11 Field Coy
In 1914, 11 Fd Coy was on the establishment of 2nd Division and was based at Shincliffe. The Division mobilised at Aldershot and crossed to France as BEF in August 1914, concentrating around Wassigny and Etreux.In the advance through Belgium, 11 Fd Coy built pontoon and trestle bridges over the River Marne. The Coys first contact with the enemy was on 22 August, on the advance from Marne. 11 Fd Coy was advancing with the Guards and assisted in the capture of a machinegun company, complete with limbers and horses. Upon arrival at the Aisne, pontoon, trestle, and barge bridges were built, with the Coy experiencing its first severe casualties.
On 26 October 1914, a Section of 11 Fd Coy assisted a Company of the 1st King's in assaulting houses in Hooge Chateau supposed to contain German machine guns. At 0520hrs, this Section succeeded in taking four houses on the Passchendale-Bercelaere road. These were loopholed and held by the Section.
At 0900hrs another section advanced to support the first, and the two then held the houses all day, during which they suffered nine casualties. At dusk, they were relieved by infantry.
The rest of the company worked until 0500hrs the next morning improving the trenches held by the King's Regiment. The OC, Maj de Vitre, was wounded, and was succeeded by Capt J.W. Skipwith, who was himself wounded two days later, and was succeeded temporarily by Capt AJ. Darlington, the Adjutant.
The latter returned to the Division to act as C.R.E on 1st November, and the command of the 11th Company passed successively to Lt K.J. Martin, Lt AT.Shakespear, and Maj C.H. Foulkes on 10th November. So heavy were the casualties in the 5th Company on 11th Nov that Lt Shakespear was transferred to take temporary command on 12th Nov, but the 11th Coy itself suffered two more casualties among its officers that day, Lt A Tyier being killed, and Lt Bourdillon wounded.
All field companies, which had formed parts of the advanced guards during the approach marches, now assisted the infantry brigades to entrench and to consolidate the long front. Billeted close behind the support lines, the companies spent their days in collecting materials and their nights in carrying them forward
and putting up wire entanglements.
Many footbridges were required over the numerous wet ditches; these had to be portable for handiness and of simple pattern for lack of materials.
As the line closed on the sea, the fierce struggle for Ypres began. The Germans flung themselves against our lines in a desperate attempt to break through to the Channel ports. The fighting from 19th Oct - 22nd Nov, known as the First Battle of Ypres, was as critical as any in the war. It was fought with the heaviest odds against the small British force and against a line which in some places was held even by cooks and batmen. The field companies bore their share in this famous defence; among them the 5th and 11th Field Companies specially distinguished themselves.
On the night of 24-25 Nov, Lt E.L. Morris, with 15 men of the RE and Royal Welch Fusiliers, successfully mined and blew up a group of farms immediately in front of the German trenches on the Touquet-Bridoux Road which had been used by German snipers.
In December 1914, the Coy moved to Cuinchy and took part in the capture of the 'brick stacks' by the 4th Infantry Brigade, thus being complimented by the GOC. The OC, Maj C.H. Foulkes, was awarded the DSO for his action at this time. His citation reads: "for conspicuous gallantry in assisting to rescue a wounded man under heavy fire and for valuable service rendered at Cuinchy in placing in a state of defence the position which was captured from the enemy on February 6th, 1915".
The Coy operated in support of 4th Bde at Neuve Chapelle, and 2nd Division in their attack on 9th May and the Battle of Festubert.
The Battle of Festubert lasted officially from 16-27 May 1915 and was a continuation of the effort to assist the French attack on Vimy Ridge. Early on in the Battle, 2 Div had to cross a considerable ditch, 12ft wide with 4ft of water and running parallel with the line of breastworks. Footbridges had been prepared by the Sappers and these were successfully laid by the 5th and 11th Fd Coys. For the attack soon to come, 11 Coy were supporting 6th Brigade, with 2 sections accompanying each of the assaulting battalions.
The 6th Brigade's assault was successful, and two lines of German trenches were taken almost at once...
Two sections of 11 Coy did good work in the captured trenches, converting the parados, repairing breaches and making machine-gun emplacements. The Sapper sections went over with the third wave of the assault. A the distance to be covered was nearly 400yds, all four waves of the attack were in the open before the leading wave had reached the German trench; the casualties were consequently heavy. 11 Coy lost one officer killed (Lt A Trewby), one wounded, four other ranks killed, twenty-one wounded and two missing. Lt Bourdillon was shot through the shoulders but continued on duty for more than twenty four hours. The following night, 11 Coy wired in the whole of the 6th Brigade's new front and its exposed right flank
The Germans had discharged their first poison gas cloud against French-African troops in the Ypres salient in Apr 1915, followed in the next few weeks by several others against British and Canadians. The Allies were keen to retaliate in kind as well as to protect themselves with the use of respirators and, as soon as
the Cabinet permitted the action of reprisals, 11 Co/s OC, Maj CH Foulkes, was tasked to organize and train the gas troops who eventually became the Special Brigade, RE. Thus, he left 11 Coy on 26 May 1915.
A long period of trench warfare followed, during which 11 Coy was between Loos and Richebourg. The Coy transferred to 33rd Division in Dec 1915. In July 1916 it moved to the Somme and took part in the second phase of the infamous Battle, starting 14th July. Between 6th and 21st July, some 4 officers were
wounded, and 75 ORs killed, wounded, or missing.
On the night of 19/20 July, the Coy supported the 20th Royal Fusiliers (of 19th Infantry Brigade, 33rd Division) in an attack on High Wood. 11 Fd Coy advanced with the infantry, reaching the assembly trenches a few hundred yards off the wood by 0200hrs. It became apparent that no engineer works were possible, and shortly before 0400hrs the Coy picked up arms and fought as infantry. 11 Coy took its share of the frghting and lost all its officers, being brought out of the action by a Corporal. By 21st Jul, 11 Coy was 'in bivouac' having suffered heavy casualties and lost all its officers but one. The Division was relieved on the night 21-22 Jul.
The next engagement 11 Fd Coy were involved in was the Battle of Arras, which started on 9 Apr 1917. 11 Coy remained in 33 Div, who were the reserve for 7 Corps. 33 Div then relieved 32 Div on the coast at Ostend in Aug of that year.
The next step was the battle of Polygon Wood, which lasted from 26 Sep - 3 Oct 1917. 11 Coy was still part of 33 Div, who made up half of the Corps on the main attack
The 33rd Division was in the Passchendaele sector at the beginning of April 1918. After several moves, it was day put into the line in front of Meteren on 12 Apr. On the 16th, 11 Fd Coy distinguished itself in action which is thus recorded in the Official History:
"About 4.30pm, two sections of the 11th Field Company RE, in support of the left of the 4th King's, made a counter-attack on a farm half a mile west of Meteren, bayoneting thirty Germans and capturing eighteen with three machine guns. This brilliant little episode stabilized a situation which was becoming dangerous."
Lt S. Feary, the officer in command, was wounded; he was subsequently awarded the DSO. On the 19th, 33 Div was relieved by the 1st Australian Division, and for the remainder of the month was employed in digging rear lines.
On October 1918 the OC, Maj C.P.L. Balcombe, was wounded by a shell and later died of his injuries.
"What is a Sapper? This versatile genius
condensing the whole system of
military engineering and all that is
useful and practical under one red
jacket. He is a man of all work of the
Army and the public - astronomer,
geologist, surveyor, draughtsman, artist,
architect, traveller, explorer, antiquary,
mechanic, driver, soldier and sailor,
ready to do anything or go anywhere; in
short he is a SAPPER"
Captain THJ Connolly