such as bricklayers, carpenters, saddlers and wheelwrights to enlist. A further recruiting effort was mounted on behalf of the North Midland Divisional Royal Engineers in the Potteries in April 1915. This initial campaign netted thirty recruits to add to the 70 men then reported to already be in training at the Royal Engineers depot in Smethwick. The decision to accept recruits from all over Staffordshire had a profound impact on the composition of the Field Companies of Royal Engineers. By the time the 1/2nd North Midland Field Company embarked for service in France in March 1915, the strength of the unit not only included men from its usual recruiting area of the Cannock Chase coalfields, but also soldiers from Smethwick and North Staffordshire. By November 1915, the drafts received by the unit had altered its composition to such an extent that one member of the Company wrote that the unit consisted of “about half North Staffordshire and the other South Staffordshire lads”

Hope this helps.

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