1st London Field Company Royal Engineers

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1st London Field Company, RE
509th (London) Field Company, RE
RoyalEngineersGeorgeV.jpg
A Great War era cap badge of the Royal Engineers with the crown & cypher of George V
Active 1908–1919
Country  United Kingdom
Branch Flag of the British Army.svg Territorial Force
Type Field engineers
Size Company
Part of 1st London Division
6th Division
Garrison/HQ Bethnal Green
Engagements

World War I:

The 1st London Field Company, Royal Engineers (Territorial Force) was a Territorial engineer unit of the British Army active during World War I. Formed in 1908, it was based in Bethnal Green in East London.

Origin[edit]

When the former Volunteer Force was subsumed into the Territorial Force in 1908 under the Haldane Reforms, the East London (Tower Hamlets) Royal Engineers (Volunteers) became the divisional engineers for the TF's 1st London Division, forming the 1st London Field Company and 2nd London Field Company as well as the Divisional Signals Company.[1][2][3][4] All three sub-units were based at the drill hall at Victoria Park Square, Bethnal Green, that the East London Engineers had built in 1896.[5][6]

World War I[edit]

Mobilisation[edit]

The 1st London Division left by railway from Waterloo Station on Sunday 2 August 1914 for its annual training camp, which was to be held at Wareham, Dorset. No sooner had it reached camp than it received orders to return to London for mobilisation. This process had been carefully planned, so that before war was declared on 4 August the units were already at their war stations, such as guarding vital railway lines, while the rear details at the drill halls completed mobilisation and began recruiting.[7][8][9][10]

On 15 August the TF was ordered to separate men who had volunteered for overseas service from the Home Service men, and on 31 August it was authorised to begin forming Reserve or 2nd Line units composed of Home Service men and recruits. These were distinguished by the prefix '2/', so that the 1st London Field Company became the 1/1st, and its second line was the 2/1st London Field Company in 2/1st London Division. Later, the 2nd Line were made ready for overseas service and new Reserve or 3rd Line units were formed to continue to process of training.[4][11][12] The 1st London Reserve Field Company was later numbered 516th Company before being absorbed into the central training organisation.[13]

During the autumn of 1914, 1st London Division was progressively broken up to provide reinforcements for formations serving overseas. 1/1st London Field Company joined the Regular 6th Division in France on 23 December 1914 and remained with that formation throughout the war. When RE field companies were renumbered on 1 February 1917 it became 509th (London) Field Company.[14][15][16]

6th Division[edit]

6th Division served on the Western Front throughout World War I, taking part in the following operations:[16]

On 9 August 1915 the 6th Division attacked and recaptured the chateau at Hooge. Number 4 Section of the company joined in the attack alongside the 2nd Battalion Durham Light Infantry, and the company suffered its highest casualties in a single day.[17] The work of the company in fortifying the newly captured position with barbed wire received special mention in the report by GHQ.[18] Sapper Berry received the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions in the attack.[17]

By February 1918 the 6th Division was manning the Lagnicourt Sector and was there on 22 March when the Germans launched their Spring Offensive which drove the division back and caused 3,900 casualties out of its 5000 infantry. The divisional history records that 'The field companies suffered heavily, and rendered good service as infantry'. The company war diary for March 1918 stops after the 20th.

In November 1918 its commanding officer was Major H. G. Bambridge, M.C., R.E.(S.).

The Territorials were demobilised in 1919.

Last survivor[edit]

In August 2002 William Burnett, probably the last surviving member of the company, was awarded the French Legion of Honour.[19]

2/1st London Field Company[edit]

See main article 58th Divisional Engineers

2/1st London Field Company served at home with the 2/1st London Division (now numbered the 58th (2/1st London) Division) until February 1916, when the 58th Divisional Engineers left to join 1st London Division (by now numbered 56th (1/1st London) Division), which was reforming in France. It served with that formation for the remainder of the war. From February 1917 it was numbered 512th (London) Field Company.[12][14][15]

Later history[edit]

See main article Tower Hamlets Engineers

56th (London) Division reformed in 1920 as part of the reorganised Territorial Army (TA). The field companies of the Divisional Engineers were all labelled (1st London), the senior being numbered 216th.[1][4][20]

In 1935 the two London divisions were merged into a single formation, and 56th Divisional Engineers became surplus. It was converted into a Corps Troops RE unit (originally 56th CTRE, later 1st London CTRE) at Bethnal Green. On the outbreak of war in 1939,1st London CTRE's companies were dispersed and assigned to other HQs. 216th (1st London) Field Company joined General Headquarters (GHQ) with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France.[21][22] After the Dunkirk evacuation, it went to the Middle East with III CTRE, which was disbanded in April 1942.[21]

When the TA was reconstituted in 1947, the former 56th Divisional Engineers was reformed at Bethnal Green as 114 (1st London) Army Engineer Regiment with 216–8 Field Squadrons and 219 Field Park Squadron. In 1956 it was redesignated as a Field Engineer Regiment, and again in 1961 as a Corps Engineer Regiment, when 216 Sqn was disbanded.[1][4][23]

Memorials[edit]

There are several memorial plaques to members of the East London Engineers in the church of St John on Bethnal Green, close to the former drill hall in Victoria Square. One is a brass plate dedicated to the 675 officers, NCOs and men of the 1st London Divisional Engineers who died in World War I.[24]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c 1st London Engineers at Regiments.org
  2. ^ Westlake, pp. 11 & 14.
  3. ^ London Gazette, 20 March 1908.
  4. ^ a b c d Corps of Royal Engineers at Stepping Forward.
  5. ^ Victoria County History at British History Online.
  6. ^ Bethnal Green Drill Hall at Stepping Forward
  7. ^ Grey, pp. 1–6.
  8. ^ Grimwade, pp. 2–5.
  9. ^ Keeson, pp. 1–4.
  10. ^ London Rgt at Long, Long Trail
  11. ^ Becke, Pt 2b, p. 6.
  12. ^ a b Becke, Pt 2b, pp. 9–15.
  13. ^ Discussion of RE TF units at Great War Forum.
  14. ^ a b Rinaldi, World War I.
  15. ^ a b Becke, Pt 2a, pp. 141–7.
  16. ^ a b Becke, Pt 1, pp. 73–9.
  17. ^ a b War Diary of 509th Field Company, The National Archives, London.
  18. ^ https://www.gutenberg.org/etext/20115 A Short History of the 6th Division
  19. ^ http://www.ambafrance-au.org/spip.php?article425 Award of Legion of Honour to William Burnett
  20. ^ Titles and Designations.
  21. ^ a b Rinaldi, World War II.
  22. ^ Pakenham-Walsh, Vol VIII, pp 23–4.
  23. ^ 80–177 RE Rgts at British Army 1945 on.
  24. ^ UK War Memorial Register No 56594.

References[edit]

  • Maj A.F. Becke,History of the Great War: Order of Battle of Divisions, Part 1: The Regular British Divisions, London: HM Stationery Office, 1934/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2007, ISBN 1-84734-738-X.
  • Maj A.F. Becke,History of the Great War: Order of Battle of Divisions, Part 2a: The Territorial Force Mounted Divisions and the 1st-Line Territorial Force Divisions (42–56), London: HM Stationery Office, 1935/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2007, ISBN 1-84734-739-8.
  • Maj A.F. Becke,History of the Great War: Order of Battle of Divisions, Part 2b: The 2nd-Line Territorial Force Divisions (57th–69th), with the Home-Service Divisions (71st–73rd) and 74th and 75th Divisions, London: HM Stationery Office, 1937/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2007, ISBN 1-84734-739-8.
  • Maj W.E. Grey, 2nd City of London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) in the Great War 1914–19, London: Regimental Headquarters, 1929//Uckfield, Naval & Military Press, 2002, ISBN 978-1-84342-369-0.
  • Capt F. Clive Grimwade, The War History of the 4th Battalion The London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) 1914–1919, London: Regimental Headquarters, 1922/Uckfield, Naval & Military Press, 2002, ISBN 978-1-84342-363-8.
  • Maj C.A. Cuthbert Keeson, The History and Records of Queen Victoria's Rifles 1792–1922, London: Constable, 1923/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2002, ISBN 978-1-84342-217-4.
  • Maj-Gen R.P. Pakenham-Walsh, History of the Royal Engineers, Vol VIII, 1938–1948, Chatham: Institution of Royal Engineers, 1958.
  • Titles and Designations of Formations and Units of the Territorial Army, London: War Office, 7 November 1927.
  • R.A. Westlake, Royal Engineers (Volunteers) 1859–1908, Wembley: R.A. Westlake, 1983, ISBN 0-9508530-0-3.

External sources[edit]