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Skipman

,Pioneers Battalions

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Skipman

How were Pioneer battalions selected? Was it just a lottery, and were their ranks filled with stronger, selected men?

Mike

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Ron Clifton

Hello Mike

Pioneer battalions were fully trained as infantry, and were selected from those Territorial and New Army units which were originally intended to be Army Troops. From the small number of changes made in the composition of the first three New Armies it looks as if some swaps were made to the original allocations, presumably because some units not originally designated as Pioneers were either not up to strength, or their training was not proceeding quickly enough.

In the case of the Monmouthshire Regiment, I suspect that the presence of miners in their ranks might have been an influence.

Ron

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bill24chev

2/5th Loyal North Lancashire were in effect given the choice of becoming 57th Divs. Pioneer Bn. in early 1918 or probable disbandment.

Edit added

Ron as a point, 2/5thLNL had quite a few Miners from the Deane area of Bolton in my Grandfathers Company

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dycer

Mike,

From the 8th Royal Scots History.

Becomes a Pioneer Battalion.

"In recognition of the excellent work the Battalion had done,and by reason of their adaptability for the work,the Battalion was selected,on 27th July 1915,to be a Pioneer Battalion.Training for the new role occupied the remainder of the month."

The 8th were a TF Battalion from East Lothian and pre-War recruited, in part, from the coal mining districts.

It is fair to record,however,that one former member of the Battalion resented it being selected as a Pioneer Battalion and felt that it had not been allowed to show its true worth as a fighting Battalion whilst serving in France from November 1914.

George

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Skipman

Excellent as ever guys, thank you. Were they expected to fight if required, and did they carry weapons into the front line?

Mike

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Scalyback

Still infantry still armed!

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Skipman

Still infantry still armed!

Cheers, so, rifle in hand and shovel on back?

Mike

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Scalyback

That would make digging hard with a buttplate :w00t:

Armed as infantry. Shovel and pick with transport. What is in your hand is the tool at the time. Not that hard to sling a rifle and carry a tool.

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Skipman

So Pioneers would consolidate a newly captured trench, and be expected to help fight off any counter-attacks. Might a Pioneer battalion be involved in combat often, or rarely?

Mike

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nthornton1979

From memory, the 5th Cheshire's (Pioneers) were the only battalion from the regiment to go over the top on 1st July 1916.

I have nothing to hand to check numbers and exact detail but they were attached to other battalions/regiments to consolidate the enemy trenches.

Neil

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dycer

Mike,

From the 8th R.S History

"The Pioneers are the handy men of the Division,and do everything,from building the G.O.C.'s fireplace to staunching the enemy attacks,or leading the Division "over the top".

George

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Scalyback

Pioneer is the dogs body for all. Served the R.E, served the infantry in the division.

Until recently pioneers was the thinking man of the infantry. Still combat trained to infantryman standards. Yet trained in lesser engineering tasks. Why wait for the R.E when you Pioneer platoon/section could blow it up?

In my mind no cushy number of the division.

Did a Pioneer have the crossed axes trade badge then?

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dycer

In WW1 the Pioneer Battalions wore Pick and Rifle collar dogs plus any relevant infantry trade badges.

George

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James

So yes they would have been in combat in addition to suffering casualties doing all the other unsung tasks they had to do.

During Loos 9th Gordons (the Pioneers for 15th Div) suffered:

Officers:

KIA 4 WIA 4 MIA 1

OR:

KIA 30 WIA 179 MIA 60

2 companies had accompanied the asaulting troops on the opening attack, the remainder were by midday the only reserves left and were pushed forward to consolidate initial gains.

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dycer

Mike,

Extract from Administrative Instructions to a Pioneer Battalion November 1917 i.e. Cambrai.

2.Dress.Fighting kit will be worn over leather jerkins(which must be taken off when men are at work).Steel helmets,Box Respirators,and P.H.Helmets will be worn.Iron Rations will be carried,also 50 rounds S.A.A. per N.C,O, and men.

4.Tools.Each man will carry a shovel or a pick in the proportion of 1 pick to 4 shovels.In addition,a number of crow-bars,wire-cutters,wiring-gloves and folding-saws will be carried by each Company.

5-Lewis Guns-One Lewis Gun will accompany the Working party.This Lewis Gun will be mounted to protect men from hostile aircraft.

My interpretation is.

2.Dress-Men will carry full fighting kit(rifles,ammunition etc) and be allowed to "keep it to hand" when working as Pioneers.The Officer conducting will, if necessary,give the order "Drop tools take up arms".

4.Tools-Are merely the tools of a Pioneer Battalion's work in WW1.What Battalion members got up to "with their tools", when on rest, is open to debate. :innocent:

5-Lewis Gun-Will be attached to each working party and the crews,drawn from the Battalion,will be proficient in its use.The gun will primarily be used in anti-aircraft work but well sited will offer all-round covering fire.

George

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Colin W Taylor

Gents

I’d suggest that the best answers are found in the only book I know specifically covering the concept of pioneering battalions:

‘Pioneer Battalions in the Great War’ by KW Mitchinson.

It gives lots of info about why different battalions found their way into being divisional pioneers.

With regards to their activities in combat they were very heavily involved in fighting during some of the dicier moments in 1918. As three battalions were lost by each division in early 1918 the pioneer battalion was often used to help make up numbers or fill in gaps. However to my knowledge (and I know Ron Clifton would know for sure) they had far fewer Lewis Guns in the battalion.

Mike – were you after info on a specific battalion in relation to pioneering? I’d recommend for general interest getting a copy of the above or getting through the library.

Kind regards

Colin

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Skipman

" were you after info on a specific battalion in relation to pioneering? "

Not really Colin, just a general interest. It was just a question that popped into my head, and i'm glad I asked. Thanks all for contributions, and keep posting. all very interesting.

Mike

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Scalyback

In WW1 the Pioneer Battalions wore Pick and Rifle collar dogs plus any relevant infantry trade badges.

George

That makes sense. Blankshire capbadge but Pioneer collar dogs. Would the main fighting blankshire regiments pioneer men be distinguished with collar dogs or trade badge? Guessing the later?

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kevmc

Mike

I have just read a book by Andrew Martin which is a fictional detective (kind of) story called "The Somme Stations". The main character is Jim Stringer who was with the Railway Police, York, who enlisted with work colleagues as Pals and were made into a Pioneer Battalion.

The story includes them running a small gauge railway from Albert and at one point they are part of a July 1916 attack which meant they carried rifles and dug a trench in no-mans land.

Your question conveniently linked with me covering exactly that subject in this book.

I don't know how accurate it all is but I suspect research was done to avoid too many discrepancies. The story line runs from recruitment, to preparation and action with a murder mystery as its theme from beginning to end.

Kevin

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Ron Clifton

However to my knowledge (and I know Ron Clifton would know for sure) they had far fewer Lewis Guns in the battalion.

Hello Colin

Yes, you are right. Becke, Part I, Appendix 1 confirms that in 1916 and 1917 ordinary infantry battalions had twelve Lewis guns but pioneers only eight, In 1918 the ordinary battalion's entitlement had risen to 36 but the pioneers (now on the three-company establishment) had only twelve, i.e. one per platoon.

Ron

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Colin W Taylor

Kevin

I read it whilst ‘forcibly abroad’ last year; the light railway side of things didn’t sound that plausible, I think it was more to tie in the railway theme of the book series. Their digging of a trench forward into no man’s land under fire on 1st July is a more reasonable example of the work of pioneers. I wouldn’t comment on the definite accuracy of the events concerned as I haven’t had a read of the war diary or any actual accounts of the fighting or events that the author described.

Regards

Colin

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dycer

Colin,

From a Pioneer Battalion History.

Beaumont Hamel(November 1916)

"A party which was responsible for trench tramways was reinforced,and constructed the "Essex Street Railway" on towards Beaumont Hamel,----- which was taken into Beaumont Hamel on the night 17/18th."

George

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Jim Hastings

Hi Mike,

Not sure about other pioneer battalions but know 5th Royal Sussex (Cinque Ports Bn, basically East Sussex territorials), when converted to Pioneers in August (IIRC) 1915, later formed the Divisional Scout Sniper unit for 48th Div. so definitely an aggressive role.

Hope this helps

Jim

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Colin W Taylor

George

A fair point. My lack of credulity was due to their running this railway from almost the start to end of the Somme Battle; presumably long after 32nd Division had gone elsewhere. Again; this allowed the protagonists a chance to witness the progression of the Somme fighting. I would doubt a divisional pioneer unit would build the railways and run the trains for about five months.

The great thing about almost any statement that can be made on The Great War is that there is almost always evidence to the contrary.

Kind regards

Colin

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dycer

Colin,

From the same History.

Neuville St. Vaast.

"During April,May,June,and up to 12th July 1916 ,the Battalion continued to work in the same sector..A permanent staff from the Battalion worked the light railways in the sector."

I acknowledge the distinction between participating and not participating in a "recognised" Battle as the History also records that the Battalion Football Team won the Divisional Championship during these three months. :lol:

George

p.s.I've neither read the book you refer to nor have any relationship to it's Author!

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