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Pte Richard Ashby - South Wales Borderers/ Labour Battalion


Guest rmcmahon22
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Guest rmcmahon22

Hi all,

I'm researching my Ggrandfather, Richard Ashby, who served in WWI. I have a copy of his medal card. It lists him as having served in the following Corps:

South Wales Borderers, Private, Reg no 10256

1 Lab Bn, Reg no 123955 / 125955 (the second number is pencilled in under the first).

Unfortunately, as I'm not in Britain, I can't view the Medal Roll. Also it appears his service record has not survived. However, the card does state that he was awarded a 1914 Star, and that his 'date of entry' into foreign service was 13/8/1914. I've taken these to mean that he was in the 1st Battalion of the South Wales Borderers.

I have been wondering about the Lab Bn though. Would there be any logical reason why it doesn't say Labour Corps instead? is it possible to tell from the Reg no when (or to what Company etc) he would have been transferred? His marriage certificate (November 1915) has him in the South Wales Borderers but I'm not sure after that.

I'd appreciate any help you might be able to provide.

Cheers,

Richard

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Hi Richard

Regarding your question of Labour Corps/Battalion - it is my understanding that there were some Labour/Pioneer battalions established under the regimental name prior to 1917, who would be the ones digging the tunnels, mending the fences and reinforcing the trenches, often under shellfire but not necessarily taking part in the shooting. In other words, they were on the front line, but in a non-combative role, although sometimes they did do this as well -depending on how extensive the casualties were and the intensity of the battle. They also were responsible for other duties -clerks, mess cooks, laundry and sanitation. Basically all the back of house functions that freed up the fitter and healthier men to do the main fighting.

The Labour or Pioneer Corps was established in 1917 and presumably this is when the existing battalions of men were transferred over to this new group that was given its own identity.

There's an interesting website that explains it in more detail, which I found helpful when researching one of my own ancestors, who was an old soldier, suffering from a lot of ill-health in the trenches when he had rejoined for WW1 such as rheumatism and bronchitis, but was still able to be useful and serve his country by being posted to an agricultural company based at Ripon where farmworkers were needed.

http://www.royalpioneercorps.co.uk/rpc/history_main2.htm

Ellen

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The usual reason for men being transferred away from "front line" battalions was a medical down grade, due either to wounds or illness mainly.

Alternatively he may have had a skill in road building, construction or something more in line with Labour Corps duties than front line.

Obviously had his records survived they would provide the answer, but for now that's all we can speculate.

The 123955 number would appear to have been a mistranscription, hence the pencilled correction to 125955.

The Labour Corps website http://www.labourcor...tern Front.html states:

During 1916 the need for labour to support an Army of a million men led to the creation of Infantry Labour Battalions for service in France made up men medically unfit for front line service, foreign labourers brought from the Caribbean, South Africa and China and 8 companies of the Non Combatant Corps. In France men declared as permanently unfit for front line service were retained and used for labouring tasks. From April onwards German Prisoners of War were also retained in France, rather than being sent to camps in the U.K., and used as labourers in the rear areas.

That might provide a clue, if he was wounded say late 1915 and took a month or two to recover to some semblance of fitness, he might well have been transferred to a Labour Battalion in 1916, before the Labour Corps itself was formed in February 1917. If he had been very severely wounded, then I believe the Card would have a reference to the issue of a Silver War Badge.

From your comment that on marriage in November 1915 he was still in the South Wales Borderers, it follows that his transfer was sometime in 1916. All guesses though!!

Curses! Beaten again by the nimble fingers of Ellen!

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Guest rmcmahon22

Hi Kevin and Ellen,

Thanks to you both for providing such useful (and interesting) information about the Labour Corps and non-combat service. It sounds like there's a chance the 'Lab Bn' reference refers to something that pre-dated the Labour Corps, but as you say it's mainly conjecture without the service record.

On further reflection I wonder whether Richard might have stayed in Britan and laboured there - his first child was born before the war ended. I'll chase up the birth certificate and hopefully it will provide some useful information.

Cheers,

Richard

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Richard did go to France, that's why there is a Medal Index Card. If he had served entirely in the UK, then it's unlikely there would be one.

Similarly, it would appear that he was also in a Labour Battalion and likely to have been in support on the Western Front, at least until the reorganisation of Labour Battalions into the Labour Corps. His child may have been conceived while convalescing, or simply he may have been granted leave and took the opportunity to start his family!

Don't get too hooked on things, this site should come with a Health Warning as it is extremely addictive!!

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