Army Tramways Companies of the Royal Engineers


The following information is extracted from a document contained with the war diary of the British Third Army Chief Engineer (National Archives WO95/383), which drew upon GHQ order RE/G/11101 of 6 March 1917 and from Fourth Army A&Q Notes 29 March 1917 contained in war diary of Fourth Army Adjutant (WO95/442).


It had been decided at General Headquarters and War Office level that a number of Army Tramways Companies of the Royal Engineers would be formed to construct, maintain and operate the the trench tramway systems in advance of (that is, nearer to the front line trenches) of the light railways operated by the Director General of Transport. This was only applicable to teh British Expeditionary Force in France and Flanders.

An Officer in Charge of the tramways, and a small staff, would be attached to each Army Headquarters and under oders of that Army’s Chief Engineer.

The Army Tramways Officer in Charge

Major in charge of Army Tramways1
Infantry Privates1 attached to be employed as Major’s batman (must be medically classified “Permanent Base”)
Army Service Corps Drivers1 Mechanical Transport driver attached
Total personnel1 officer and 3 other ranks
Transport providedNumber
Motor cars1

The Army Tramways Companies

Trench railway at “Oxford Circus” on the outskirts of Arras, April 1917. IWM image Q5094. The image shows a typical 2-foot guage trench tramway.

Four such companies were allotted to Third Army, and an officer and a small staff was attached to the Chief Engineer for the administration of those companies. Other companies were attached to the other British Armies in France and Flanders.

Each Company was organised into two half-companies, each of which was normally allotted to work with a Division that was holding a front-line sector.

  • 1 Army Tramway Company was formed at Troisvaux between 6 and 21 April 1917 and allotted to Third Army, where it was employed east of Arras
  • 2 Army Tramway Company was formed at Troisvaux in late March and April 1917. It was also allotted to Third Army and moved to Mercatel, south of Arras, on 13 May 1917
  • 3 Army Tramway Company was formed at Troisvaux in late March 1917 and allotted to Third Army’s VI Corps in late May 1917
  • I wil add more as I locate them.

On 21 February 1918 orders were received that the Trench Tramway Companies would beccome Foreway Companies RE.

Company personnelNumber
Captain 1 in command of company
Subalterns (Lieutenants or Second-Lieutenants)2 each in command of a half-company
Company Quartermaster Sergeant1
Staff-Sergeants2 for Military Foreman of Works
1 for Engineering Ledger Keeper and Storeman
Corporals7 of which 1 would be for pay duties
2nd Corporals6
Sappers23 including six Lance Corporals and one Clerk
Pioneers60 including four Lance Corporals
Infantry Privates3 attached to be employed as officers batmen (must be medically classified “Permanent Base”)
Total personnel3 officers and 109 other ranks
Transport providedNumber
Riding horses3


A Forward Transportation Depot came into existence at Savy in late December 1917. It also acted as a training centre for officers and men engaged with the Tramways/Foreways companies. This not only included the two-rail track arrangements as seen in the photo on this page, but monorail and Leeming ropeway systems that were also in use.


The Corps of Royal Engineers