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"H" Special Company, Royal Engineers


John_Hartley
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I've come across the above unit as part of my war memorial project but have been unable to find any info about it. Any ideas, please?

My man's obituary refers to him transferring to the RE, at his own request, from the Lincs - but he doesn't seem to have any particular skills for the RE.

John

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John

As Stuart has suggested, your man was a member of the Royal Engineers Special Brigade. H Special Coy was part of the 2nd Bn Special Brigade from 1916 onwards. H Coy was a cylinder gas coy, although like many other of these units also learned the skills of the Livens Projector.

I have been conducting some research on Special Brigade men for over 12 years now. I would be interested in his details. If you let me have his number rank and name I will try and give you some pointers. I don't suppose this would have been Cpl William Callan by any chance?

Terry Reeves

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Terry - my man is indeed Cpl William Callan. Was this a lucky guess - or is there something special about him.

Possibly you already know more about him than I do (as I've only recently started my research). If you do have more info, please post here or e-mail me.

His obit. confirms he joined the Lincolnshires in Sept 1914. Was twice gassed (which perhaps now makes sense) and was killed by enemy bombardment. His brother Pte James C. lost a limb at Beaumont Hamel with 9th Black watch. His other brother Lt John C was twice wounded.

William was a keen lacrosse player and a member of the Cheadle Literary Institute.

John B)

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A man on my home town war memorial served with "P" Special Coy and was killed in the disaster on the 6/7 May 1917 during the battle of Bullecourt, when the Germans shelled P and Z Special Coys while they were unloading Levens gas projectors.

Pioneer Frederick HART “P” Special Company Royal Engineers b. Stourport Worcs e. Bewdley Worcs 214503 kia F&F 6/5/17 formerly 25028 Worcs Regiment

Aged 36

Son of Mrs Agnes Hart; husband of Mary Hammonds (formerly Hart) of Whispering Street, Wribbenhall, Bewdley

Bealencourt British Cemetery, Ligny-Thilloy, Pas de Calais

Sp. Mem. B. 5.

G and P Coys don't feature in many accounts of his even (Graham Keech's _Bullecourt_ for Battleground Europe pp.147-8 for example).

If you have any further details on this event Terry, I'd be glad of it.

Regards

Simon Fielding

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Terry - my man is indeed Cpl William Callan. Was this a lucky guess - or is there something special about him.

Possibly you already know more about him than I do (as I've only recently started my research). If you do have more info, please post here or e-mail me.

His obit. confirms he joined the Lincolnshires in Sept 1914. Was twice gassed (which perhaps now makes sense) and was killed by enemy bombardment. His brother Pte James C. lost a limb at Beaumont Hamel with 9th Black watch. His other brother Lt John C was twice wounded.

William was a keen lacrosse player and a member of the Cheadle Literary Institute.

John  B)

John

Not a lucky guess mate, just the product of many hours of research. Cpl Callan did not distinguish himself in any way I'm afraid. As you know he was killed on 9 April 1918. This was the day that Ludendorff's Operation Georgette was launched against the British First Army. 2nd battalion SB were in the Bethune/Loos sector, so it comes as no suprise that he was killed by shellfire. From 1916 onwards, when the Special coys were formed into battalions and brigaded, no special qualifications were required. My guess is that he transferred in 1916/1917. From his number he appears to have been a "stray". Many men in the Brigade were infantrymen, who were simply posted into the job, like it or not. Normally they were posted in batches. His gassing comes as little surprise either Many of the cylinder company men were gassed by leaks from their own equipment, it was seen as an occupational hazard by most SB men.

If I can help further, please let me know. Many thanks for the personal details.

Terry Reeves

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Simon

Interestingly, the only real account of this incident appears in "Z" Special Coy's war diary. There is nothing at all about it in P Coy's diary, and they suffered the most casualities.

The incident happened in a sunken road near Bullecourt on the night 6/7 May 1917 when Z Coy were tasked to prepare a Livens Projector attack in support of an operation. Despite the normal precautionary measures of keeping projectiles and propellant charges apart on different wagons, fate conspired to bring both elements together at the same time at the unloading point. Unfortunately a German shell hit one of the propellant wagons and a large number of men were killed. The survivors took cover in small dugouts in the roadside embankment, but the German artillery, now alerted by the initial explosion, shelled the area causing more casualties.

Lt Bansall, then acting OC of Z Coy, gave the casualties as: Z Coy 14 killed and eleven wounded: P Coy, 21 killed and 14 wounded: G Coy, 1 officer and 8 or's killed and seventeen wounded. There were some men from other companies seconded for the operation. My own casualty figures differ slightly as far as the dead are concerned, nevertheless it was a nasty incident.

If I can help further please let me know.

Terry Reeves

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Terry

I was under the impression that Z company was a special company equipped with flamethrowers. Is this in keeping with your information ?

Regards

Myrtle

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Terry

Don't bother to answer. I now realise I should have read your last posting before writing mine.

As William Livens had been transferred to Z company obviously they unsurprisingly must have become specialists in flame throwers.

Regards

Myrtle

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Myrtle

No problem. WH Livens (and Z Coy) did indeed use flame throwers, more often known in Special Brigade as "Flammenwerfers" after the German terminology. Livens devised a huge flame thrower, over twenty feet long, two of which were used on 1st July 1916, during the Somme battle. These were buried in Russian saps.Unfortunately they were, as you can imagine, immobile, the flame nozzle only being able to traverse to a limited degree. The device, like its inventor, was ingeneous however. The nozzle had a cutting blade attached, driven by compressed air, which allowed the operators to position it facing the German trenches, but without it being seen. Once the initial suprise was overcome however, the Germans simply moved out of the way and they were never used again.

Livens also experimented with "mobile" devices. These were not quite as they seemed though. They were really the size of acetylene cylinders with a hose and nozzle attached and I have yet to find any record of them being used in anger. To use them, the operator was dressed in a one piece protective"gown" with an attached hood rather like the early Hypo helmets. I can only describe them as looking like peanuts on legs. Flame throwers in the British Army were not used after summer 1916.

Livens was transferred to the Ministry of Munitions in 1917, at the request of the Brigade commander, CH Foulkes. Not that he had done anything wrong, Foulkes simply wanted a man whom he could trust on the "inside"

as it were.

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Terry

Thank you for the information. I had not heard of the mobile flame throwers. Do you know how sophisticated the German "Flammenwerfers" were at that time?

Regards

Myrtle

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Myrtle

I have a slide in my collection showing a German flame thrower which has a hose some four inches or so in diameter connected to a lance some six feet long held two operators. The device was ignited by a third team member with a piece of rag on a very long stick! The fuel supply unfortunately is just out of the picture but I assume this particular version was not very portable.

I seem to remember a photograph in the IWM photgraphic archive showing a German device which was carried on the back and very similar to the British "Lifebuoy" or Ac-Pack of WW2. It may be that other members on this forum may be able to help a bit more in this direction though.

With regard to my last post I should have said the Liven's Flammenwerfer was known as the Gallery Projector.

Terry Reeves

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Chris

In fact three were intended for use on 1 July 1916, despite what I said in my last post. These were placed in saps 7, 10 and 13 between Kasino Point and the Carnoy/Montauban Rd on the 18th Division front. One of the galleries (sap 13) was wrecked by shellfire and most of the equipment was abandoned. The devices in saps 7 and 10 were fired at 0715hrs. The surpise element worked on this occassion but the immobility of the equipment and the logistics required to get it into place rendered the idea impracticable.

I should reiterate, these were large pieces of equipment which required considerable help from the infantry to get into place. From the two photographs I have, the only qualification you needed was to be a plumber and fitter! The idea was resurrected in late October 1917 at Dixmude, but with only two, unsuccessful shots, the idea was finally abandoned.

Hope this helps

Terry Reeves

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Chris

As I'm sure you will appreciate, the use of flame weapons in WW1 really did not contribute very much, if anything, in the overall scheme of things, hence little has been written about the subject.

Apart from the war diaries of the Special Brigade, particularly Z Company, the following books have some information about the subject.

1. "Gas" The Story of the Special Brigade, Maj Gen CH Foulkes, Blackwood 1936. (Reprinted by Naval and Military Press recently). A rather oddly written account of the Special Brigade, by its founder, but worth reading nontheless.

2. "The Poisonous Cloud", LF Haber, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1986. ISBN 0-19-858142-4. An excellent account of the development of chemical warfare by all sides. The author was the son of Professor Fritz Haber who masterminded Germany's CW effort.

3. "Chemical Soldiers", Donald Richter, Leo Cooper, 1994. ISBN 0-85052-388-5. A very readable book about the Special Brigade at war.

Happy reading

Terry Reeves

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Thanks for that Terry, i'll look out for those. One i could maybe add myself is the book "Weapons of the Trench War 1914- 1918" by Anthony Saunders, a good chapter on oil cans and projectors, albeit a small one.

Regards, Chris.

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I was puzzled by an entry on SDGW CD, where an RE man Pioneer (or Sapper) F. Langley who died at home in October 1918 was annotated "SPEC.BDE. R.E. DEPOT" . Does this have anything to do with the Special Companies? At ime of writing I don't know what he died of, but he is buried in my local Cemetery.

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Dave

Yes, he was a Special Brigade man. The depot was at Helfaut near St Omer along with the brigade hq which was located in the marie and adjoining school, both of which still stand.

Terry Reeves

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  • 3 years later...

[quote

I have been conducting some research on Special Brigade men for over 12 years now. I would be interested in his details. If you let me have his number rank and name I will try and give you some pointers. I don't suppose this would have been Cpl William Callan by any chance?

Terry Reeves

For your information:

My grandfather Pioneer James Maylor, 130237, 1st Special Company, Royal Engineers was killed 0n 24th March 1918 and is buried in Peronne Road Cemetery, near Maricourt.

If these details lead anywhere I'd be pleased to know.

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  • 12 years later...
On 25/11/2002 at 06:33, Terry_Reeves said:

Interestingly, the only real account of this incident appears in "Z" Special Coy's war diary. There is nothing at all about it in P Coy's diary, and they suffered the most casualities.

The incident happened in a sunken road near Bullecourt on the night 6/7 May 1917

Terry Reeves

Hi Terry,

To revive this - were there any maps in the war diaries?

Cheers

Torokina

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4 hours ago, torokina said:

Hi Terry,

To revive this - were there any maps in the war diaries?

Cheers

Torokina

Torokina

 

This was a Z Company operation with assistance from G and P companies.   There are no maps in any of the war diaries regarding this incident, indeed  Z and P companies only have one each in their respective diaries from March 1917 to 1919. 

 

I know much more about the incident now than in 2002 and have visited the site if that is what you are interested in.

 

TR

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