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Remembered Today:

Canal boat units


dutchbarge
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Hello, I've been wondering if anyone has information about the inland navy units who sailed canal boats on the waterways of Europe. Cheers, Bill

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Are you sure they existed? Someone on the European WW1 living history forum asked if the RN operated barges in Europe on the inland waterways after I posted up some photos of an event at the Black Country Museum, showing some narrow boats, and apparently it was the Royal Engineers that operated them. Also, see here;

http://www.remuseum.org.uk/rem_his_special.htm#trans

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I've seen shoulder titles to the 'Inland Water Transport' and have also seen many, many period photos of all branches of the service using barges for various purposes, including billets, hospital, transport, etc. My wife and I owned and cruised a 1910 Dutch tjalk (barge) for many years before selling it in 2006. We couldn't afford the new Euro! We motored thru all the WF and got, I think a unique perspective doing it on an antique boat. The Canal St. Quentin and it 5KM long tunnel was especially interesting as it was used as a redoubt on the Hindenburg Line. We (as all boats) were pulled thru by a pre-Great War vintage electric tug and with our searchlight were able to inspect all the German signage, and 'improvements' made to the tunnel during their occupation. Further south Roanne was a major munitions logistical center from which barges hauled shells to the front. St. John de Losne was another. I've seen and read snippets about using barges for war purposes but have yet to come across any history or memoir specifically about this fascinating topic. Thanks for you link! Cheers, Bill

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Hi Bill,

I've spent a little time on Dutch barges around the UK and can appreciate what a fascinating journey that must have been.

The RE wore a brass 'IWT' title. This fella appears on one of my local memorials.

cheers, Jon

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In the early part of the war, British and French naval gunners manned small naval guns mounted on so-called 'horse boats' on the Yser. The operations had little more than nuisance value and were discontinued in favour of mounting larger naval guns in concrete emplacements when concern grew that German retaliation might seriously damage the river/canal banks and installations.

Mick

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Barges (not narrow boats) were used both for transport (including troops) and as hospitals on a number of waterways by the French, British and Americans - initially all US medical supples were shipped from the ports by barge. Typically three barges were towed by a tug (usually steam but sometimes diesel). The mode of operation varied between countries (British barges were towed, French were pushed). British operations typically had three barges under the command of a RE Sergeant but the barges themselves could have all sorts of units involved (especially hospital ones) and the tugs often had their own crew (which might be French civilians)

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Bill

I can confirm some of what centurion says. Amongst my books is one by a nurse who served on the barges. Off hand I cannot remember the title and it isn't at hand just now. I'll try and look it out and let you have details.

Garth

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Enclosed - a barge ward. I have read that the hospital barges carried their own cook (sometimes civilian) who often produced food (for those able to eat) far superior to that provided in the hospitals.

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I can tell you that one of the Old Boys from my school was appointed to run Inland Waterways very early on in the war - Brigadier General Holland. I shall try and hunt out his obit and details when I have five minutes - only returned to base after a very lengthy time away yesterday.

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Hello, I've been wondering if anyone has information about the inland navy units who sailed canal boats on the waterways of Europe. Cheers, Bill

The Newfoundland Government was asked in late 1917 to raise a company of men for service with and inland waterways unit operated by the Royal Engineeres for service in England. There is not much in the Provincial archives on the request but it was apparently turned down by the colony as they were having trouble keeping their regiment and Forestry Company up to strength.

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One of the problems was that there was constant pressure for IWU men from the Mespot theatre where water born transport played a much more important strategic role (adequate rail and road not being available). Some of the vessels used in that theatre were indeed armed. Field Marshal Slim (then a junior officer) describes his unit being stuck on steel barges on the river above Basra for several days waiting for a tug to become available (and in 50 C heat that cannot have been a comfortable experience).

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