Friday, 22 April 2016

Pioneer Spirit

William Britton, of Bristol, received basic training with the 16th (Reserve) Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment. On 12 April 1916 he was posted to the 13th (Service) Battalion (Forest of Dean) (Pioneers) Gloucestershire Regiment with whom he received more specific training on the role of Pioneers. The Battalion had departed for France in March 1916 and William appears to have joined them in May.

As a private in a Pioneer Battalion what might William have expected to experience? The following article published in 1917 gives insight into the role from a Private.

The War Illustrated, 10th March 1917


By a Private in a Pioneer Battalion

THERE is only one decent thing in the life of a soldier in a pioneer battalion; only one way in which he has a better time than the man in the infantry battalions, whose home is in the fighting-line. That is, the pioneer comes and goes to and from the front line, the infantryman stays there all the time.

It is in the winter and the rainy seasons, when the mud comes, that the pioneer battalion comes into its proper prominence, and highly-placed Staff officers have been good enough to say that our work has proved exceedingly valuable during the later stages of the fighting.

We are engineers, without the name; and we are navvies, sanitary inspectors, road-makers, and trench repairers. We have to be able to live in water as well as on land, and no matter if a trench is flooded right to its parapet, we don't despair of making it fairly comfortable, perhaps, before the troops come forward to man it early the next morning.

We have to be able to live in an atmosphere of gas fumes, and to work all the time the grey-green clouds are hanging around us. We carry picks and spades as part of our ordinary equipment, but we're just as handy with our rifles as any soldier who has a “cushy” job in a line regiment.

Take one job we had, for instance, where a series of trenches were daily subjected to the “hate” of the German gunners. All day long we lay up in a barn which had once been an artillery observation-post, and which in consequence had received more than its fair share of shells from both sides, according to whoever held it.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

13th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment

Late in 1914 volunteers were being sought to replace battle losses and new battalions were being formed. Labour was also becoming a significant issue on the battle front, with lines of trenches requiring construction and repair and communication links by road to the rear to be maintained. Indigenous labour was in short supply in France, given demands on their own armies. In December 1914 the War Office gave instruction that Pioneer Battalions were to be raised for each Division.

The Gloucester Journal (Saturday, 19 December 1914) reported news of recruiting meetings in the Forest of Dean for such a new Battalion. It was noted that during meetings held in December there was “close interest in the explanation that the Forest battalion would be of special usefulness in that the men being colliers would be well qualified for trench and similar work, which would be acknowledged in that the men of this battalion would have 2d. a day extra pay.”

Meetings in connection with the formation of the Forest of Dean Pioneer Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment continued to be held through January 1915, but recruitment was slow. Up to Monday 18 January only 90 men had been secured towards the required 1,350.