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Royal Pioneer Corps
Badge of the Royal Pioneer Corps (early version)
Badge of the Royal Pioneer Corps (early version)
Active 1915-1921 (as Labour Corps)
1939-1993
Country United Kingdom
Branch Flag of the British Army Army
Motto(s) Labor omnia vincit
March Pioneer Corps

The Royal Pioneer Corps was a British Army combatant corps used for light engineering tasks. The Auxilitary Military Pioneer Corps was raised on 17 October 1939. It was renamed the Pioneer Corps on 22 November 1940. In November 1940 the Colonel Commandant, Field Marshal Lord Milne, pointed out that the title Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps was extremely unpopular with all ranks and bad for esprit de corps. At the same time it was agreed that Companies should be armed on 100% scale instead of 25% which has previously been the case. Training centres were quickly formed to receive, clothe and equip recruits and personnel posted from other Arms Companies were formed and dispatched as required, this being the normal unit allotted to meet labour requirements. It was usually to consist of about 280 men divided into 10 sections of 26 men and a small HQ. Each section was commanded by a Sgt. Two sections were commanded by a Lieutenant. A number of companies (between 4 and 20) within a geographical area would be commanded by a Group HQ under a Lieutenant Colonel.

The Corps gained many awards for gallantry and in addition received American, French, Dutch, Greek, Belgian and Italian awards. Some 2,800 men of the Corps laid down their lives overseas. On 28 November 1946, his majesty George VI decreed that in recognition of its services the Corps should have the distinction "Royal" added to the title. In February 1950 the Royal Pioneer Corps became part of the Regular Army. Since the end of World War 2, Royal Pioneer Corps officers and soldiers have played their part in all operations overseas. In the long history of the British Army no other Corps or Regiment has earned this single honour in so short a time.It was renamed the Royal Pioneer Corps on 28 November 1946.

On 5 April 1993, the Royal Pioneer Corps united with the Royal Corps of Transport, the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, the Army Catering Corps, and the Postal and Courier Service of the Royal Engineers, to form the Royal Logistic Corps.

There are currently 3 specialist pioneer units in the Royal Logistics Corps. These are 23 Pioneer Regiment based at Bicester, Oxfordshire ; the ARRC Support Battalion 170 Pioneer Sqn RLC based at Innsworth, Gloucestershire, plus 1 specialist pioneer unit in the Territorial Army, 168 Pioneer Regiment, formed in 1995 with headquarters at Grantham.

The History of the PioneersEdit

The first record of Pioneers in a British army goes back to 1346 where the pay and muster rolls of the English Garrison at Calais show Pioneers being paid between 4d and 6d a day (2 to 2 ½ pence in today's currency).

In 1660 Pioneer contingents, under their own officers and NCOs, were attached to Artillery Units. By 1739 The Guards included Pioneers as part of their fixed establishment.

About 1750, it was proposed that a Corps of Pioneers be formed, although nothing was done on this for nearly two hundred years.

During World War I, Pioneer Battalions of Infantry Regiments served in France until 1917 when the Labour Corps came into being. This was, however disbanded in 1919.

In September 1939, a number of infantry and cavalry reservists were formed into Works Labour Companies. These, in October 1939 became the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps (AMPC), and a Labour Directorate was created to control labour matters. A large number of Pioneers served in France with the British Expeditionary Force. During the Battle of France, an infantry brigade was improvised from several AMPC Companies under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel J. B. H. Diggle. Known as "Digforce", they became part of Beauman Division and fought in defence of the Andelle and Béthune rivers on 8 June 1940 against the 5th and 7th Panzer Divisions. They, and thousands of other BEF Pioneers, were evacuated to England in Operation Ariel.[1] An unknown number of AMPC troops were killed when the HMT Lancastria was sunk off St Nazaire on 17 June.[2] On 22 November 1940 the name was changed from the AMPC to the Pioneer Corps.

Pioneers were recruited from throughout Africa, Mauritius and India. They performed a wide variety of tasks in all theatres of war. These tasks ranging from handling all types of stores, laying prefabricated track on the beaches and stretcher-bearing. They also worked under Engineer supervision on the construction of the Mulberry Harbour and laid the Pipe Line Under the Ocean (PLUTO), constructed airfields, roads and erected bridges. Hardly known today is the fact that many thousands of Germans and Austrians joined the Pioneer Corps to assist the Allied war efforts and liberation of their home countries. These were mainly Jews and political opponents of the Nazi Regime who had fled to Britain while it was still possible, including the cinematographer Ken Adam, writer George Clare and publisher Robert Maxwell. These men - often dubbed "The King's Most Loyal Enemy Aliens" - later moved on to serve in fighting units like the Royal Fusiliers, Royal Tank Corps and even with the RAF. The Pioneer Corps was apparently the only British unit that "enemy aliens" could serve in early in the war. Some were recruited from the Pioneer Corps by Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.) as secret agents and were assigned to "Twelve Force." They were instructed to choose an "English" name using their old initials, and some of them were parachuted behind enemy lines.[3]

Serving as German nationals in the British forces was particularly dangerous, since, in case of taken captive, with a high probability they would have been executed as traitors by the Germans. Also, the number of German-born Jews joining the British forces was exceptionally high. Until the end of the war, one of seven Jewish refugees from Germany had joined the British forces. Especially their profound knowledge of the German language and customs proved to be very useful. A lot of them served in the administrative bodies of the British occupation army in Germany and Austria after the war.[4]

Companies (Squadrons) established with Beach Groups took part in the assaults in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and North East Europe. 26 Companies totalling 7,500 men landed on the beaches at Normandy on D-Day. They were followed by 34 Group Headquarters, 205 Companies and 5 special operations units, totalling 60,000 men. The novelist Alexander Baron served in one of these Beach Groups and later included some of his experiences in his novels From the City From the Plough and The Human Kind. He also wrote a radio play about the experience of being stranded on a craft attempting to land supplies on the beaches of Normandy.

In 1945 the Pioneer Corps included 12,000 officers and 166,000 men. Though they controlled over a million civilian staff, of many different nationalities, employed with British Forces throughout the world.

After the war, in 1946, King George VI conferred upon the Pioneers the title "Royal" for its meritorious work during the 1939 - 1945 war. In 1977 the Queen approved the appointment of HRH The Duke of Gloucester as Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Pioneer Corps.

Over the years since the end of World War II Pioneers have seen service in most of the conflicts around the world, though the numbers have reduced significantly.

The rationalisation of Army logistics instigated by the Logistic Support Review in 1990 advocated that all logistic support matters should be the responsibility of a new corps, The Royal Logistic Corps (RLC). This would be created from the amalgamation of the Royal Corps of Transport, Royal Army Ordnance Corps, Royal Pioneer Corps, Army Catering Corps and the Postal and Courier Branch of the Royal Engineers. The implementation of the Reviews recommendations resulted in The Royal Logistic Corps being formed on 5 April 1993 from these Corps.

On the 5 July 2012 it was announced the 600-strong 23 Pioneer Regiment, based in Bicester in some form since 1941, will be disbanded. Soldiers at the base were in shock last night after being told the regiment will cease to exist by October 2015. No details of how many troops face redundancy or how many would join other regiments elsewhere have been released.

Notable personnelEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. *Ellis, L. F. (1954) The War in France and Flanders 1939–1940. J. R. M. Butler (ed.). HMSO. London p.280-282
  2. The Pioneer - History: The Lancastria Story
  3. Interview by Colin MacGregor Stevens with Major George Bryant (aka George Breuer)
  4. National Geographic documentary Churchill's German Army
  • Smith, L, Forgotten Voices of the Holocaust, Ebury Press, 2005, ISBN 0-09-189825-0
  • Fry, H, The King's most loyal enemy aliens - Germans who fought for Britain in the second world war, 2007, ISBN 978-0-7509-4701-5

The Pioneer Corps In FictionEdit

The 1958 comedy film The Square Peg featured the Pioneer Corps. The story follows the exploits of Private Norman Pitkin and Private Wilfred Grimsdale during World War II. Sir Norman Wisdom starred as Pitkin.

Also in the popular sitcom Dad's Army Captain George Mainwaring managed to secure a commission in the corps in France 'during the whole of 1919!'

External linksEdit

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