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Guest dstirling


I have a couple of studio photographs of my father fresh-faced in his new uniform taken in April 1917 just before he went off to the war in France.

Fred Corrigan, 225028, Pioneer, 4th company, special brigade, royal engineers.

Would you like me to send copies?

David Stirling.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Guest jameshstraw

Hi Terry

I am researching my Great Uncle and any information you have about the duties and locations of the 2nd Special Bn. Royal Enginners during WW1 would be appreciated, particularly around the time of my Great Uncles death.

Casualty Details:

William Herbert Straw


Royal Engineers

2nd Special Bn.

Age: 20

Date Of Death: 05/04/1917

Service No. 156585

Son Of William Barker Straw and Louisa Straw of 20 Granby St., Ilkeston,Derbyshire

Buried at : Villers Station Cemetery, Villers-Au-Bois

My understanding is that he was a gas operator. Incidentally his brother, my Grandfather, Stephen Henry Straw, also served alongside William and, although twice wounded, survived the war.

I am pretty new to this, but have a keen interest in miliatary history so any hints would be great.

Many Thanks


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  • 4 weeks later...

G’Day Terry,

I have been directed to your thread your way by Sotonmate, in that I am seeking information on “L” Company RE.

The War Diary of the 42nd Battalion, 11th Australian Infantry Brigade, 3rd Australian Division states on 26th February 1917:

'Locality 6 was subjected to severe bombardment in retaliation for 10th Bde raid which took place left of this sector. Smoke was let off from Loc 6 (L'Epinette) and the retaliation bombardment caused several casualties among "L" Coy, R.E., who released it.'

Basically what I am trying to do now is identify who commanded the Company at the time, as well as validating and identifying the casualties incurred in “L” Company.

I have the 3rd Division General Staff Circular dated 20th February 1917 that provides the ‘secret’ instructions on the release of gas and smoke by “L” Company, in conjunction with a battalion sized raid and a small feint for the night of 26th/27th February 1917. If you’re interested I could get a copy of it to you.



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Guest mfoulser

I have been researching my father's ww1 records and find that he joined in response for chemists.

He was Frank Harold Foulser 120640 Royal Engineers 'A' Special Coy.

He enlisted on 20/9/1915 aged 19, was given the rank of corporal as term of enlistment as a chemist and embarked to the 'theatre of war' 4/10/1915.

He was gassed on 28/6/1916 and was in and out of hospitals until he was tansferred to class 'z' on 10/2/19

He died of a stroke in 1963 aged 68.

I am trying to find out where he was when he was gassed and what his role was, any help you can give would be gratefully received.

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  • 1 month later...
  • 3 weeks later...
Over the past few years I have been compiling a roll of men who served in the RE Special Brigade and Special Companies. This formation was responsible for Britains chemical warfare effort.

I am now able to identify some 2-3000 of these men but would like to hear from any forum member who has information about any individual whom they believe served in the Brigade.

In particular, I would be interested in number and rank, any snippets of personal information, and in the case of those men who were killed, the location of any town or village war memorial that they may have been commemorated on.

If I can help anybody with identifying men whom they believe were in the Specials I will be pleased to do so.

Terry Reeves

Hi Terry,

My Grandfather John S Heaton was an early member of the Special Brigade and went right through the war with them. However, my Grandfather had the Mons Star - wasn't this before the formation of the Special Brigade ? IF that is the case, then which regiment was he in ???

He gets a mention in the book Chemical Soldiers by Donald Richter. We have all his medals and his Italian style armband. We also have a couple of concert programs and his watch which has a label attached which states "This watch was used by Sergeant John S. Heaton to start the gas attack which began the battle of Loos, 05.20hrs 25th Sept. 1915"

What may be of particular interest to you is that we have the last Special Brigade Newsletter (1980 I think) - obviously providing a few names and also a booklet listing all Northern Members of the Special Brigade in about 1926 - I'm not sure of the exact date, because my father has these. I could easily get any details if you are interested.

We also have at least half a dozen photos of a Special Brigade unit or units - presumably taken in France; they are certainly not studio photos. My Grandfather is on all of the pictures and since he never served with anyone else, I presume that they must be of the Special Brigade. We also have a couple of aerial battlefield photos, but of where, we have no idea.

If you are interested in any of the above, don't hesitate to get in touch. I could easily scan anything which might be of interest.

Best Wishes,

Andy Heaton

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Hi Terry,

I'd posted about this chap some time back, but I've since discovered some more details on him if you're interested:

Corporal (later Serjeant) 46382 Robert Newton, 1st Special Company RE. His gazette entry states he was from Selling (Kent) - this is incorrect, his address is given on the back of his MIC as Felling-on-Tyne in County Durham. He enlisted 2nd September 1914 and entered France on 11th September 1915, and was gazetted for the Military Medal on 21st October 1918.

He was discharged from Special Brigade Depot under paragraph 392XV1 due to sickness on 2nd April 1919, and for this he was awarded the SWB. I'm currently awaiting the service documents on Ancestry to be updated to see if his survived the Blitz.

I have found no mention of his MM award in the 1st Special Company war diary, at least from May 1918 onwards - if by any chance you happen to have further details on this I'd be very pleased to hear from you! Do you think it is possible he may have been seconded to another Special Brigade unit when he won his MM and thus wasn't mentioned in the 1st Special Company war diary?

Kind regards


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My father, George Oswald Mitchell (G.O.M.) was a pre-1914 'Terrier'. On the first day of the war, he was mobilised in Bradord in the 1/6th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment. After training in Yorkshire, this Battalion was engaged in front line action in and around the Neuve Chappelle sector and the Ypres salient in the spring and early summer of 1915. When the RE Special Companies were formed under Major Foulkes, my father was transferred to the gas base at Helfaut, becoming one of the first of the Comical Chemical Corporals. G.O.M. was in the front line for the massive British gas attack on the first day of the Battle of Loos, 25th September 1915. For the remaining three years of the war, he was involved in numerous gas attacks up and down the front line. He was promoted from Corporal to Sergeant and eventually commissioned as a 2nd/Lt. He must have been one of the few soldiers who saw active service from the very first day of the war through to - and beyone - the Armistice.

G.O.M. kept a trench diary from the day he landed in France to the battle of Loos and thereadter made a number of manuscript notes. When he died in 1969, I presented his diary and a number of other relevant documents and photographs to the Imperial War Museum. However, they have lost all the accompanying material. Fortunately, the diary survives and has been cited by Donald Richter in 'Chemical Soldiers', Philip Warmer in 'The Battle of Loos', Niall Cherry in 'Most Infavourable Ground' and Judith Cook in her biography of J B Priestley. I have used it as the basis for a book which will be published later this month (October 2008) - 'Shrapnel and Whizzbangs - A Tommy in the Trenches 1914-18'. This includes information about a numbers of the RE Special Companies (later, RE Special Brigade), especially 'M' Company, which was G.O.M.'s company. I expect you are far away in advance of me in identifying who was involved, but I will gladly provide any help I can.

Although I joined the Great War Forum some time ago and have learned a lot from various postings, I have not found it easy to manage the technology and the vast range of choices involved. I have tried to make postings before but don't seem to have succeeded. If you do get this, i would be grateful if you would copy any reply directly to my email address, jeremy.m@which.net. Thank you.

Jeremy Mitchell

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Jeremy (hoping you see this!)

I have used your father's excellent diary in the IWM and have pre-ordered 'Shrapnel and Whizzbangs' which I am very much looking forward to.



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I take it that you are the Simon Jones who used to be Director of the Royal Engineers Museum at Chatham - I have a copy of your excellent 'World War I Gas Warfare Tactics and Equipment' on my bookshelves. I am glad you have found my father's ms diary in the IWM useful. I look forward (with some trepidation, as I am no expert) to your reaction to my book. Thank you very much for responding.

Jeremy Mitchell

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In my post earlier today, I forgot to mention that in the back of my father's trench diary there is a ms 'Nominal Roll' of 'No.3 Training Coy. M Section', with a long list of names (with rank and army number). It is not dated. There is another unheaded list of names, with single digit numbers and some hieroglyphics alongside each name. Neither of these lists is digitised, but I could photocopy them for you.

Jeremy Mitchell

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Thank you! Although I must point out that I was never Director of the RE Museum, just Exhibitions Officer until 1993.



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have you seen the personal accounts of the Gas attack on the 25th Sept '15 at Loos which appears as an appendix to the History of the London Rifle Brigade 1859-1919? Four officers (CAPT. R. E. OTTER, Lieuts. F. D. Charles, F. H. Wallis and A. B. White) from the LRB were attached to the 189 company, Special Companies of the RE for training at Helflaut and were then put in charge of squads which were subsequently involved in the attacks on the 47th and 15th Divns' fronts . The accounts (too long to post on here, there are 9 sides) give a fairly detailed description of the attacks, the equipment used and its method of deployment.

If you haven't seen these accounts and would like a copy, I should be able to generate an OCR transcript (please PM me with your email address if you do)


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These are very good accounts and I am sure Terry has seen them (but not wishing to speak for him). Henry Williamson used these accounts, especially that of A B White, for his description of the experiences of a gas officer at Loos in 'A Fox Under My Cloak' and lifted whole sentences. In reality White was threatened with shooting if he didn’t release his gas which he omitted from his report to the LRB.


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  • 4 weeks later...


Jeremym (Jeremy Mitchell) who has contributed to this thread, has recently published 'Shrapnel and Whizzbangs - a Tommy in the Trenches 1914-18', which sounds like required reading for everyone with an interest in the RE Special Brigade. I will leave it to Jeremy to decide if he wishes to post his home contact details on the Forum, but I am sure he will delighted to receive enquires via Forum e-mail or pm. Here is a message from the author:

"Later this month, as part of the 90th commemoration of the Armistice, my book 'Shrapnel and Whizzbangs - a Tommy in the Trenches 1914-18' will be published. It is based on the trench diary and notes kept by my father, George Oswald Mitchell, who served from the very first day of the war through to - and beyond - the Armistice. In the spring and early summer of 1915 he was engaged (as a Private in the 1/6th West Yorkshires, a Territorial Battalion) in frontline action in the Neuve Chapelle and Ypres sectors. He was then transferred to the RE Special (gas) Brigade and took part in the massive gas attack on the first day of the Battle of Loos. For the remaining three years of the war, he was engaged in many other gas attacks at Cambrin, Neuve Chapelle, Hill 70, Plug Street and elsewhere, being promoted from Corporal to Sergeant. He was finally demobilised as a 2nd/Lt in 1919 and must have been one of the few soldiers who saw active service from the very first day of the war through to - and beyond - the Armistice.

My book is not a commercial venture. It is being published entirely at my own expense and will not recoup its costs even if the whole edition is sold out. I have written it as a tribute to my father and his comrades, those who survived the war and those who did not. The book contains original material and un-published photographs which I believe will be of interest to a number of GWF members.

Jeremy Mitchell

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Following your post, I would be glad to provide more information about Shrapnel and Whizzbangs - a Tommy in the Trenches 1914-18 if any member who is interested would like to email me at jeremy.m@which.net. Alternatively, the book has a dedicated website (built by Eddie Mitchell, my 12 year old Grandson - it's getting increasingly difficult to keep up with the young!) at .

Incidentally, the book includes an intriguing note on the royal family's links (or non-links) with gas warfare. Those who have read Donald Richter's marvellous account of the RE Special Companies and Special Brigade in Chemical Soldiers may remember his mention of the aftermath of the visit of King George V and the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII and,after his abdication, Duke of Windsor) to the RE Special Brigade gas base at Helfaut on 7 July 1917 . In the early 1930s, when Major-General Foulkes, who had been head of the RE Special Brigade, was preparing the manuscript of his book Gas! The Story of the Special Brigade for publication, Buckingham Palace refused him permission to publish any photographs of the royal family that associated them with gas warfare, including their attendance at gas demonstrations. The royal advisers considered that the use of gas was a 'nasty' form of warfare with which the royal family should not be associated. The outcome was that Foulkes had to leave out of his book all pictures of the visit, except one of King George V crossing a bridge over a trench, blandly captioned 'His Majesty at the front (attended by the Author)'. In fact, the photo was taken during the royal visit to the Helfaut base. There is no explicit mention of the visit in the text either, though there is a heavy hint on p.238, where Foulkes writes that '...the most important of all our demonstrations at Helfaut...' took place on 7 July 1917, without speciifying who exactly was there.

However, the Imperial War Museum has given me permission to print in Shrapnel and Whizzbangs a photograph, which so far as I am aware has never been published before, of King George V and the Prince of Wales on this visit, looking down into a demonstration gas trench at a soldier in a gas mask. Perhaps it is now felt that, after 90 years, the monarchy will no longer be undermined by being associated with gas warfare.

Jeremy Mitchell

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Hello Terry

I was very pleased to come across this forum via a 'Google' search!

I believe that my grandfather, James Norman Lovett, was a member of 2nd Special Coy, Royal Engineers. (Also references to 'B' Reserve Coy, Special Brigade.)

His number was 220233. His rank: Pioneer.

I was able to download his army record from the National Archives (about 15 documents). He enlisted on 25th November 1915 and appears to have been in the reserve until 5th January 1917. His occupation is described as 'Assistant Analytical Chemist' on his sign up papers, and on 8th January 1917 he was assigned to the Special Brigade.

I would be very interested to know more about his war record.

He survived the war - indeed I would not be here otherwise, as he didn't meet my grandmother until after the war!

I can recall him mentioning the trenches when I was very young and I seem to remember seeing a postcard sent from Ypres, but I'm not sure.

I will try to attach a relevant page from his record. (Only the medal cert is small enough - anyone can view other docs on Nation Achives website.)

I look forward to hearing from anyone who can shed further light on what life was like for him.



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Many thanks. Can you confirm the 2Lt Hardman is commemorated at Bury Grammar School?


Thanks also. I would be interested in his details when you get the opportunity.

Merry Christamas to you both

Terry Reeves

Hi Terry

I was delighted to find mention of R.T. Hardman in your post.

He is my great uncle and I am keen to find out all I can about him.

I do have some newspaper cuttings from when he was killed,kept by his parents.I could send you scans if you are interested.

One cutting refers to a letter from Captain Robertson to my grandfather which says,

"Your brother,while fully realising the danger of advancing with his guns and detachments in the great advance during the main attack on July 1 1916,nevertheless on the 107th Brigadier General's statement that it was most important that the guns should advance boldly,emerged from our trenches on the north-east edge of Thiepval Wood at the head of his detachment,notwithstanding heavy machine gun and other fire.

After proceeding some distance and finding that a bomb-carrying party detailed to carry his bombs had failed to advance and that three of his small party (including an officer) had become casualties,and that it was obviously useless to advance without the bombs,etc,he gave the order to retire.

Under a rain of machine gun bullets,however,he attempted to succour a wounded comrade{2nd Lieut,C. J. Sutton,R.F.A.} and in attempting to carry him back to our trenches was regrettably killed by machine gun fire.

Sergeant W. W. Potts risked his life to succour your brother and 2nd Lieut. C. J. Sutton by crawling out from our trenches to the spot where these two officers lay.

After ascertaining by careful observation that both were dead he returned to our trenches."

This is referred to on page 132 of Richter's "Chemical Soldiers."

R. T. Hardman attended Manchester University and gained a Batchelor of science{hons},Master of Science,and was a Fellow of the university.

He was wounded in a shell blast and apparently was given a white feather while at home recovering.He was killed shortly after his return to France.

Another newspaper clip states that he was mentioned in despatches for daring patrol work but I haven't been able to confirm this.

I would be most grateful if you or anyone reading this could shed any more light on this story.


Ben Hardman.

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Here are a details of a few men I believe to have served in the Special Companys of the Royal Engineers. They are all men who appear on memorials in the Calderdale area

Name: Louis Ackroyd

Regiment/Corps: 189th Field Company, Royal Engineers

Age: 24

Rank: Corporal 106514

Date Died: 3rd October 1915

Cemetery/Memorial: Mazingarbe Communal Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France

Details: He was the son of Mrs. M. J. Ackroyd, of 12, Rydal Terrace, Jeremy Lane, Heckmondwike, Yorks. Enlisted in July 1915 in the Chemist Corps and was sent to France after only 2 weeks where he was killed by a shell splinter. He was the Science Master at Rastrick Grammar School 1914-15 and had a BSc.

Memorials: Rastrick & Brighouse

Name: Horace Beevers

Regiment/Corps: 1st Special Company, Royal Engineers

Age: 31

Rank: Pioneer 214474

Date Died:23rd August 1917

Cemetery/Memorial: Ramscappelle Road Military Cemetery, Nieuwpoort,

Details: Lived in Newcastle where he was the director of Newcastle Hippodrome. Until 1912 he was a cooper in Brighouse for Airey & Blackburn. He was also a well known violinist. Killed by shellfire while sleeping. He is commemorated in Brighouse Cemetery

Memorial: Brighouse

Name: William George Stannard

Regiment: 1st Special Co, Royal Engineers

Age: 29

Rank: Pioneer 192832

Date Died: 10th July 1918

Cemetery: Le Vertannoy British Military Cemetery, Hinges, Pas de Calais

Details: He lived at 5 Raw Hill, Rastrick and was a member of the Foresters Friendly Society. He enlisted in August 1914 and was gassed and wounded in 1917. Killed by a shell fragment at night. He worked as a silkdresser for Wood Bros & Co, Thornhill Briggs.

Memorials: Rastrick & Brighouse.

My research is ongoing so I may come across others. I'll let you know when I do.




A very belated follow up to your post about William George Stannard. In the back of the trench diary kept by my father, George Oswald Mitchell, who was a Corporal, then Sergeant, in the RE Special Companies and Brigade, there is an undated manuscript list of names under the heading 'No.3. Training Coy. M Section Nominal Roll'. One of the names is Pioneer W.G.Stannard. There are two sets of numbers next to his name, which may or may not be his current or previous army numbers, but neither set corresponds to the number you cite.

Jeremym (Jeremy Mitchell)

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Hello there

I have just found this forum while I was trying to learn about the role of the special brigade of the Royal Engineers. My grandad's cousin was Private Wilfred Brewis born Gateshead and he enlisted at Inverness in January 1916. He was a school teacher in Kingussie and may have taught chemistry as he held a pharmaceutical society certificate as a chemist and druggist, had a silver medal in botany from the Westminster College of Pharmacy and a certificate in malaria, chemistry and dispensing. His attestation papers are noted on 14th Feb 1917 that his qualifications would appear to make a posting to the Special Brigade suitable. Does he appear in your records. Wilfred survived the war and returned to Kingussie school.


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  • 2 weeks later...

I visited the National Archives at Kew on Monday this week. Looked through the war diary of No. 2 Special Company. Tried to trace the movements of this company. Would welcome any comments from others:

James Norman Lovett - DoB 10th August 1894

32 Oak Road, Salford, Lancashire.

No. 2 Special Company Royal Engineers

Army No. 220233

25/11/15 enlists, age 21 years 3 months

25/11/15 to Army Reserve

5/1/17 Mobilised, service reckons from.

17/2/17 arrives France

No. 2 Special Company - Estrée Cauchie(y) (Pas-de-Calais)

8/4/17 joins No 2 Special Company

17/4 Verquioneul (62400 Béthune, Pas-de-Calais)

18/4 Sailly Labourse (62113 France)

17/5 Nieppe

3/6/17 sick neurasthenia (i.e. 'shell shock'), admitted to No 77 Field Ambulance

(8/6 - "2 Lt C. P. Lewis killed & 15 o/r wounded")

9/6/17 - note in diary for 77 Field Ambulance (where James was hospitalised): "Attack on Messines Ridge started at 3.10am on morning of 7th. Since that hour 187 officers and 4822 o/r passed through this CMDS."

23/6/17 rejoins unit from hospital

26/6 Eikhoek (8690, Alveringum, Belgium)

5/7/1917 - "G Section carried out before Her Majesty the Queen a further demonstration at Helfaut." (62570)

7/7/1917 … and before the King!

July 1917 - Mention of St Julien

20/21 Aug - Zillebeke

22/9/17 - Company moved to Helfaut (France) for rest, training & reorganisation, billeted at Bilques (62570 France)

15/9 (10?) - Poperinghe (1/11 - mention of Poelcappelle)

5/11 - Forthem (2nd Belgiun Div area)

26/11 - Company move to billets in Heuringhem

12/12 - Grand Bois

1-31/1/1918 - Training at Helfaut - cylinder work, digging and camouflage.

1-28/2/1918 - Training at Helfaut

(16/2/18 – 2/3/18 James on leave to UK)

1-12/3 Training at Helfaut

13/3 - 'Shovel Camp (sheet 28 T13 d 1.4) with 'A' Company 30th US Engineers

31/3 - Company move to Weal Camp (sheet 28 T13 d 1.3)

4/4 - Company moved to Vauxhall Camp (sheet 28 S18 d 3.0)

11/4 - Company moved to Neuve Eglise (67220 France)

12/4/18 James admitted hospital

14/4 - Gode?

19/4 - Hazebrouck (sheet 27 SE W 15 d 1.4)

3/8 - Pont de Metz

14/8 - "A tank was placed at the disposal of the section in the line."

23/8 - Ruitz (62620, France)

1/9/18 James admitted hospital

5/9 - 2 officers + 71 o/r admitted to hospital wounded (gas)

7/9/18 rejoins unit

10/9 - Arras

17/9 - 2 officers + 50 o/r No. 4 Coy - temp attachment (? to cover for wounded of 5/9?)

note: strength of company 1/9/18 = 20 officers, 251 o/r

30/9/18 = 18 officers, 177 o/r

26/10 - Somain

28/11 - Tolloy?

1-31/12 - Demobilization commenced

12/12 - Warlaung

9/1/19 - Lallaing

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He almost certainly enlisted under the Derby Scheme and had his service deferred, possibly because of his profession. No 2 Company was equipped with 4 inch Stokes Mortars. Helfaut was the the Special Brigade Depot, about three miles south of St Omer. The depot HQ was in the mairie and adjoining schoolhouse, both of which still stand. Helfaut Common was the technical area for new recruits and also the sort of demonstrations mentioned. The SB also carried out experiments with equipment there. The July and August entries for 1917 are for the Third Battle of Ypres or Passchendaele.


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