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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

274th Railway Company Egypt

Jan Walker

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I am researching all the men from our village for a service next month when the war memorials are being moved and re-dedicated. One of them is Fred Teal, son of Thomas Marshall Teal. He was a Sapper with the 274th Railway company, Royal Engineers, service number 190304. He died on 8th December 1917 in Egypt. I understand that the 274th railway company was absorbed into the Railway Operating Division by that time. I found a document that might suggest he was a lengthman. I am interested in anything that anyone might be able to add, particularly around what might have been happening at the time of his death and what a lengthman is.

Any information at all gratefully received.


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There is a volume in the History of the Corps of Royal Engineers which possibly may have information. Perhaps you could obtain it through an inter-library loan if no one has details.

Volume VI: Gallipoli, Macedonia, Egypt and Palestine 1914-18. edited by H.L. Pritchard, published 1952



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I am open to correction on this, but I believe that a Lengthman worked on the maintenance of a length of railway line; particularly important in the middle east where drifting sand or flash flooding could easily disturb the track bed and lead to the derailment of trains. In the spring of 1917 this was indeed a problem which the ROD would have been dealing with; a severe storm 10th to 15th March 1917 led to six derailments in one day.

The 274th Railway Company reached Qantara from the UK on 8th November 1916 and “thereafter assisted in controlling and operating the main line.” This 'main line' would eventually cross the northern Sinai and reach the Gaza front.

“The 53rd Railway Troops Company and the 274th and 276th Railway Companies were formed on 12th March (1917) into the Railway Operating Division under Lieut.-Colonel W. G. Tyrrel. Its establishment was initially thirty-seven officers and 1,602 other ranks......................Headquarters of the Division was at Qantara East and, starting with El Arish, where trafic control of the Qantara-Gaza section was cenralized, detachments were placed at various stations as operating staff.”

(details from The History of the Corps of Royal Engineers Vol.VI)

I regret that I have no specific details re 8th Dec 1917.

Good luck


edit to add map, also from RE History, Vol.VI


Edited by michaeldr
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Thank you, that's great. I am trying to give an account of their lives before and during the war so this is perfect. There are 22 men whose stories I am trying to record in recognition of them giving their lives. Thanks again.

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A possible source of further information is "The Railways of Palestine and Israel" by Paul Cotterell published in 1984 which includes a full chapter on the construction of these railways.

At the start of November 1917, the British Army captured Gaza in Southern Palestine. Turkish resistance collapsed and the Army rapidly advanced into what is now Israel. Lydda was captured on 13 November, Jaffa on 16 November and Jerusalem surrendered on 9 December 1917. This rapid advance left the the Army operating well in advance of its main supply line, which was the standard gauge Sinai Military Railway from the Suez Canal that British troops had built as they crossed the Sinai, but which ended South of Gaza. In addition, they were hindered from using the Turkish railways which had been built hastily and to a different gauge (1050 mm) and which was then sabotaged as the Turks retreated. As a temporary measure, the British brought locomotives and rolling stock from the Sudan and Southern Egypt which was of 1067 mm (3' 6") gauge in an attempt to re-equip the Turkish railway but a lot of work would have been needed to ease the track

I don't have the war diary of the 274 Railway Company but I do have a copy of the war diary of the Director of Railway Transport for the EEF (to whom the Railway Operating Division reported). November/December 1917 was taken up with extending the military railway to link up with the Turkish railway line from Gaza, then repairing the latter so it could be used as a temporary measure to supply the advancing British troops until the standard gauge military railway could be extended on to Lydda on a different alignment, a task that was completed in February 1918. Lydda is sometimes called Ludd; it is close to the site of the modern Tel Aviv airport.

Given that Fred Teal was in a Railway Operating Company rather than a Railway Construction Company, he is likely to have been involved in supporting the advance on Jerusalem by maintaining the track across the Sinai Desert or by working on the repaired Turkish railway system when he died on 8th December. Jerusalem surrendered on 9 December.

I hope this is a simple explanation of what he was involved with.


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