The Royal Engineers carried out a number of different roles for the army both in the battlefield and along the lines of communication. The various specialisms were organised into different types of units. These units were attached to Divisions, or to larger formations at Corps, Army or even GHQ. The main ones, of which there were many, were the Field Companies and the Signals Companies. As they were attached to the fighting portions of the Divisions, these Companies often saw action and took part in the fighting. Various other units of Royal Engineers were attached to Corps, Army and GHQ. In November 1914, the Royal Engineers was composed of almost 17,000 officers and 340,000 other ranks..
This memorial to nine men of 82nd Field Company RE is a reminder that the Royal Engineers were in the thick of the fighting. The memorial is at Bazentin-le-Petit, Somme. Author’s collection
The Field Company RE
In 1914, each infantry Division included two Field Companies. A third was added during January 1915, as more units came up to strength and passed training. Click here for a list of Field Companies. The Field Company was composed of 217 men, as shown here.
•Major in command of the Company
•Captain second in command
•3 Lieutenants (or Second Lieutenants), one each commanding a Section
•23 NCOs (Company Sergeant-Major, Company Quartermaster Sergeant, Farrier Sergeant, 6 Sergeants, 7 Corporals, and 7 2nd-Corporals [a rank peculiar to the Royal Engineers and Army Ordnance Corps])
•186 other ranks (1 Shoeing Smith, 1 Trumpeter, 1 Bugler, 138 Sappers, 37 Drivers, 8 Batmen)
•2 attached Privates of the Royal Army Medical Corps for water duties
•1 attached Driver of the Army Service Corps (not counted into strength as officially he was part of the Divisional Train)
A detachment of the Field Company (a proportion of the above) was left at the Base, as reinforcements.
The men were organised into two areas: Mounted (which included the CQMS, the Farrier, the Shoeing Smith, trumpeter, 3 NCOs and the drivers and batmen) and Dismounted. The latter represented many kinds of trades required by the army in the field, including in the numbers shown above 15 Blacksmiths, 20 Bricklayers, 40 Carpenters, 5 Clerks, 12 Masons, 6 Painters, 8 Plumbers, plus surveyors, draughtsmen, wheelwrights, engine drivers and others.
The Field Companies relied on horses for transport and had an establishment of 17 riding horses for the officers and NCOs of the Mounted Branch, plus 50 draught heavy horses, and 4 pack horses. There were also 5 spare draught horses as replacements.
With the exceptions of the Trumpeter and Bugler, all other ranks were armed as infantrymen, carrying the SMLE rifle.