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Remembered Today:

Terry_Reeves

Royal Engineers Special Brigade

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Andy Heaton
Hi Terry, Andy

I am struck by your grandfather's number, Andy, 106528, as my grandfather's number was 106515 - only 13 apart (if that is meaningful). I also note Terry's comment about your one, "Your grandfather's number is one of those issued to the original specials and therefore 188 Company would be about right. He probably enlisted in July of 1915."

Terry - does my granddad thus, with 106515, fall into this category of "original specials" ? I know he entered France 17 August 1915, but do not have an enlistment date. I do not know if he went straight to M Special Company or whether he was with any of the numbered companies first.

Cheers again for a very interesting thread

Graham

Hi Graham,

If you look at this website http://www.1914-1918.net/specialcoyre.htm it states that . . . . . . .

'Special Companies of technically skilled men, under Major C.H. Foulkes of the Royal Engineers, were formed with a Depot at Helfaut, to deal with the new weapon. Nos 186 and 187 Special Companies were formed first, in July 1915, followed by 188 and 189 Companies in August. All of the men were given the rank of Chemist Corporal. On 4 September 1915 the first two Companies, totalling 34 Sections of 28 men, were assigned to First Army for forthcoming operations'

Hope that helps,

Regards,

Andy

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jeremym
No help I am afraid but just a comment on the way they are wearing the revolvers, sort of slung above the .303 ammo pouch (seen in 145 and 146 posts). I have never seen this worn like this. Was this a common occurrence for other ranks to wear the revolver holster like this? I assume they are carrying revolvers as well as rifles due to the duties of their job. However this seems a little strange they would all be issued rifles and revolvers. Did this continue throughout the war for members of the RE special Brigade?

Any comments?

Regards

Arm

Arm

When the RE Special (gas) companies were formed in July 1915, a decision was taken to issue the corporals (the lowest rank at that time) with revolvers instead of rifles. According to Donald Richter in Chemical Soldiers, there were two reasons for this. First, the revolvers reinforced their auuthority as corporals when they had to give orders to the infantry and they would not need rifles as they would not be advancing beyond the front line, and second, rifles would be a big handicap when they were manhandling heavy gas cylinders and other equipment into position up the communications trenches and in the specially dug launching emplacements.

jeremym

(Jeremy Mitchell)

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Andy Heaton
Andy

According to the nots kept by my father, George Oswald Mitchell (G.O.M.), who was a Sergeant in 'M' Special Company RE, he took part in gas assaults at La Becque, near Vieux Berquin, on 27 June and 24 July 1918. This was one of the most westerly points reached by the German spring 1918 assault in the British sector between Ypres and Bethune (see map on p.xii of Shrapnel and Whizzbangs).

jeremym

(Jeremy Mitchell)

Hi Jeremy,

I've 3 photos of that area (I've only posted one on this forum) dated 16th May, 17th May & 21st May 1918.

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Andy Heaton
Arm

When the RE Special (gas) companies were formed in July 1915, a decision was taken to issue the corporals (the lowest rank at that time) with revolvers instead of rifles. According to Donald Richter in Chemical Soldiers, there were two reasons for this. First, the revolvers reinforced their auuthority as corporals when they had to give orders to the infantry and they would not need rifles as they would not be advancing beyond the front line, and second, rifles would be a big handicap when they were manhandling heavy gas cylinders and other equipment into position up the communications trenches and in the specially dug launching emplacements.

jeremym

(Jeremy Mitchell)

Hi Jeremy,

On posting 146 on this forum, it does look as if my Grandfather is holding a rifle.

Regards,

Andy

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China Hand
Hi Graham,

I remember my Grandfather mentioning that before he left for France, he was stationed at Chatham and that on one or more occasions, they slept in the dungeons at Dover Castle.

I know very little about all this, but on my Grandfather's medal index card, it states that he entered France on 17th August, 1915 - as was the case with your Grandfather.

My Grandfather went from 188 into 'L' Company; it is difficult to see how the situation could have differed for your own Grandfather ?

Thanks Andy, that's interesting. I have very little on my granddad - he died in 1959, three years before I was born, my family recalls little, and I have no paperwork :(

Hence the snippets I am have been gathering from the M Spec Coy War Diary (looked at some years ago), and now this thread and Jeremy Mitchell's book (which I now have, thanks, Jeremy :) - it's very good indeed), are all very helpful !

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China Hand
Hi Graham,

If you look at this website http://www.1914-1918.net/specialcoyre.htm it states that . . . . . . .

'Special Companies of technically skilled men, under Major C.H. Foulkes of the Royal Engineers, were formed with a Depot at Helfaut, to deal with the new weapon. Nos 186 and 187 Special Companies were formed first, in July 1915, followed by 188 and 189 Companies in August. All of the men were given the rank of Chemist Corporal. On 4 September 1915 the first two Companies, totalling 34 Sections of 28 men, were assigned to First Army for forthcoming operations'

Hope that helps,

Regards,

Andy

Hi, thanks again for that. I have not looked at War Diary for 188 Coy, maybe worth doing so next time I am at Kew !

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SiegeGunner
And here is another Special Brigade photo.

My Grandfather (on far right) is a Corporal on this photo, but on later images, he is a Sergeant

I don't imagine there were many Anglo-Indians in the Special Brigade, and wonder whether the man on the left in this photo might be this chap - http://www.berr.gov.uk/aboutus/corporate/h.../page29380.html

Mick

post-11021-1244504936.jpg

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Simon Jones

Andy

Great photos!

I used the photo in post 144 in an article that I wrote in about 1988 that appeared in Military Illustrated. There is a copy of this photo in the RE Museum which identifies it as 21st Section, 188 Company. I don’t know if I ever identified the officer.

post-1722-1244540759.jpg

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Andy Heaton

Amongst my Grandfather's things is this Epaulette, How or why he should have had it, I really don't know.

Could it be from a German uniform ?

post-38547-1244574894.jpg

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Andy Heaton

My Grandfather's Special Brigade Armband

post-38547-1244575410.jpg

My Grandfather's Special Brigade dog tags.

post-38547-1244575538.jpg

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Andy Heaton

This is the sort of thing that many soldiers would pick up as a kind of souvenir I guess.

post-38547-1244575651.jpg

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Andy Heaton

post-38547-1244576300.jpg

An early sort of pocket knife, used to cut 'bully beef'.

Hard to believe that the knife can fit into this . . . . . . .

post-38547-1244576324.jpg

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Andy Heaton

My Grandfather's medals arrived like this . . . . . . .

post-38547-1244576968.jpg

. . . . . . . In boxes like these.

He never wore his medals and they have been out of their boxes on only a handful of occasions; I don't suppose that there are many medals that still have the original wrapping.

post-38547-1244577144.jpg

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Andy Heaton

Last week, I knew only that my Grandfather was in the Special Brigade.

I now know that his number was 106528; he started with 188 Company and later was in L Company, thanks to the Christmas card, I know that he was also in No. 3 Special Battalion. Anyone know anything about them ?

I'd be interested to know Terry, if you think that the group photos that I posted earlier could be of No. 3 Special Battalion ???

post-38547-1244577272.jpg post-38547-1244577311.jpg

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Andy Heaton

And here is a Christmas card for 1917 . . . . . . .

post-38547-1244578934.jpg post-38547-1244578950.jpg

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SFayers

Hi Andy,

Glad to see you've made a lot of progress! I'd looked up your grandfather's quote - but then noticed you'd already found it! That's a fantastic collection by the way.

If I remember correctly the 'lettered' Special companies were consecutively grouped into Special Battalions (1 to 4; No. 5 Special Battalion comprised the 'numbered' companies operating mortars). I think L Special Company came under No. 3 Special Battalion (that's off the top of my head though - hopefully Terry can confirm).

Note: Your group photos of the men standing on the steps of what looks like some municipal building or chateaux seem to be taken during 1918 or shortly thereafter, as many of the men appear to be wearing what look to me like overseas service chevrons on their cuffs (4 blue-coloured chevrons, for example, denoting 4 years of overseas service for men having gone to France in 1915). If this is the case, unless your grandfather transferred again, these photos are likely to be of men from L Special Company, No. 3 Special Battalion.

cheers

Steve

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Tom W.
Amongst my Grandfather's things is this Epaulette, How or why he should have had it, I really don't know.

Could it be from a German uniform ?

It's from German Infantry Regiment No. 102, a pre-1915 strap. I wonder if it's from a prisoner or a casualty?

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Andy Heaton
It's from German Infantry Regiment No. 102, a pre-1915 strap. I wonder if it's from a prisoner or a casualty?

How on earth do you know such details as that ?

I'm sure that you'll be right. Thing is, my Grandfather joined up in August 1915, so I wonder how he came by it ???

Thank you for taking the trouble to reply !

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Tom W.

Andy, the white infantry piping was abolished as a wartime austerity measure in January of 1915. The new straps were known as simplified (vereinfachte). However, shoulder straps manufactured before then were worn throughout the war.

On September 21, 1915, All-Highest Cabinet Order (Allerhöchste Kabinetts-Ordre or AKO) No. 735 introduced much simpler uniforms, including the M1915 Blouse (Bluse). Many uniform details were simplified in order to ease and speed manufacturing, save material, and make it harder for the enemy to identify the unit of a captured or dead soldier.

However, the M1915 uniform was never universally adopted, and soldiers continued to wear the elaborate M1910 uniform with all its fancy decorations as well as the simplified uniform ordered in March of 1915.

In this photo of flamethrower pioneers taken in late 1917, the man standing on the left has the textbook M1915 uniform, the NCO has the simplified uniform of March 1915, the next two have the M1915, and the man on the right the M1910 with the old, long Guard lace (Litzen) on his collar. The man sitting on the left in front has the M1915 uniform with March 1915 Guard lace on the collar, while the man sitting second from left has the M1910 uniform with the Guard lace of September 1915 on his collar. Both of these combinations are entirely wrong and against regulations, but there you go. The final two men sitting second from right and right wear the M1910 uniform with black M1915 shoulder straps and March 1915 Guard lace.

As a final example of weirdness, the NCO with the walking stick has the death's head sleeve badge but lacks Guard lace on his collar, something I've never seen before. Germans have the reputation of being by-the-book sticklers, but photos show otherwise.

post-7020-1244724639.jpg

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jeremym
Hi Graham,

If you look at this website http://www.1914-1918.net/specialcoyre.htm it states that . . . . . . .

'Special Companies of technically skilled men, under Major C.H. Foulkes of the Royal Engineers, were formed with a Depot at Helfaut, to deal with the new weapon. Nos 186 and 187 Special Companies were formed first, in July 1915, followed by 188 and 189 Companies in August. All of the men were given the rank of Chemist Corporal. On 4 September 1915 the first two Companies, totalling 34 Sections of 28 men, were assigned to First Army for forthcoming operations'

Hope that helps,

Regards,

Andy

Graham and Andy

I can confirm this from the experience of my father, George Oswald Mitchell (G.O.M.). He was transferred from the 1/6th Battalion West Yorkshires, joining No 2 Section of 186 Special Company RE on Friday, 16 July, 1915. On 3 September, he was transferred to No 28 Section of 188 Special Company RE on the first formation of the special companies. When the Special Brigade was constituted early in 1916, each of the existing special companies (186-189) became the nucleus of a battalion. The numbered battalions (1-4) each had four lettered companies. For example, G.O.M.'s 'M' Company was in the 3rd Battalion. Just to confuse matters further, in February 1916 a new, 5th Battalion was formed, with numbered companies (1-4). You probably know all this already, but I thought I would set out the sequence of events.

jeremym

(Jeremy Mitchell)

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jeremym

Andy

Marvellous photographs - thank you. It's the first time I have ever seen a picture of the Neapolitan ice cream coloured arm brassards. The group photographs are much more likely to be of a company, not a battalion. In any event, the battalion structure in the RE Special Brigade soon faded and the company was the important operational unit.

Incidentally, I still think that the most likely candidate for the house is Foulkes HQ at Helfault, though unless someone else comes up with some evidence, we may never know.

jeremym

(Jeremy Mitchell)

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mick lowry
Andy

Marvellous photographs - thank you. It's the first time I have ever seen a picture of the Neapolitan ice cream coloured arm brassards. The group photographs are much more likely to be of a company, not a battalion. In any event, the battalion structure in the RE Special Brigade soon faded and the company was the important operational unit.

Incidentally, I still think that the most likely candidate for the house is Foulkes HQ at Helfault, though unless someone else comes up with some evidence, we may never know.

jeremym

(Jeremy Mitchell)

Hi Jeremy

Did you see my post No. 124 re Pioneer George Dawson.

I would be most grateful if you are able to fill in any of the blanks. I have ordered a copy of Shrapnel and Whizzbangs and look forward in anticipation

to receiving it very shortly.

I believe George took part in the Trench raid 27/28 June 1916 with the 1/19 London Regt. He died during 28/6 and is buried at Bully-Grenay cemetery.

I am waiting to hear from Charles Fair as i understand he has a very detailed account of the raid.

Many thanks

Mick

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jeremym
Hi Jeremy

Did you see my post No. 124 re Pioneer George Dawson.

I would be most grateful if you are able to fill in any of the blanks. I have ordered a copy of Shrapnel and Whizzbangs and look forward in anticipation

to receiving it very shortly.

I believe George took part in the Trench raid 27/28 June 1916 with the 1/19 London Regt. He died during 28/6 and is buried at Bully-Grenay cemetery.

I am waiting to hear from Charles Fair as i understand he has a very detailed account of the raid.

Many thanks

Mick

Mick

Thank you for ordering a copy of Shrapnel and Whizzbangs. I hope you enjoy it - though I am not sure 'enjoy' is quite the right word.

I have been away, so I missed your post 124. I don't think I have any specific information, but here goes - apologies if you know all this stuff already. George Dawson joined the Special Brigade at a time of major reorganisation and expansion. Foulkes had decided to change the policy of the lowest rank being corporal and most newcomers at this time (early 1916) were ranked pioneer. You say he joined 'No 4 Special Brigade'. However, owing to the confused labelling of Special Brigade units, this is ambiguous. It could have been No.4 Battalion, which consisted of N,O,P and Q Companies, or it could have been No.4 Company, which was part of the new 5th Mortar Battalion.

After intensive training and being issued for the first time with steel helmets, much of the Special Brigade moved up to the Somme in preparation for the big offensive. However, instead of the mass synchronised gas discharge just before zero hour, as had happened on the first day of the Battle of Loos on 25 September 1915, it was left to divisional commanders to decide when the gas should be released during the days preceding the infantry assault on 1 July 1916. The results were chaotic, unsatisfactory and ineffective. There is a very good account in Donald Richter's Chemical Soldiers, including the following (pp 130-131) - 'In reporting the gas releases of the pre-Somme bombardment, the war diaries of all five gas battalions show days and nights of feverish and concentrated activity, punctuated by shrapnel injuries, shattered emplacements, gas-related accidents, and so on....the gas equipment still performed imperfectly. Gas leaked from piping joints. Contrary wind eddies blew gas back into British trenches. Enemy shells and shell fragments ruptured gas pipes.'

From the timing and nature of George Dawson's injuries, I wonder whether he was involved in all this.

Incidentally, I don't think that he Special Brigade was ever in action at Verdun.

jeremym

(Jeremy Mitchell)

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jeremym
Hi Jeremy,

On posting 146 on this forum, it does look as if my Grandfather is holding a rifle.

Regards,

Andy

Andy

I have discovered that my earlier post on revolvers and rifles was too simplistic. Donald Richter in Chemical Soldiers (p.113) has the following:- 'Initially, Foulkes had armed all the original chemists with revolvers, partly because he thought rifles might impede the movements of the gas workers in the cramped trenches and partly because rifles were associated with assault troops of low rank. There were, however, several exceptions. Transfers from infantry units had commonly brought their rifles with them and retained them. In addition, a large number of corporals had acquired unauuthorized rifles scattered on the Loos battlefield. Soldiers on front-line guard duty, whether infantry or chemist, required rifles as well. Since the gas men in the mortar companies might be expected to advance with the infantry, Foulkes judged the riifle to be a more appropriate weapon in their case, and men in these companies traded in their revolvers for rifles. With these exceptions, all men in the cylinder companies retained the revolver, a questionable decision which Foulkes was to reverse in 1918.'

In the Spring of 1918, many of the Special Brigade units fought as infantry in resisting the great German offensive.

jeremym

(Jeremy Mitchell)

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mick lowry

:D

Mick

Thank you for ordering a copy of Shrapnel and Whizzbangs. I hope you enjoy it - though I am not sure 'enjoy' is quite the right word.

I have been away, so I missed your post 124. I don't think I have any specific information, but here goes - apologies if you know all this stuff already. George Dawson joined the Special Brigade at a time of major reorganisation and expansion. Foulkes had decided to change the policy of the lowest rank being corporal and most newcomers at this time (early 1916) were ranked pioneer. You say he joined 'No 4 Special Brigade'. However, owing to the confused labelling of Special Brigade units, this is ambiguous. It could have been No.4 Battalion, which consisted of N,O,P and Q Companies, or it could have been No.4 Company, which was part of the new 5th Mortar Battalion.

After intensive training and being issued for the first time with steel helmets, much of the Special Brigade moved up to the Somme in preparation for the big offensive. However, instead of the mass synchronised gas discharge just before zero hour, as had happened on the first day of the Battle of Loos on 25 September 1915, it was left to divisional commanders to decide when the gas should be released during the days preceding the infantry assault on 1 July 1916. The results were chaotic, unsatisfactory and ineffective. There is a very good account in Donald Richter's Chemical Soldiers, including the following (pp 130-131) - 'In reporting the gas releases of the pre-Somme bombardment, the war diaries of all five gas battalions show days and nights of feverish and concentrated activity, punctuated by shrapnel injuries, shattered emplacements, gas-related accidents, and so on....the gas equipment still performed imperfectly. Gas leaked from piping joints. Contrary wind eddies blew gas back into British trenches. Enemy shells and shell fragments ruptured gas pipes.'

From the timing and nature of George Dawson's injuries, I wonder whether he was involved in all this.

Incidentally, I don't think that he Special Brigade was ever in action at Verdun.

jeremym

(Jeremy Mitchell)

Jeremy

Thankyou for your response to my query, i am most grateful for your information.

I am looking forward to reading your book and i have also requested a copy of " Chemical Soldiers " from my local library.

Regards

Mick

:D

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