What was a Field or Signals Company of the Royal Engineers?

The Royal Engineers carried out a number of different roles for the army both in the battlefield and along the lines of communication. The various specialisms were organised into different types of units, none of which was bigger than a Company in size. These units were attached to Divisions, or to larger formations at Corps, Army or even GHQ. The main ones, of which there were many, were the Field Companies and the Signals Companies. As they were attached to the fighting portions of the Divisions, these Companies often saw action and took part in the fighting. The Divisions of the early part of the war also had on their strength two Fortress Companies and works units for bridging and lines of communication. Various other units of Royal Engineers were attached to Corps, Army and GHQ. In November 1914, the Royal Engineers was composed of almost 17,000 officers and 340,000 other ranks..

Memorial

The Field Company RE

In 1914, each infantry Division included two Field Companies. A third was added during January 1915, as more units came up to strength and passed training. Click here for a list of Field Companies. The Field Company was composed of 217 men, as shown here.

  • Major in command of the Company
  • Captain second in command
  • 3 Lieutenants (or Second Lieutenants), one each commanding a Section
  • 23 NCOs (Company Sergeant-Major, Company Quartermaster Sergeant, Farrier Sergeant, 6 Sergeants, 7 Corporals, and 7 2nd-Corporals [a rank peculiar to the Royal Engineers and Army Ordnance Corps])
  • 186 other ranks (1 Shoeing Smith, 1 Trumpeter, 1 Bugler, 138 Sappers, 37 Drivers, 8 Batmen)
  • 2 attached Privates of the Royal Army Medical Corps for water duties
  • 1 attached Driver of the Army Service Corps (not counted into strength as officially he was part of the Divisional Train)

A detachment of the Field Company (a proportion of the above) was left at the Base, as reinforcements.

The men were organised into two areas: Mounted (which included the CQMS, the Farrier, the Shoeing Smith, trumpeter, 3 NCOs and the drivers and batmen) and Dismounted. The latter represented many kinds of trades required by the army in the field, including in the numbers shown above 15 Blacksmiths, 20 Bricklayers, 40 Carpenters, 5 Clerks, 12 Masons, 6 Painters, 8 Plumbers, plus surveyors, draughtsmen, wheelwrights, engine drivers and others.

The Field Companies relied on horses for transport and had an establishment of 17 riding horses for the officers and NCOs of the Mounted Branch, plus 50 draught heavy horses, and 4 pack horses. There were also 5 spare draught horses as replacements.

With the exceptions of the Trumpeter and Bugler, all other ranks were armed as infantrymen, carrying the SMLE rifle.

The list of Field Company equipment is far too long to detail here, as you might imagine. As an example, the Company had in its care 111 shovels and 107 pickaxes. It also carried a store of sandbags and guncotton charges.

Signals Company RE

In 1914 each infantry Division included a Signals Company with a total strength of 162 men. It was organised into a Company HQ and 4 Sections, of which No 1 Section was responsible for communications with Divisional HQ and Nos 2-4 with the Brigades of the Division.

  • Major or Captain in command of Company
  • 4 Lieutenants (or Second Lieutenants), one each commanding a Section
  • 25 other ranks at Company HQ (Company Sergeant-Major, Company Quartermaster Sergeant, 1 Sergeant at Company HQ, 1 Sergeant and 1 Corporal in Signallers Group, 1 Sergeant and 8 Corporal in Despatch Riders Group, 1 Shoeing Smith, 1 Trumpeter, 7 Drivers, 2 Batmen)
  • 248 other ranks in No 1 Section (2 Sergeants, 2 Corporals, 3 2nd-Corporals, 1 Shoeing Smith, 26 Sappers, 12 Drivers, 2 Batmen)
  • 72 other ranks in total in Nos 2-4 Sections (3 Sergeants, 3 2nd-Corporals, 24 Sappers and 6 Drivers in telephone sections; 3 Sergeants, 3 Corporals and 18 Sappers in signallers and despatch riders sections; 6 Batmen, 3 Sappers and 3 Drivers at Section HQs)
  • 2 attached Privates of the Royal Army Medical Corps for water duties
  • 1 attached Driver of the Army Service Corps (not counted into strength as officially he was part of the Divisional Train)

The Signals Companies relied on horses for transport and had an establishment of 33 riding horses plus 47 draught heavy and 4 pack horses. There were also 32 bicycles and 9 motorcycles.

With the exception of the Trumpeter, all other ranks were armed as infantrymen, carrying the SMLE rifle.

tipTip: how do I find out the location of a Field or Signals Company? The daily operational record of the Field or Signals Company is the war diary. They are held at the National Archives at Kew. You can get a general idea by following the movements of the Division to which the Ambulance belonged, here on the Long, Long Trail .