The Tyne Electrical Engineers

The Tyne Electrical Engineers was formally established as a unit of the Territorial Force in November 1911, but could trace its roots back to 1871 and the first organisation for submarine mining.

It was preceded since 1888 by the Tyne Division Royal Engineers (Volunteers), originally subtitled Submarine Miners but from 1907 as Electrical Engineers. In 1907 it was one of seven such “divisions” (the others being London, Severn, Clyde, Tees, Forth and Mersey) but all except the London Division (which became London Electrical Engineers) disappeared in 1911.

It was headquartered throughout this period at Cliffords Fort at North Shields. 16th Company of the Coast Battalion of the regular Royal Engineers was also located there.

From 1913 Ordnance Survey map of the Tynemouth and North Shields area. Clifford’s Fort can be seen as a complex of buildings on the northern shore of the Tyne estuary. Huts were erected on the central parade ground in the early months of the Grewat War.

Originally concerned with sea mines, the work of the Tyne Division had developed to incorporate coastal searchlights and in war time it expanded to anti-aircraft searchlights and support of anti-aircraft gun batteries. In peace time it saw a gradual increase in size. Its men, part time soldiers, would typically be blacksmiths, electrical engineers, engine drivers, fitters and mechanical engineers.

The division held training camps at Portsmouth and on the Isle of Wight, and both locations would come to form an important part of its history. In particular, Haslar Barracks at Gosport near Portsmouth would become its primary training base and eventually the location of an electric searchlight school. 4th Company of the regular Royal Engineers was also located there.

When the Territorial Force was formed in 1908, four Durham Fortress Companies of the Royal Engineers were established for the defence of the Tyne. Three were Works Companies (two based at Jarrow-on-Tyne and one at Gateshead) and one an Electric Light Company. The latter, just three officers and 88 men, was formed by the Tyne Division Royal Engineers (Volunteers). The rest of the officers and men serving with the latter were left in limbo until 1911: not yet in the Teritorial Force but equally with the Volunteers which on paper no longer existed, many men resigned and the unit dwindled.

In 1909 the Durham (Electric Light) Fortress Company became the Northumberland (Electric Light) Fortress Company. It worked closely with the Tynemouth Royal Garrison Artillery.

In the reorganisation of 1911 the initial establishment and structure of the re-formed Tyne Electrical Engineers was

  • Headquarters: commanding officer and Quartermaster Sergeant
  • No 1. Tyne Company: 3 officers and 105 men
  • Nos. 2 and 3 Portsmouth and Isle of Wight Companies: total 8 officers and 150 men. This stemmed from the long-standing association with those areas but was formalised as it was proving difficult to recruit men locally of the required type with this technical work. The war station of the two companies was planned to be Gosport.
  • No. 4 Special Company: 3 officers and 100 men, not allotted to any particular war station.

Ten officers and 172 men had signed the “Imperial Service Obligation” before war broke out. They formed “special service sections” of Numbers 2 and 3 Companies.

War service and expansion

30 July 1914: Eight officers and 104 men of the special service sections of Nos. 2 and 3 Companies left Tynemouth and moved by rail to Stokes Bay. The telephone detachment went on to Fort Fareham and the rest were detailed for duty with the Portsmouth Garrison.

The unit was mobilised on 4 August 1914 and completed this work next day. The personnel required to complete Nos 2 and 3 Companies left Cliffords Fort to join their units at Haslar, and No 4 Special Company also departed. It went to Portsmouth. Manned electric light stations on the Hampshire coast and also at St. Helens and Sandown on the Isle of Wight.

New recruits generally began service at Clifford’s Fort but were sent in drafts to Haslar for training. The latter location now took responsibility for raising and training new companies and sections. This would eventually grow to more than 60 subordinate units which operated at home and overseas.

20 August 1914: volunteer drafts from Cliffords Fort, Haslar and the London Electrical Engineers moved to Southampton for service in France. It landed at Rouen on 23 August 1914 and three weeks later was moved to Abbeville, where it was issued with oxyacetylene searchlight equipment.

Number 1 Company began to be employed on electric lighting work in the barracks, camps and hospitals of the Tyne Garrison district.

9 November 1914: a new No. 5 Company, raised at Haslar, moved to Scotland. It was split up and eventually located at Ardeer and the Firth of Forth Defences. On 23 December they also began to man lights located at Kinghorn in Fife. The company handed over the lights to local units and returned to Haslar in June 1915. It was the beginning of a continual story of expansion and formation of new units, mostly for searchlight work as described below.

In February 1915, 16th Company RE installed an oxyacetylene anti-aircraft searchlight on the roof of the Co-operative Wholesale Society’s flour mill at Dunston. It was taken over by the Tyne Electrical Engineers in April 1915.

An anti-aircraft gun and electric searchlight section came into operation at Carville power station, Wallsend, on 15 June 1915.

August 1915: a draft of 12 men left Cliffords Fort to go to Southampton to join men coming from London and Haslar. They soon left for France to operate oxyacetylene searchlights.

November 1915: a larger draft left to form part of Number 1 (London and Tyne) Electrical and Mechanical Company RE. It moved to France and landed at le Havre 15 December 1915.

13 December 1915: No. 2 (Tyne) Searchlight Company was formed at Haslar and moved to the London area.

Early 1916: existing searchlight detachments merged to form (Special) Tyne Searchlight Company, Tyne Electrical Engineers.

A postcard photgraph of men at Haslar in 1916. Found by general internet search. Source unknown.

June 1916: a time of reorganisation, by which date the TEE was represented by

  • 1 (Depot) Company at Cliffords Fort
  • 2 (Tyne) Searchlight Company at London
  • 3 (Electric Light) Company in the Tyne Garrison
  • (Special) Tyne Searchlight Company renamed as 4 (Anti-Aircraft) Company at Newcastle-upon-Tyne
  • 5 (Electric Light) Company on the Forth and Clyde defences
  • 6 to 11 (Depot) Companies at Haslar
  • 1 (London and Tyne) Electrical and Mechanical Company RE (which was in France as were various oxyacetylene searchlight detachments)
  • 9 (Tyne) Mobile Searchlight Company¬† in London
  • 22 (Tyne) Aeroplane Searchlight Company¬† at Hornchurch
  • 33 (Tyne) Anti-Aircraft Company was a Cramlington
  • Stokes Bay Training School (it would later be called the Anti-Aircraft Searchlight and Sound Locator School and moved to Ryde on the Isle of Wight)

1 February 1917: the Number 1 (London and Tyne) Electrical and Mechanical Company RE was split up to form 351 and 354 Electrical and Mechanical Companies RE.

August 1918: 1 (Depot) Company became responsible for all coast defence units at home and was renamed as Adminisrative Centre

Anti-Aircraft Searchlight units (home service)

The Tyne Electrical Engineers raised the following units for service at home.

2 (Tyne) Anti-Aircraft Searchlight Company (formed at Haslar Dec 1915, moved to defence of London, later to Birmingham)
Early 1916: certain existing searchlight detachments merged to form (Special) Tyne Searchlight Company, Tyne Electrical Engineers.
4 (Anti-Aircraft) Company (the renaming of the former (Special) Tyne Searchlight Company in mid-1916; broken up Jul 1916)
7 (Tyne) Anti-Aircraft Brigade Searchlight Company (formed in London Jul 1917, later renumbered as 10; various locations including Portsmouth, Harwich and Dersingham. Broken up early 1918)
9 (Tyne) Mobile Searchlight Company (formed at Haslar Mar 1916, moved to defence of London, later to Selby; operated at various locations including Flamborough Head)
22 (Tyne) Aeroplane Squadron Searchlight Section (formed at Haslar May 1916, moved to Hornchurch for defence of London; also sent a detachment to Hull; later to Gainsborough; later renamed 58 AA Company)
25 (Tyne) Aeroplane Squadron Searchlight Section (formed at Haslar Jul 1917; moved to Selby in Sept 1917 and manned stations at various locations including Howden and York; later to Gainsborough; later renamed 57 AA Company)
27 (Tyne) Aeroplane Squadron Searchlight Section (formed in London Oct 1917, moved to Selby; also manned lights at Leeds; later renamed 60 AA Company)
29 (Tyne) Aeroplane Squadron Searchlight Section (formed in London Oct 1917, moved to York; also manned lights at Catterick; later renamed 56 AA Company)
33 (Tyne) Anti-Aircraft Company (formed at Haslar Apr 1916, moved to defence of London. Mid-1916 to Hartlepool, detachments at various locations in Durham and Northumberland. Personnel later aborbed into 34 and 35 Companies and unit ceased to exist)
34 (Tyne) Anti-Aircraft Company (formed from 4 (Anti-Aircraft) Company Jul 1916, moved to Tyneside. Disbanded early 1918)
35 (Tyne) Anti-Aircraft Company (formed from 4 (Anti-Aircraft) Company Jul 1916, moved to Tyneside with a detachment at Gretna. Disbanded early 1918)
37 (Tyne) Anti-Aircraft Company (formed at Leeds Aug 1917; also manned lights at Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield, Wakefield and York)
38 (Tyne) Anti-Aircraft Company (formed at Hull Aug 1917; also manned lights at Howden and Selby)
40 (Tyne) Anti-Aircraft Company (formed at Sheffield Aug 1917; also manned lights at Lincoln)
41 (Tyne) Anti-Aircraft Company (formed by 42 Company Sept 1917, manning lights in the Birmingham area)
42 (Tyne) Anti-Aircraft Company (formed Jul 1917 and moved to Coventry, manning lights in wide area from Didcot to Nottingham)
50 (Tyne) Anti-Aircraft Company (formed by expansion of Gretna detachment of 35 Company)
56 (Tyne) Anti-Aircraft Company (York)
57 (Tyne) Anti-Aircraft Company (Lincoln)
58 (Tyne) Anti-Aircraft Company (Cranwell)
63 (Tyne) Anti-Aircraft Company (formed from the Derbyshire and Nottingham detachments of 42 Company)

Anti-Aircraft Searchlight Sections (overseas service)

A total of 76 Anti-Aircraft Sections, employing c.2000 men, were serving in France and Flanders by the end of the war. Almost all had come from the London and Tyne Electrical Engineers.

The Tyne Electrical Engineers raised the following Sections for service overseas. They went initially to the LEE HQ on Regency Street in Westminster, London.

6 AASS (Apr 1916, to France 8 May and went to Rouen)
8 AASS (formed at Haslar Jun 1916 and went to Abeele/Poperinghe area. March 1918 at Bapaume)
10 AASS (Jul 1916 and went to St. Omer, later at Hazebrouck. March 1918 at Bapaume)
11 AASS (Jul 1916 and went to Hesdin. Moved to Dunkirk Apr 1917)
13 AASS (Aug 1916) (went to Audruicq and was still there in early 1918)
15 AASS (formed at Haslar Sep 1916 and went to Dannes. March 1918 at Bapaume)
17 AASS (formed at Haslar Oct 1916, moved to France Dec 1916 and eventually to Saigneville and then Bethune. March 1918 at Peronne)
19 AASS (formed at Haslar Nov 1916 but did not go to France until Mar 1917 and went to Zeneghem)
20 AASS (in France by Apr 1917 and was at Audruicq in early 1918)
22 AASS (formed in France from surplus personnel of numbers 6 and 8 AASS when establishment of each was cut from 3 to 2 lights)
26 AASS (Feb 1917, to France Mar 1917 and went to Calais)
27 AASS (formed at Haslar Mar 1917 and went to Dieppe)
28 AASS (formed at Haslar Mar 1917 and went to Rouen)
32 AASS (Apr 1917, to France May 1917 and went to Calais, later to Abbeville)
34 AASS (Apr 1917, to France May 1917 and went to Calais, later to Zeneghem and from late 1917 was in Italy)
36 AASS (Apr 1917, to France May 1917 and went to Calais, later to Abancourt)
38 AASS (May 1917, to France Jun 1917 and went to Calais, later to Romescamp)
40 AASS (May 1917, to France Jun 1917 and went to Calais, later to Dannes)
42 AASS (May 1917, to France Jun 1917 and went to Calais, later to Boulogne)
44 AASS (May 1917, to France Jun 1917 and went to Calais, later to Berguette)
46 AASS

Books

Links

Corps of Royal Engineers

Blue plaque at the drill hall