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mordac

48th Battalion, CEF (3rd Pioneer Battalion)

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Hi All:

Was there any official history written for the 48th Battalion, CEF (3rd Pioneer Battalion)? I've read the online NA war diary for the 3rd Pioneer Battalion, now I'm looking for other points of view on the following questions:

1) Why was the 48th Bn. converted to the 3rd Pioneer Bn.?

2) Why was the 3rd Pioneer Bn. disbanded in 1917?

Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.

Garth

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Garth, as Jack Bates will tell you, there is no official history of the 48th/3rd. As Jack's dad Alfred Arthur (18 year old 48th enlistee, ex-50th Gordons) served with my grandad in 3rd and then 29th, we are loosely collaborating.

1. "After its arrival in England the 48th Infantry Battalion was redesignated as the 3rd Pioneer Battalion (48th Canadians) authorized under General Order 69 of July 1916, assigned as the Pioneer Battalion of the 3rd Canadian Division." The 48th arrived in England in July 1915, and provided drafts to other units, as I recall. Jack might be able to tell us more, but something I've read indicated the excellent physical condition of the 48th made them an ideal candidate for the hard work a Pioneer Battalion would face.

2. "The 29th, like all battalions of the Crops, had suffered severe casualties and more reinforcements were required. Among rehabilitating measures taken was the disbandment of the 48th Battalion, C.E.F. (The 3d Pioneers), which had served in France and Belgium for a long time. Two of its companies were to be sent to the 29th and two to the 7th Battalions."

"The arguments put forth as reasons for breaking up the [48/3] Battalion can be summed up in a few words. Because British Columbia was unable to furnish a sufficient supply of recruits to keep the British Columbia units in the field up to strength, due to the fact that the majority of British Columbian manhood had enlisted during the early part of the war.

The authorities took the stand that this was a British Columbian unit, as it was organized out of the 48th Canadian Battalion, although at the present time only 40% of the personnel come from British Columbia, the remainder being from the East and a few from the Prairies. To a certain extent, the policy of reinforcing units with men from the same province as that in which the unit was organized, was defeated, as 55% of the men sent to the 7th and 29th Battalions, both British Columbian units, came from the East."

Further research at the NAC would be able to provide "behind-the-scenes" reasons for the breakup; if only I can go on course again in Ottawa!! I have the finding aids in hand.

P.S. The 48th had a mascot, a bear called Bruno, who travelled to England with them. I wonder how many other CEF units had bears?? I have a photo of the 41st officers with a bear, although he looks like he might be stuffed. <_<

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For more information on the 48th Battalion, I would recommend examining the local newspapers of this battalions home town. I have had much success in researching the 35th (Toronto) Battalion in local Toronto City newspapers. This was a battalion raised with much enthusiasm for the second contingent, and though regarded as a crack unit was broken up in England to supply reinforcements. There was much coverage about the circumstances of the break up, and peoples reactions in the newspapers of the day. Same as with the 77th (Ottawa) Battalion. This regiment was heavily covered by the local press, including photo's of many men, articles of interest concerning training, fund raising and its eventual break up.

Good luck, let us know if you find anything.

(In regards to mascots: The 5th Battalion (Western Cavalry) had a Goat, they called 'Bill'. I have an original photo of Bill, and one of him taken with a company of the 5th Bn. I will try and get around to posting them sometime).

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Good suggestion about newspapers, David.

How about it, Mordac? Do you have any contacts in Victoria? Or maybe Jack can do some live, in-person research at the Times-Colonist newspaper archive. :P

Peter

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Evening Gentlemen.

In World War One the demands of the front were many and varied. The construction of immense fortification works and facilities for waging the war put extreme demands on the Royal Engineers, and of course the colonial troops like the Canadian Engineers. The engineers were skilled and trained soldiers in field military field works and tasks such as sapping and tunneling.

The demand for works both in the front and behind the front required huge amounts of labour. The engineers, as highly trained and skilled soldiers, were hard pressed to meet the demands of both overseeing construction of these works and providing the necessary labour. There were different solutions offered to solve the labour shortage. Using the infantry was one, but the wear and tear on soldiers needed for fighting made that solution untenable. Infantry would be used throughout the war, but they were simply worn down and less able to perform their assigned task. Another solution was to use semi-skilled labour and this led to the formation of pioneer battalions. The pioneer battalions were trained soldiers, who were also instructed and semi-skilled in engineer tasks. Pioneer battalions arrived at the front in 1916.

The pioneer battalions were supposed to be a reserve of trained labour for the Corps Commander Royal Engineers. (CRE, same title for the Canadian Corps.) The Pioneer battalions in 1916 were under divisional control and this led to all kinds of problems. They were tasked to complete engineer duties but the commander of the engineers was never able to control these units. At any given task the senior engineer officer was never sure how many if any soldiers would show up. As well the pioneers were not trained enigneers or skilled tradesmen and thus required supervision from the CE. On any given task the CE had to detach supervision and this depleted their ranks. It was under these circumstances that the pioneer battalions were formed and functioned in 1916 through 1918. The 48th / 3rd Canadian Pioneers were one of these pioneer units.

The 48th / 3rd Pioneer Battalion was broken up for reinforcements in the field in May of 1917. One must deduce that this was done because the battalion was a ready source of trained infantry to replace the losses from Vimy Ridge. The 3rd was replaced by the 123rd Battalion as the pioneers in the 3rd Division order of battle.

In early 1918, the Canadian Corps underwent a major re-organization. General Currie had been made aware of the problems of the command and control of engineer tasks in the Canadian divisions. Pioneer and labour battalions had been under divisional or corps control, often leaving the CE unable to complete their tasks. As part of the re-organization the pioneer and labour battalions were disbanded and absorbed by the divisonal CE. For the remainder of the war these troops served as engineers.

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To all 48/3rd P enthusiasts: I will pursue the post from local references and my own resources. At first sight I believe your versions are correct and I will try to elaborate on the local specific units. My father, as a lot of them did, lied about their age to enlist. He added three years at Attestation, so was 15. As well they enlisted in the local militia Regiments first, IE 50th Gordons(Currie's militia Regt) and the 88th Fusiliers. The 67th Bn (Pioneers) also from Victoria had two black bear cubs as mascots named Romeo and Juliet. They went to the Seattle zoo. Any thoughts as to the simlest way to gain paper copies of the war diaries for the 3rd P, 67th Bn P and post Vimy 29th Bn.....regards jack

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Thanks guys for your replies. These questions arose when I was rereading 'Vancouver's 29th' by H.R.N. Clyne, MC. On pages 40 - 43 the author goes into some detail on how members of the 3rd Pioneer Bn. were dispersed into the the various companies of the 29th.

Here's what I find a little strange. On May 8, 1917 order A24-0-12 is issued and the battalion is ordered disbanded. Yet in the diaries, both Lipsett and Byng heap praise on the 3rd Pioneers and express their regrets on the demise of the battalion.

The reason given (in the 3rd's War Diary) for breaking up the battalion follows:

"The arguments put forth as reasons for breaking up the Battalion can be summed up in a few words. Because British Columbia was unable to furnish a sufficient supply of recruits to keep the British Columbia units in the up to strength, due to the fact that the majority of British Columbia manhood had enlisted during the early part of the war.

The authorities took the stand that this was a British Columbia unit, as it was organized out of the 48th Battalion, although at the present time only 40% of the personnel come from British Columbia, the remainder being from the East and a few from the Prairies. To a certain extent, the policy of reinforcing units with men from the same province as that in which the unit was organized, was defeated, as 55% of the men sent to the 7th and 29th Battalions, both British Columbian units, came from the east."

Also, because of the pre-war railway experience many of the officers and men had, Col. Holmes requests the battalion be transfered as a unit to the Canadian Railway Troops. This didn't happen.

So what do you think, was the breakup of the 3rd a political or military decision? Other battalions seemed to survive the below enlistment quota percentage, why didn't the 3rd Pioneers?

Check out the War Diary entries for May 1917, pages 9 - 18 and page 22.

Garth

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Unless Jack has something in his archives, I think a visit to NAC is the only way to answer your question and others.

The 48th was from Victoria; what was the extent of the Currie (50th Gordons) connection? You would think he would want to keep the unit together. Did he have no influence on this matter?

What happened to Lt. Col Holmes? Most other officers went on to 7th or 29th. Was there something political going on with this man?

Why did the railway connection fizzle? Jack's dad and my g'dad and his Russian mates were attached to Light Railway Companies even before the break up; why weren't they permanently posted? Did the need for frontline reinforcements overcome the need for trained railway workers? (My g'dad worked for CPRail before the war).

A nice week at the NAC would give us what we need; how can I convince my wife that she would like Ottawa? :)

Peter in Vancouver

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Gentlemen: I'm still working on it, but all indications persist that the 3rd was broken up to provide battle experienced soldiers to reinforce the losses in the two BC Bn's. As well they helped outfit the 123 rd which replaced them. Regarding the possible political interference, a cross was erected at their HQ, which read " To commemorate the last resting place of the 48th Bn CEF. Raised by patriotism Feb 1915 Killed by politics May 1917". That may spark some debate. Not sure what happened to Col Holmes at this point, and Currie was on his way to greater things. Died somewhat disheartened I understand. (Having trouble reading the War Diary on my computor)......jack

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Mobilization and manning for the CEF is a doctoral thesis. Canadian historians get caught up in the conscription and national unity issues, while there are other perspectives that need to be examined. At the beginning of World War 1, a prepared mobilization scheme, which would have used the existing militia units as the basis for activation was ignored by Sam Hughes Minister of Militia, and he simply made a call for volunteers. This led to an influx of the "hard core" militia men, stripping many militia regiments of their training cadre and experienced soldiers. A few militia units managed to slip in a battalion to the mobilization at Valcartier, but these were few and far between. (Eg the 15th Bn, 13 Bn, Scottish units, managed to keep their identity. The 16th was a composite unit from the start. Most battalions were composed of recruits from many other regiments.) The result, when the CEF was organized at Valcartier, was the numbered battalion system. There was some degree of attention paid to regional affiliations, and recruits were kept in provincial or regional (Military District) units. This created units such as the 7th Bn (1st BC Regiment). As the mobilization schemes evloved in Canada, the numbered battalion system became entrenched. When the 2nd Div was created the numbered battalion scheme simply continued.

British Columbia followed the call to the colours with great enthusiasm. The province recruited 21 battalions for service overseas, plus contributed to the 5th Western Cavalry and the 259th and 260th Bns as well as artillery and corps unts of the CE, CASC, CAMC, etc. Of this number 9 battalions were either front line or support troops in the CEF. Over 42% of the battalions raised in BC were employed as fighting battalions or immediate support battalions. This was proportionaly one of the highest provincial ratios of recruited battalions to active battalions in Canada's war effort. The 9 battalions were the 7th, 16th, 29th, 47th, 48th/3rd Pioneers, 54th, 67th / 4th Pioneers, 72nd , and 102nd. With this many battalions in active service, the attrition rate for soldiers far outstripped the "regional" reinforcement pool. As early as 1916, it was evident that the manning situation was critical for all of the army, and in pariticular for British Columbia, and Quebec (interestingly, the Quebec problem appears to have been English language replacements as well as Francophones. The Quebec battalions which were disbanded were both English language units, the 73rd and the 60th Battalions. Some of the 60th were French speaking.)

To meet the manpower shortage, several changes were implemented including the abandonment of raising numbered battalions and the implementation of "Territorial Regiments" for recruiting and traininig in Canada. The territorial unit for BC did not have the recruitment numbers compared to other parts of Canada. When closely examined it was apparent that BC could not provide the needed manpower to support the 9 active CEF battalions with thier provincial affiliation. Nicholson in The Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919, states that:

Steps had been taken to ensure that the extent of a province's representation in battalions at the front should be in keeping with its ability to maintain the strength of such battalions. Quebec and British Columbia were the first to be affected. In December 1916, General Turner recomended that in order to remedy a disproportion at the front among battalions from various parts of Canada, two Montreal and two British Columbia battalions should be absorbed in other battalions from the same section.

The question now arose, which units? In the British Columbia case, it appears that the ax spared the fighting units, as the 3rd Pioneers were disbanded and replaced by an Ontario unit, the 123rd. However, three other BC units eventually became affiliated Ontario battalions, the 47th, 54th, and 102nd. Their names respectively being the 47th Western Ontario Bn, 54th Central Ontario Bn, and 102nd Central Ontario Bn. Politics would certainly be blamed, but the underlying replacement problem led to the political decision.

The railway troops issue is also likely answered by the shortage of infantry. It would not be a wise decision to divert a ready pool of trained infantry, even if skilled in railway operations, given the shortage of reinforcements. Once the process had been put in motion, the army was not given to changing its mind. The need was for infantry first, with support needs coming in a distant second. Skilled workers were not the same issue in World War 1 as they were in World War 2 and of course today.

On to the officer issue. Nicholson also comments on the senior officer problem in the CEF. As battalion after battalion was absorbed into the reinforcement units, there developed a surplus of senior officers in England. In May of 1917, officers accompanying the newly arrived units or reinforcement drafts were required to revert to the rank of Lt or return to Canada. Col. Holmes likely did not fit this policy, but he would be a valuable officer for any number of tasks. Checking his personnel file in Ottawa would reveal where his career went after the 3rd Pioneers. Of interest, his DSO was awarded in April of 1917, which would suggest that he was a capable and efficient officer. It is not likely that he was part of political intrigue.

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Bill and all: I have read Nicholson's book and agree with with your interpretations. He didn't waste much ink on the pioneer battalions and I have a few thoughts to add. Pioneer battalions were required in early 1916 and the 3rd was kept in tact in England when the Canadian Corps was consolidated into reserve battalions. The 107th qnd 124th came to England at full strength but the 123rd came less than half, and added from the 3rd disbandment. At that time the 67th band went to the 102nd. Later, when the 54th and the 102nd were designated Central Ontario, Currie is reported to have "Recalled the heart burning of the units broken up in May 1917, and transferring the whole battalion to new battalions accomplished the same thing without breaking them up". I think we could all feel the morale deflation at that time, witness the cross by the 3rd. It may have had some effect. Holmes ? at this point, no new unit listed on WD page 22 , May 17. Later, in 1918 the 47th was redesignated Western Ontario. BC certainly was well represented in original batttalions. All the pioneer changes are supposed to be in the Overseas Minister's File, 10 - 8 - 17, which I haven't seen. Stop....jack

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Part 2. When the 48th was redesignated a Pioneer Battalion, it was because so many of the them were loggers, timber cruisers, miners, farmers, trappers and prospectors, outdoor types. As well, a number of the officers were civil and mining engineers and land surveyors. Easy decision at the time when Pioneer requirements were needed. Hence the unit stayed in tact for deployment to France. At Ypres they relieved the British Sherwood foresters Pioneers and were later replaced by the West Yorks. In May 1917 I think the mention of transferring to a Railway Unit was an attempt to keep the unit together, all knowing the devastating affects of being disbanded. I hope these thoughts added objectively to the topic, it seems as we have quite a wealth of information to draw from.....jack

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Of interest, his DSO was awarded in April of 1917, which would suggest that he was a capable and efficient officer.

Here's some information on his DSO:

Holmes, William Josiah Lt. Col., Canadian Pioneers

London Gazette - June 4, 1917

Canada Gazette - July 28, 1917 page 262

Awarded on the occasion of His Majesty's Birthday; 1917. No citation.

Garth

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To all 48/3rd: Here is a long shot, has anyone seen reference from personal files to the 3rd Pioneers going to France in September of 1915 !.....jack

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You may already know this...but here goes anyway:

48th Battalion CEF

Motto translation (Pro Imperio): "For The Empire"

Authority: GO 86 of July 1, 1915

Recruiting area: British Columbia

Mobilization HQ: Victoria British Columbia

Canada: February 22, 1915 To July 1, 1915

(Sailed for England with 38 Officers and 1020 Other ranks).

England: July 11, 1915 To January 6, 1916

France: No service as the 48th Bn. CEF.

The battalion was redesignated the 3rd Pioneer Battalion and served in France and Flanders with the 3rd Canadian Division from March 6, 1916 until April 17, 1917 when it was broken up to provide reinforcements to the Canadian Corps serving in the field.

Officer Commanding: Lieut. Col. W.J.H. Holmes DSO

July 1, 1915-May 31, 1917

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To all 48/3rd: Here is a long shot, has anyone seen reference from personal files to the 3rd Pioneers going to France in September of 1915!

Hi Jack:

From the war diaries, it appears the main body of the 3rd Pioneers landed in France at 5:00 PM, March 9, 1916.

Check the war diary here.

Garth

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Garth: Just playing a long shot from two personal diaries I have seen. Will have to accept the official version, March 1916. I thought some may have gone to entrenching Battalions earlier than the main body ? jack

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Jack, as I understand it, the CEF entrenching battalions (one per division) did not get established until summer of 1916.

Peter in Vancouver

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Thanks Peter....I'll keep digging so to speak...I have a couple of 3rd Pioneer items I'll scan sometime soon and forward.....jack

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A couple of notes on the function and role of the Canadian Entrenching Battalions. The Entrenching Battalions were intended to provide reinforcements for a division. As Peter noted, these were formed by 1916, as first line reserve formations. They were tasked with construction and maintenance works such as trenches, dugouts, gun positions, etc. (Idle hands, devil's ...) These tasks were to employ the reinforcement soldier as he waited to be assigned to a front line battalion, pioneer battalion or engineers. There were four of these battalions, the repsective strength of each being about 1,000. In addition to the works tasks that the Entrenching Battalions provided, they were also required to give further training to the soldiers. These tasks proved to be an administrative nightmare, and incompatible with each other. In 1917 the Entrenching Battalions were replaced by the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Camp.

In relation to the reference to soldiers going to the Entrenching Battalions before 1916, it is possible that they were sent as a reinforcement draft, and not as part of a unit.

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I think what Jack was meaning was that a draft of men was sent ahead in September 1915 as 3rd Pioneers; but I believe this to be impossible.

As Bill says, the men who went in Sept. were likely drafts who joined other units (definitely not Ent Btns). Could the service records indicate the latter assumption, Jack? For the men I'm looking at, their records state Ent Btn as a posting, in summer 16.

Peter (looking forward to those scans, slurp!)

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48/3rd: From your info re entrenching battalions I don't think that my thoughts can relate to that here. Thank you. I was curious whether the dates were incorrect or incomplete or whatever when it came to the timing of going to France. Two personal diaries I have seen show being in France late in 1915, and they stayed in the 3rd. Not to counter the official WD by any means, just a long shot in the dark. Maybe they wished they were. Scans on the way, once I get it working. !@#$%. Any ideas on gaining a copy of the 3rd WD. ? jack

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Although this topic is quite dated, 30 December 2003, today's date being 26 August 2016, I have to say, thanks very much for this enlightening read. I learned a lot about the 3rd Pioneer Battalion. I was directed to this topic through a google search. I finally got off my **** and started researching a basic pair to the CAN.PNR.BN.

 

Below is the story;

The value of research never ceases to amaze me. I have had a simple WWI pair in my collection for quite some time, 2 or 3 years at any rate. The pair is named to a fellow in the CAN.PNR.BN. Canadian Pioneer Battalion. Nothing special, and they have sat by idle waiting for me to finally start to research him and his service. This morning is the morning I started. 

He is an original member of the 48th Canadian Infantry Battalion In other words, the Service number he was assigned when he enlisted falls within the block allocated to the 48th Canadian Infantry Battalion. 

Well, with this in mind, obviously he is a replacement to the Pioneers. NO. The 48th Bn. became the 3rd Pioneer Battalion, and saw service as such in France. 
So, here I have a pair to an original member of the 3rd Pioneer Battalion. This to me is EXCELLENT news.

As I looked over his service records, I find he was returned to Canada as medically unfit in February 1917, and ultimately discharged in Canada in Early 1918. Ok, now I have a sickly fellow.... 
NO. NOT AT ALL. This soldier was wounded in both feet, right leg and left wrist on September 15, 1916, at Courcelette.

More research needs to, and will be done on this simple pair for sure. I will also be moving this mans pair from the 5th drawer of my cabinet (where most of my CORPS medals are kept) up to the 2nd drawer where the slot for the 48th remains open. I will also amend the identifying placard for this pair, to reflect the 48th Bn CEF and 3rd Pioneer Bn. 

When I finally obtain a single BWM named to the 48th, it will reside beside this pair. To say I am stoked, would be an understatement. 

This is one heck of a story here in regards to this simple pair to a member of the Canadian Pioneer Battalion.

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Can you tell us his name?

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On 27/08/2016 at 09:51, Broznitsky said:

Can you tell us his name?

 

Sorry, I thought I had mentioned his name in my post. I see I did not. His name is Charles Edward Faulkner.

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