Back to the list of articles

NO. 6 SIEGE COMPANY, R.M.R.E. in World War 1

from Low & Everett’s history of the Regiment (1969), now out of print.

Authorised 30th September, 1915. Embarked 27th May, 1916 for B.E.F.
This was the third of the war-time Siege Coys. which were raised and trained by O.C., R.M.R.E. at Monmouth.

This Company was not so fortunate as its predecessors in the circumstances in which it found itself overseas. The superlative type of man, who had enlisted in the early days of the war had by the end of 1915 become" in short supply." The company consisted largely of men who enlisted in 1915/16, plus a certain number of those who had already been overseas with the other companies, and had been evacuated either sick or wounded, and by this date were reaching the depot again after discharge from hospital.

Major David was brought home from France to take command shortly before the company went abroad. Captains Galloway and Elmslie (both of whom were previously wounded with No.4) were posted to it. When the Company landed in France in May, 1916 preparations for the Battle of the Somme (Ist July, 1916) were in full swing and it was immediately handed over to the Director of Works and employed in detachments on the L. of C. and bases from north of Calais to Etaples. These detachments worked directly under various Cs. R.E. (Works) but remained for administration under their Coy. Commander, who had set up his H.Q. at Etaples. The vast size of the Company on the increased establishment of eight officers and approximately 300 other ranks, made employment in this manner almost inevitable. The work consisted in the main of construction of new hutted camps, hospitals and base installations, e.g. ammunition depots. This was no doubt work of the greatest importance, but for a new Company just arrived from home, this breaking down into widely separated detachments was a misfortune. The Coy. lost cohesion and the company spirit - subaltern officers had too many masters - and the Coy. Commander and Coy. H.Q. more or less faded from the picture. The Company was employed under these conditions for some fifteen months.

Jobs for the semi-employed members of Coy. H.Q. were soon found. Major David was made O.C., R.E. Base Details (presumably by the Base Commandant) in addition to commanding his Coy. Captain Galloway (2 i/c) and Sgt. Butler (previously wounded with No.3 at Ypres and awarded the D.C.M. and subsequently killed in action with No.6) ran a school for Australian N.C.O.s and Sappers! Butler would give as good as he got! Galloway sadly remarks" It was not a great success, as we had to try to please three different authorities, pulling in three different directions." He also records that one of the detachment subalterns had to be relieved by another, as the former did not "get on" with the local C.R.E. !

During this time, there were many changes amongst the Coy. officers. David left in early 1917 to go back to No.4 as Coy. Commander. This was part of a considerable reshuffle of Coy. Commanders, caused by the retirement of Col. Morgan Lindsay and the return of Major Forestier-Walker to Monmouth to command the R.M.R.E. and the Depot, in his place. Elmslie was withdrawn to Monmouth to command the newly formed No.8 Army Troops Coy.

Galloway was promoted Major and given command of the Company, but he also inherited David's Base Details for a while. (Capt. C. F. Huth, was cross-posted from No.4 to replace Elmslie). Galloway realised that if the Company did not soon take a more active part in the war, it would eventually be incapable of doing so without a period of training and concentration as a unit. His requests for transfer to a Corps in the line were refused. No.4 Coy. had had a very long spell indeed in the line and suffered considerable casualties (see Chapter VII). Eventually a proposal that the Coy. should relieve No.4 was approved. On 6th September, 1917, the Coy. joined II Army and was sent to X Corps for work under its C.E. The Paschendaele operations had begun on July 31st.

The Company then settled down to the work of Corps Troops Engineers, under conditions of trench warfare. The familiar items are mentioned, O.P.s for Corps Artillery, roads in the Corps area, water supply, including sinking bore holes, etc.

In October, 1917, Huth was cross-posted to No.7 Army Troops Coy. to command, replacing Moore (who had been promoted Major and returned to No.1 in command). Lieut. E. T. Vachell was posted from Monmouth to replace Huth as 2 iJc and gazetted acting Captain. Vachell had been in Gallipoli with No.5 and had eventually reached England, sick after a very severe attack of dysentery.

After the New Year, 1918, the company was working on two separate tasks. One half Coy. was withdrawn to rear areas, erecting hutments. The other half Coy. remained on maintenance of roads and water supply installations in the forward areas. By a system of reliefs, the Coy. Commander was able to give all the troops a spell in the more comfortable, and less harrassing conditions of the " back area."

In March, 1918 it was obvious that the German Offensive was coming, and although, as in the event, it seemed more likely to be delivered against the right or southern end of the British Line to the east of Peronne, all the Army Commanders began to look to their rear defences and to consider the preparation of new lines of resistance.

As in the case of No. 1 Siege Coy, the company soon found itself engaged on this work.

At the end of March, 1918, following on the deep penetration by the Germans in the south, the Company was moved to Camblain L' Abbe west of Vimy Ridge. It was employed on strengthening defences in this area from April 4th to 27th. During this time the Germans had attacked between La Bassee and Armentieres, making a maximum advance of some twelve miles on the front held by the Portuguese (Battle of the Lys). The Company was then moved round to Watten, north of St. Orner. A "backs to the wall" position was immediately put in hand as far west as the neighbourhood of St. Omer, to cover the northern Channel ports. The Company was part of a large force employed on this and was so employed until 7th September. The War Diary records that during this time the Company, or detachments thereof, was located in many places to the north of. St. Omer towards Dunkirk.

The Company appears now to have been in VII Corps and its work would be directed by the C.E. There were apparently several officers appointed to be C.R.E. this "sector" and that "area" in the defensive scheme. From the War Diary it appears that these officers largely by-passed the Coy. Commander and detachments were often moved from one place to another without his knowledge, with a consequent break-down of Coy. administration. The diary is unhappy reading - order, counter-order, frustration and confusion are recorded, the unfortunate troops being the shuttlecock. Galloway records many strong protests to higher authority, but apparently with little result. During June and July, Galloway had been in hospital sick and Vachell had been acting as Coy. Commander. Finally, in July 1918, Galloway was medically boarded and evacuated to England. His recommendation that Vachell should be appointed Major to command the Company was not acted upon and a temporary officer, Captain Hunter, R.E. was brought in on August 13th and took over from Vachell who had been acting. It must be remembered that the Depot at Monmouth was now a Reserve Training Bn. R.E., with a somewhat different status. Strong action by Monmouth would probably have avoided this departure from what had so far been the rule that O.C. R.M.R.E. appointed Coy. Commanders.

August 8th, 1918, saw the start of the final Allied offensive "the Hundred Days." On 7th September the Coy. was transferred to XIX Corps-presumably still II Army, and reverted to the old duties of Corps Troops Engineers in the line. However, the British Army was now advancing. By 21st October, 1918, the Coy. was at Courtrai - which had been well within the German occupied area since 1914.

As they retired the Germans left behind them a formidable belt of demolitions just as they had done on the Somme in 1917. All were prepared beforehand with characteristic thoroughness.

In the advance the Divisional R.E. (i.e. Field Coys.) provided light bridges to take up to Field Artillery. There were often of the new "Inglis" pattern, which had recently been introduced. Corps and Army R.E. replaced and/or supplemented these by more permanent structures of a load-carrying capacity to meet most requirements of the period. These were generally constructed of steel R.S.J. stringers supported on timber cribs, trestles or pile piers.

The Company was almost exclusively employed on heavy bridging, until the Armistice. For its work on this task it received high praise. Hunter was awarded the M.C.

On 22nd October, Hunter went to hospital, sick, and once again Vachell was acting Coy. Commander. He was so acting when the Armistice was signed on 11th November, 1918. Hunter returned on 14th November, 1918. In December, 1918, the company was moved back to Hazebrouck but the tasks on which it was employed are not recorded. Doubtless, the process of " running down" soon began. It was disbanded in France on 6th June, 1919, and the cadre returned to Monmouth.

The Coy. suffered 19 fatal casualties. Captain W. G. Walford and Lt. M. A. Waterer, both transferred to the R.A.F. and both were killed while so serving.

Note on Major Christian F. J. Galloway:This officer joined the Regt. on the Ist December, 1897. He served in S. Africa in the special company which was sent out in 1901 under Captain C. H. Paynter. He was promoted Captain in 1904 and resigned his commission 15th January, 1908. He was recommissioned immediately on the outbreak of war in 1914 and went to France as 2 i/c No.4 Siege Coy. He was evacuated to England early in 1915, wounded. He subsequently served in No.6 Siege Coy. as detailed herein. In the autumn of 1918, after discharge from hospital, he rejoined at Monmouth and was shortly posted to York as D.O., R.E. (i.e. Garrison Engineer). He served in Mesopotamia in 1919 and in Persia in 1920.