Monday, October 22, 2007

The Royal Pioneer Corps

In the past months I have done a lot of research on the Royal Pioneer Corps in WW2 and I have realized that little was known of those men who enlisted with the British Army from Africa and Palestine to fight alongside the Allied forces. For the Palestinian Jews it was almost paradoxical at first as they had been fighting the British before the war and went back to Palestine to fight them again.

In the meantime all these men performed the most menial but hardest of tasks, and were only at times given the means to
defend themselves, which they did, in France, Greece and Crete. I wish to pay a tribute to these 'unsung heroes'.
These companies were referred to as 'Alien Companies' - they were often composed of up to 25 nationalities (and languages) and were soon forced to communicate in English. Some were given English classes and those who picked up the language quickly got promoted. They were based in Quasassin, Egypt.
The reference book for the Corps is A War History of the Royal Pioneer Corps, by Major E.H. Rhodes-Wood (available in CD format)

If anyone has first or second hand experience of meeting some of them or of hearing of them, I will be most interested in reading their messages.



Blogger Tomcann said...

Ctherine -
I have already mentioned the Basutos'Pioneer company who helped build the Tank road from Fabriano to Jesi in oder that we could leave the "official" road clear for the Tracks carrying the Infantry in another comment of a posting.
It should be noted that many British soldiers made up the Pioneer corps and also did exceptional work in road building and other tasks to facilitate our movements.
One of the chaps - Ted Lloyd - who worked alongside me on permanent nightshift making Crusader Tanks in Birmingham was called up three months before I was and on his second leave he showed up as a sergeant...he wa not well blessed in scholarship but he was big and muscular !
Lost track of him after the war so don't know how he fared.

Monday, 22 October, 2007  
Blogger Boabbie said...


Wednesday, 24 October, 2007  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Boabbie -
you may be right about the vertically challenged Pioneers but they did need the big and muscular N.C.O.'s to keep them in line !

Wednesday, 24 October, 2007  
Blogger Catherine L said...

Boabbie, thanks, that is an interesting remark. Actually, I believe that they took all those who were not accepted in other corps, either because of their age or stature or ...intellectual (lack of) achievements!

But they also took all those who because they were not British could not join the (regular) Army - in Britain as in the mandates.

However, in the colonies and mandates they allowed anyone to enlist, even encouraged them to do so - labour forces were needed. They were called the 'Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps' AMPC.
Judging by Tomcann's remark, they also recruited big men!
And I can also say that they definitely recruited very bright ones - and not always that tall either!

Boabbie, where did your uncles serve in the Corps?

(It is interesting to note that they were sent to all the fronts and of course helped clear the debris in bombed Britain. The Corps was 100,000 strong in 1940.)

Wednesday, 24 October, 2007  
Blogger Catherine L said...

Tomcann you published this just as I was writing my comment - have to add that some of the NCOs were tiny as well from what I heard ! Do I understand that you believe authority to
depend on a man's size? Luckily it does not work that way for women!

Wednesday, 24 October, 2007  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Catherine ..... well no - I don't believe that authority is dependent of size - Monty was short but had authority as were Kirkman and O'Conner - it did help to maintain discipline if one had to physically look up to anyone in authority always remembering that -

in the British army ALL had to look above the eye line of both Officers and N.C.O's when being addressed.....

unlike the Americans who treated all their Officers - and N.C.O's as "buddies" - with subsequent loss of authority from which arguements ensued and orders became matters for discussion !

Wednesday, 24 October, 2007  
Blogger Boabbie said...

Unfortunately all of that generation in my family have passed on and I have not come to the finer detail of my uncles army records yet at least not the two who were in the pioneer corps. I do know that both of them were just over 5 feet tall and one was a seargent in Italy.

Thursday, 25 October, 2007  
Anonymous pioneerson said...

a muchly overlooked unit - thanks for populating cyberspace with its memories. My father was 5ft5", 25 years old and was not a big man. He was made a colour sergeant soon after enlistment in 1940. He was far from stupid but was not medically A1 - although strangely that didn't stop his company (292 company) from being landed with the 2nd wave (11am) on 6th June on (Queen Red sector) Sword beach - an experience he refused point blank to ever talk about. The casualty list in the unit's war diary probably explains why....

PS being pedantic The Pioneer Corps was the wartime unit - it did not become Royal Pioneer Corps until after the second world war

Tuesday, 01 July, 2008  
Blogger Peter G said...


You have every reason to be proud of your father and of the magnificent contribution the Pioneers made in WW2.

You are quite correct regarding the 'Royal' designation. The corps was raised in 1939 as the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps, it became the Pioneer Corps in 1940 and received royal patronage in 1946 as the Royal Pioneer Corps.

Friday, 04 July, 2008  
Blogger Norman said...

I am the Controller of the RPC Association. Our historian has recently input the details of over 400,000 records onto our data base. If you have relatives who have served in our corps we will be happy to supply information on their service. We can be contacted on

Sunday, 14 September, 2008  
Blogger Peter G said...


Many thanks for your helpful and kind offer. My apologies for this belated reply. Having found one unanswered comment in another thread I decided to comb through them all and found yours.

Inputing 400,000 records is a gargantuan operation, well in the spirit of the Royal Pioneer Corps! Historians will be grateful to you.

Thursday, 30 October, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am extremely grateful to the Royal Pioneer Corps Association - I was helped from day one in my research, provided with amazingly interesting material, given crucial information, explained all the subtleties of my relative's service records... etc...
Thanks to Norman and their dedicated historian I have been able to reconstruct a whole story, I encourage donations to their association !
Thank you Ron, too, for your patience. My post is a little late too, as I was away for several weeks, but hello to all of you.
Catherine L

Thursday, 30 October, 2008  
Anonymous pauline t said...

what is the difference between The Pioneer Corps and the Auxilliary Pioneer Corps?. My father was in Aux Pio Corps. He was not very tall and blind in one eye.He was captured at Boulougne and saw out the war in Stalag xxa and xxb as well as being on the long march, any information woul be appreciated. Thank you . Pauline T.

Thursday, 05 March, 2009  
Blogger The Priestess of Restormel said...

My grandfather was Major Aubrey Lewis Woodroffe, 147541, Pioneer Corps. He had first joined up in 1917 as a 14 year old bugler with the Royal Dragoons. He was discharged on completion of first period of service in 1929. In 1939 he enlisted into the Pioneer Corps. He was commissioned in 1940 as a 2nd Lieutenant, then appointed Captain, then Major. I have his medals and know that he was in the 8th Army and mentioned in Dispatches at Dunkirk. He relinquished his commission on the grounds of disability in 1947, being granted the honorary rank of Major.

I know he was the Officer commanding 2038 Mauritius Company, Qassasin, Egypt in 1945. I have a typewritten copy of a lecture he gave there on 'Man Management'.

One of the medals is with a Palestine 45-48 clasp, so I think he must have been there.

In a letter from a fellow officer, A.N. Chadwick, in my possession, he is reminded of the 'exodus from Boulougne'.

If anyone could enlighten me further as to Aubrey's movements during the war I would be delighted.


Friday, 03 July, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was told that my grandfather was taken into the pioneer corps because he was flat footed and wore glasses. He didn't speak about his time there much to anyone, but he spent a lot of time in Africa. He was a Major after discharge, CH Stoneley, if anyone knew of him, it would be great to hear something.
Apparently, he narrowly avoided probable death because when the unit he should have been arrived at the battle line, they where mostly wiped out. He was lucky as they needed officers at the time and thus he was "late" to arrive, and so avoided the major pasting.

Tuesday, 02 March, 2010  
Blogger Catherine L said...

To Anonymous : The historian of the Royal Pioneer Corps whose email is mentioned somewhere above will be able to help you. Your grandfather's name must be on their lists. They also have booklets that cover the period, they are a mine of information.
They certainly were in Africa : Lybia, Egypt, Syria... and very likely in Sicily and Italy also.
Good luck with your research, I'll be glad to provide more information if I can.

Saturday, 27 March, 2010  
Blogger Catherine L said...

--I meant - your grandfather is likely to have been in Sicily and Italy, as the PIoneer Corps followed the 8th Army there.
I should add that it was also known at the beginning of the war as the Auxiliary Pioneer Corps : they were those in charge of helping the regular army (see the comments above)

Saturday, 27 March, 2010  
Anonymous keith hemmings said...

My Uncle, William C Webb (13070625 Private aged 31) is buried alongside many of his comrades in Syracuse commonwealth cemetery,as I have just completed a visit there to pay both my respects and those of his sole surviving sister, my mother. I would relish any information regarding tasking and events leading to the fateful day of 17th july 1943, which saw at least 2 dozen pioneers losing their lives. I also noticed the comparable older age of these servicemen, ranging from 28-43 years of age

Friday, 17 September, 2010  
Blogger Catherine L said...

Keith, here is where you'll find all the info you are looking for :

The website of the RPC is a mine of information. I suggest you buy: A war history of the Royal Pioneer Corps 1939-1945 - it is available as a CD.
pp 197 to 204 will explain exactly what took place before the landing in Sicily.
Just a few indications:
Their tasks were the same as usual; "loading, unloading, construct beach tracks and roads, provide smoke cover, make air-landing strips, collect wounded and prisoners and bury the dead, and if necessary, (...) provide a reserve for the assault troops in establishing a firm beach head"

As to the age of the Pioneers, well I believe many of them were men who had been turned down by the regular army because of their age, or of some physical problem, or because they were not British.

The number of casualties does not seem to have been that high, only a few in the initial landings, and some on the airfield on July 11 .
Besides his "number", do you have any indication of the company he belonged to?
BTW your uncle's name does appear on the roll of honour.

Hope this helped.

Sunday, 19 September, 2010  
Blogger Catherine L said...

And I forgot to add the website :

Sunday, 19 September, 2010  
Anonymous h rollins said...

i woul like to hear of any one thathe was in the can tell me were my dad was in the war some where in belgium hazel

Monday, 02 May, 2011  
Anonymous tommy'sgirl said...

Hello H Rollins

My father was in the Pioneer Corps in WW2 and he was also in Belgium. Having landed at Arromanche on D-Day 6th June, he was in Normandy and Brittany. During the liberation he moved up to Lille, then through Belgium and Holland and into Germany

Whilst in Belgium he was in Antwerp then Bergen-op-zoom,Holland. In Germany, Nurmberg and Hamburg. There were others which I can't remember. My son has the Order of Service from the Thanksgiving Service on Nurmberg Heath. We also have a photo of the Memorial there.

People talk about these men as if they were somehow lesser mortals, with low IQs etc. etc. Yes, my dad had a disability - poor eyesight, as did some of his peers. However, apart from that he was a fit, healthy, intelligent man.

I know he was in Antwerp, they were billeted in a convent there. We have some photos of dad and some of his pals. It would be quite a coincidence if your father were amongst them.


Thursday, 12 May, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used to have a photo of two pals of my dad taken on the farm with a little girl i belive it was in belgium i wonder to which reg my dad would have gone into he came from brownhills in west middlands all he would ever say when asked what he did in the war was he ran behind with his gun h rollins

Thursday, 02 June, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

after reading these posts i find it impossible not to comment, my father (whom is still alive !!) was roayl pionner corps, after landing in normandy he jioned the ccg or baor. he initially interogated albert speer and was one of a few inside hitlers bunker before the russians destroyed it. i accompanied him to bayeau for the 60 th anniv. where a french admiral presented him with a honourable medal on behalf of franch , he is now in the french corriculum and 100 per cent real. the mere notion that the rpc was comprise of twits is in itself luducris. most were individuals whom spoke a few langauges and had firsat hand knowledge of strategic targets, in other words intelligence, my father was offered the position to run th baor at the end of the war. all documented and on file in the imperial war museum in london

Saturday, 10 September, 2011  
Blogger Cathie said...

This last comment is very moving. No one can say anything unpleasant about this Corps. I am glad you found us here, and I hope you found our exchanges of interest. I personally would like to know your father's name so as to add him to the (long) list of people I believe I should be thankful for what they did.
Catherine L.

Saturday, 10 September, 2011  
Anonymous Ian said...

My late father served in the No. 1 Spanish Company of the Pioneer Corps and I am keen to find out about his service. I sent an e-mail to but this has resulted in a delivery failure notification. Is anyone able to supply the current/correct e-mail address to which enquiries can be sent?

Tuesday, 20 December, 2011  
Blogger Cathie said...

Check this link, it should have all the necessary information
that you need :

But I see there has been nothing new on the site for a while...

Thursday, 22 December, 2011  
Blogger pennyanne said...

My grandad was in the the 'Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps' AMPC in ww2 and served sometime in India. who love to know about his time there

Saturday, 11 February, 2012  
Anonymous Chunkie said...

The last remaining service link with the Royal Pioneer Corps 23 Pioneer Regt Royal Logistics Corps will be disbanded soon. Pioneers with then no longer exsist in the British Army. This is and will be a very sad day for all Pioneers that served through WWII to present.

Sunday, 30 December, 2012  
Blogger KC said...

My father 91 served in the Pioneer corps 1941-1945 (short with flat feet and bad eyesight but wanting to do his bit). He never spoke of his wartime experiences but has started to want to tell his story. He was among those brave men who were landed on the beaches on D Day and went on into Germany where he was in the SS quarters at Bergen Belsen 6 weeks after the liberation. he wouls dearly love to talk about those days with someone who shared his experiences.

Monday, 29 April, 2013  
Blogger KC said...

My father 91 served in the Pioneer corps 1941-1945 (short with flat feet and bad eyesight but wanting to do his bit). He never spoke of his wartime experiences but has started to want to tell his story. He was among those brave men who were landed on the beaches on D Day and went on into Germany where he was in the SS quarters at Bergen Belsen 6 weeks after the liberation. he wouls dearly love to talk about those days with someone who shared his experiences.

Monday, 29 April, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello ,
My late father was a Pioneer from Cork , Ireland .He landed on Sword on the morning of 6 June .They moved to Caen, Belgium , Holland .He lost friends near Hermanville .We went back saw the graves in 1982.He was fit , tall , lean man.Came home to Ireland worked climbing poles for the electricity company here in Cork .Never spoke much about the war .Most of his work friends did not know he was an ex army man.Lovely gentle man , a great Dad .I miss him. John.

Friday, 10 May, 2013  
Blogger Frank Grimes said...

Hi my late father served in the corps in the 2nd word war ,he survived Dunkirk I remember him telling me all about that time but he is passed on to the beach with his fallen comrades,he was from Sheriff Street in Dublin,when he left the army he got a job in the British Railway in Dublin's north wall docks as the Irish government refused to give any one who served in the British army a job. may he and all his fallen comrades rest in peace.

Monday, 17 June, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi every one on this page, I have been trying to research my late Fathers ww11 record but all it keeps saying is not recorded, we think he went there, or went here, he was an Sgt named
Kenneth Rodney Willoughby, and went to North Africa in 43 and then on to Italy until 47, I believe he was a Qrt Master, I would love to hear from any one who might have known him as he his now deceased, and we would love to find out more
Pete Willoughby (Son)

Tuesday, 08 July, 2014  
Blogger Cathie said...

Pete : If the Royal Pioneer Corps have no record of your father, maybe you should try the Army's Offices in Scotland to get his service records, but they will only help if you can provide a number for him, or at least the number of his company. I know, it is a very long and difficult research, I wish you luck.

Wednesday, 09 July, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you go on facebook to the Pioneer Corps and send a message to a gentleman by the name of NORMAN BROWN he will probably be able to answer most questions as he is the controller of the Pioneer Corps Association. I myself was a member of the corps during the 1970/80s and Norman is very knowledgeable. The final parade takes place in St David's Barracks in Bicester in September as sadly my beloved corps in which I was proud to serve in is finally disbanded in October 2014 and I for one will greatly miss it.

Friday, 12 September, 2014  
Blogger H and S Harrison said...

My farther was CSM Frederick Teale. He served in the royal pioneer core and was mentioned in dispatches. He was taken prisoner of war in the western desert and escaped with his men. He spent three days in the desert and was finally re united with our army. He was offered a post as director of prisons in Burma after his experience with the east African rifles.

Tuesday, 21 October, 2014  
Anonymous Francisco Haro said...

To Ian. My late Father, Corporal Rodrigo Haro was in the No.1. Spanish Coy. I am keen to communicate with anyone associated with this Coy. Kind regards, Francisco Haro.

Saturday, 27 December, 2014  
Anonymous Bette Higgs (nee Smith) said...

My late father Harry Smith was in the Pioneers from 1939 to 1946. He was a Wolverhampton man and was 30 when war broke out. He never spoke about the war much but he was in Belgium and Holland and also was part of a meteorological team when a doodle bug hit the tower they were in. Is there anyone else on here that remembers that? I would love to hear more!

Tuesday, 27 January, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My father was in no1 Spanish company of the Pioneer corps. He had a long journey leading to his joining the corps. He joined the Spanish republican army in 1936 aged 18 and fought for 3 yrs against General Franco, driven across the French boarder to Argeles sur Mer where many thousands refugees died in the internment camps. Was given a "Hobsons choice" offer to join the French foreign legion, signed up for 5 yrs in the 13th Demi brigade, fought at Narvik , many died from a lack of winter clothing, somehow ended up at Dunkirk, he was only allowed onto the ship because of the kindness of one of many British troops who gave the Spaniards their battle jackets allowing them to be rescued. They were then taken to Plymouth where a ship had been made available, the French military wanted them deported to Spain, they refused to go and staged a sit down revolt ( knowing they would at best be shot by Franco's army) the order came from French command ( General De Gaul) to " Shoot every 3rd soldier to deter others" it was at this point the British army stepped in and they were enlisted in The Pioneer Corps, for which he was very grateful.

Wednesday, 18 March, 2015  

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