It would be difficult to conceive of a campaign in which the work of the Engineers would be more arduous than it was in South Africa, or in which the difference between middling and excellent service on their part would be more acutely felt by those in command or by the body of the fighting troops. The corps is fortunate in that in no quarter, official or unofficial, has there been the slightest attempt to bestow on them anything but the heartiest commendations. The difficulties they had to contend with and overcame were appreciated by all the generals. It has often been remarked that the natural courage required to prevent men running away from a shower of shrapnel or a hail of rifle-bullets, where the men have the power of returning the storm even in diminished force, is a totally different quality from the trained, inculcated heroism which enables men to go out in the face of certain extreme danger to repair a telegraph line, examine a bit of railway, or build a bridge without the excitement afforded by the opportunity of returning fire. The Engineers had to do all these things and a hundred others. The splendid conduct of Major Irvine's pontoon company in "constructing well and rapidly, under fire", the bridges required on the Tugela, was said by General Buller "to deserve much praise"; and unofficial writers were wonder-struck at the cool, methodical work, flurry, haste, or anything slipshod being unseen. Every plank set in its place, every knot tied as if at a drill.
Apart from the tendering of lavish praise, the only remark civilian writers have ventured is that the army at first trusted too much to the Engineers. It may be so, but the fault vanished when the common-sense which flourishes on active service smothered the regulations, which rather get the upper hand in peace-time.
Any detailed account of the work of the Royal Engineers it is impossible to give, but it must not be forgotten that they were constantly in the thick of the fighting, as when half of the 37th company were on the shell-riven and bullet-swept summit of Spion Kop on 24th January, or as when the 7th company, with the Canadian Regiment, made the last grand advance at Paardeberg on the night of the 26th February.
It would perhaps be wrong not to recall Major Hunter Weston's achievement in piercing the enemy's line on the night before the occupation of Bloeinfontein, and his successful cutting of the railway several miles to the north of the town, whereby he secured many locomotives and trucks. This was by no means the only splendid feat of Major Hunter Weston.
In his despatch of 2nd April 1901 Lord Roberts notes that the period during which the advance from Bloemfontein to Pretoria, a distance of about three hundred miles, was made, was 3rd May to 11th June, and during that time there were repaired twenty-seven bridges and forty-one culverts, and ten miles of line were laid. This work was done either by the Engineers or by soldiers or native labour acting under Engineer officers or non-commissioned officers.
During the whole war the work on telegraph lines was very great and, owing to the guerilla nature of the campaign, extremely hazardous. Many commendations earned by the Corps were got for members of it volunteering to go through districts thickly infested by bands of the enemy to repair a broken wire. Going out on trolleys to examine the railways and remove mines and obstructions under fire was a task which often fell to the Engineers, and sometimes met with a deserved mention.
The Army List of December 1900 shows the following units as in South Africa: The 5th to the 12th, the 17th, 20th, 23rd, 26th, 29th, 31st, 37th, 38th, 42nd, 45th, and 47th companies; the 1st Division Telegraph Battalion; A and C Troops Bridging Battalion; Field Troop, 1st Field Park, and 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Balloon sections.
Two VC's were gained by the Corps. Corporal Kirkby was awarded the Cross for on 2nd June 1900, during a retirement after an attempt to cut the Delagoa line, the party being hotly pressed by very superior numbers, riding back for a dismounted man and bringing him behind a rise, it being the third occasion of his being mentioned for gallantry. By a memorandum in the Gazette of 19th April 1901 it was announced that Lieutenant R J T Digby-Jones, RE, along with Trooper Albrecht of the Imperial Light Horse, would have been recommended for the VC on account of their having during the attack on Waggon Hill, Ladysmith, on 6th January 1900, displayed conspicuous bravery and gallant conduct, but both these heroes had been killed.
Apart from honours bestowed on Major General Elliott-Wood, Colonel Rochefort-Boyd, Colonel Gorringe, Colonel Sandbach, Major Girouard, Major Hawkins, and other of the principal officers of the Corps, the mentions gained in the chief despatches are approximately as follows: By Sir George White, despatch of 2nd December 1899, 1 officer, 3 non-commissioned officers and men; despatch of 23rd March 1900, 8 officers and 32 non-commissioned officers and men for the siege.
|Officers||NCOs and men|
|General Buller - 30 March 1900||3 DCMs for pontoon at Munger's Drift|
|2 mentions for sandbags on bridge at Langerwachte|
|General Buller - Final Despatch||16||8|
|Lord Roberts - 31 March 1900||10||5|
|Lord Roberts - 2 April 1901||7|
|Lord Roberts - 4 September 1901||63||55|
|Lord Roberts - 1 March 1902||6||63|
In Lord Roberts' despatch of 28th February 1900 as to Paardeberg the work of Colonel Kincaid and the 7th company Royal Engineers in the last rush forward was brought to notice. In Lord Kitchener's despatches, written during the war, there were mentioned approximately 11 officers and 30 non-commissioned officers and men, and in his final despatch 46 officers and 64 non-commissioned officers and men.
The Telegraph Battalion of the Royal Engineers has two divisions, of which the first is now in South Africa. Ordinarily it is stationed at Aldershot, employed in purely military work, and constantly being exercised, while the other division is attached to the Postal Telegraph Service, and has charge of a large district in the South of England. The first section comprises 16 staff sergeants and sergeants, 3 trumpeters, 18 corporals and second corporals, 4 artificers, 77 sappers, and 5$ drivers, with 65 horses, but the staff has been expanded for work in the field. Each section of a telegraph division is supplied with twenty miles of line, part of it being air-line and part insulated cable. A two-horse cart carries the latter, and there are three six-horse waggons for the air-line, besides other vehicles for supplies, technical equipment, and baggage.
The military steam plough is quite a new engine of warfare, intended to dispense in part with manual labour. There are, of course, positions—many of them in the countries of South Africa—where such an implement could not be used; but abundant opportunities must occur for the employment of the strange apparatus. The steam entrenching plough, drawn by a traction engine, will throw up a 4-ft. entrenchment for the protection of infantry, where the ground is level, at a great rate. The plough-share, or cutter, by means of a thread movement, is inclined downwards at an angle into the soil, and the machine has worked at Aldershot without any difficulty.
The 45th (Fortress) Company of Royal Engineers is charged with the work of steam road transport in South Africa, and a part of the equipment is illustrated. The photograph was taken as the traction engine, with its train of waggons and trolleys, was passing through the Oxfordshire village of Littlemore. The village inn is the "Marlborough Head," and if the famous Duke, who fought so strenuously with the difficulties of transport in the great wars of his time, could have surveyed this steam apparatus, he would have been greatly astonished indeed. Steam transport has been tried practically in Natal with the greatest success, and should help to solve one of the principal difficulties of our commanders. The engine depicted was supplied by Messrs. Fowler, of Leeds, and is a 10 horse-power nominal—50 horse-power indicated—three-speed locomotive, which will draw a load of 50 tons over an ordinary road, and will carry a sufficiency of water for a run of from 20 to 25 miles. The three traction waggon's are calculated for 10 tons each, and the trolleys will carry twice as much. Altogether, the equipment seems very promising, and the further, performances will afford valuable information for future progress. Upon the heavy roads of the country, cut up by much traffic, and muddy after long rains, steam-traction should be very helpful.
The art and science of military ballooning has made wonderful progress within the last dozen years [to 1900], and although balloon depicted has been of the utmost service to Sir George White, it is quite possible that it represents a type destined to disappear. New forms of balloons, mostly cylindrical and seemingly fantastic in shape, have already been introduced and tested. The balloon section at Ladysmith enabled the defenders to observe very closely what the assailants were doing, to discover their laagers, and sometimes to divine their purposes, and it is very credibly asserted that the Boers were greatly vexed by the balloon ascents. It is a notable fact that a balloon is a very difficult object indeed to destroy by gun or rifle fire, owing to elevated position and uncertainty of range. The ballooning section which accompanied Sir Redvers Buller also proved extremely valuable, and it played a particularly useful part during Sir Charles Warren's flanking movement, when the positions of the enemy were discovered and signalled to him. The headquarters of the Balloon Section of Royal Engineers is at Aidershot.
The destruction by the Boers of the iron girder bridge at Frere seriously impeded the advance of Sir Redvers Buller, and the construction of the substitute was a triumph of skill on the part of the Royal Engineers. The wooden bridge they erected alongside that which was wrecked is connected at each ,end with the railway, and carries the line across the river. The old bridge had been broken in the middle, and the girder framework, precipitated into the hollow, now forms a broken V. While the building of the new bridge was going forward, immense quantities of stores were
collected, and a great camp grew up in the neighbourhood; and across this bridge the troops composing Sir Redvers Buller's force passed in their advance to the Tugela, with a vast train of military stores. Unfortunately, owing to the inadequacy of road transport, we have been somewhat too closely bound to the railway, and the flank movement of Sir Redvers Buller upon the Upper Tugela was really the first occasion on which any large body of troops had left the line.
The "A" and "C" Troops of the bridging battalion are taking part in the campaign in South Africa, and the former advanced with Sir Redvers Buller to Frere. Pontoons had been sent forward early in the course of the relieving operations. They are seen in this picture upon the waggons ready for Sir Charles Warren's flanking movement upon the Upper Tugela, where he threw his force across the river at Trichardt's or Wagon Drift on January 17 and 18. With the utmost celerity the Royal Engineers had set to work, and a pontoon bridge, 85 yds long, had been laid across the river. The stream was in flood at the time, and some of the pontoons were used for ferrying men across. The headquarters of the bridging battalion are at Aldershot, where work is continually going on, and the experience gained has proved of the very greatest service during the present war. Probably in few parts of the world could greater demands be made upon the Royal Engineers than in preparing for the crossing of the rapid and fluctuating rivers which intersect many parts of the present seat of war.
Officers of the 38th Field Company. The 38th Company has been well employed upon the line of communications, where the presence of the Engineers has been very necessary. It is under command of Major A. W. Roper, who is represented in the middle of the group, with Captain Haggitt and Lieutenant Betty, while behind stand Second Lieutenants Winterbotham, Sankey, and Usborne, with Captain Hodgens, R.A.M.C. A field company upon active service is provided with a large equipment of tools, explosives, and other technical materials to enable it to undertake all necessary engineering operations, including the construction of field defences, entrenchments, such as were used for sapping the enemy's position at Paardeberg, making or destroying railways, roads, etc. A field company also carries with it a certain amount of bridging material to enable small streams and rivers to be crossed without the help of the pontooning troops. In an ordinary way, a field company is able to build a bridge 45-ft. long for the passage of all arms, and light bridging to the extent of 75-ft. for infantry. When field fortification has to be undertaken upon a large scale, the field companies of the sappers superintend the work, which is mainly executed by working parties supplied by the infantry. The Engineers, however, provide labour as well as necessary tools from their great equipment.
38th Field Company NCOs. These men are typical of the non-commissioned officers among the sappers, who, without an exception, are highly capable men. The drivers are the only men enlisted for the Royal Engineers who do not know some trade. Many men are entered as telegraphists, photographers, printers, lithographers, and cartographers, and these go through a short pioneering course. The drivers are trained at the dep6t at Aldershot and the sappers at Chatham, where they learn both infantry and pioneer duties, and during the summer every depot company passes through a course in camp duties, pontooning, entrenching, etc., at the camp at Wouldham, near Chatham. Other men who are selected for submarine mining are passed, after going through their infantry drill, to the mining school. The sappers who have been trained at the depot at Chatham, after being examined, are transferred to the different Engineer formations, where they receive higher pay.
47th (Fortress) Company Inspection. AT the beginning of this year  the Corps of Royal Engineers, which has been much in the public mind during the operations in South Africa, consisted of forty-five companies, independently of the depot companies, the telegraph and bridging battalions, and certain additional detachments. The 47th Company has been newly formed, and in this illustration Major-General Fraser, commanding the Thames District, is seen inspecting it, and the company has since left for the Cape. An enormous amount of work has fallen-to the Engineers, who have been continuously employed in making entrenchments for guns, and field redoubts and shelter trenches, in addition to much work connected with arrangements for camping and supplying the troops. They have laid pontoons and built bridges, repaired railways and made roads, and it was their duty to place and fire the charges which destroyed "Long Tom" and other Boer guns in the neighbourhood of Ladysmith. Indeed the sappers have been ubiquitous, and without their good work the operations could not have gone on.
42nd (Fortress) Company Inspection. This company, of whose inspection at Malta we give a picture, has been well employed with the column of General Clements. There was a great deal of work for the Engineers to do at Colesberg and Norval's Pont, and the skill with which the bridging operations were conducted very greatly facilitated the advance of the column into the Orange State. Although, as their name indicates, the work of the Fortress companies of the "scientific corps" lies mainly in the construction, defence, and attack of fortified positions, officers and men are thoroughly trained in the construction of floating bridges, in demolitions, and in a great deal of the practical work required of Engineers in the field. The training of the Fortress companies embraces in fact the building of suspension and trestle bridges, and they are well able to take their part in field operations in addition to their work in relation to fortifications. In a certain sense the name given to them may be regarded as misleading, for they are not wholly devoted to fortress war, and have shown their value in many directions in the course of the war.
Preparing to leave for the Cape. The departure of Royal Engineers entails a great labour upon the members of the corps. Here we see forage and ammunition trucks, brought down by the railway to the docks, being lightened by the removal of some of their contents to enable them to be hoisted aboard the transport. It will give some idea of the immense quantity of stores and appliances required for the work of the Royal Engineers if we say that a field company is provided with four two-horse carts for entrenching tools, one cart with a single horse for medical equipment, a field smithy, and two pontoon waggons with four horses each, besides two carts for stores and baggage, and one cart for provisions, each of these having two horses. There are also five pack-horses for carrying entrenching tools. The total supply usually consists of in shovels, 71 pickaxes, 9 spades, 65 various axes, 43 bill-hooks, 20 saws, 420-lb. of gun-cotton, 1,000 sandbags, and 10 crowbars, besides trestles and pontooning materials.
Royal Engineers supplying water to the camp at Spearman's hill. The supply of good water to the troops is a matter of the highest importance, and the practical work rests with the Royal Engineers. When Sir Redvers Buller's camp was pitched at Spearman's Hill, the supply was very bad, but the sappers, as is their custom, were equal to the occasion, and they are seen in the picture drawing water from an artesian well.
Royal Engineers' Balloon at Zwarts Kop. It will be remembered that the sappers' balloons were of the utmost service to Sir Redvers Buller's column, and that it was by the balloon that the trap was discovered which the Boers had prepared when the attack was made upon Vaal Krantz. The balloon here represented was photographed when ready for an ascent near Potgieter's Drift. A ballooning section of Engineers carries its balloons upon one cart, but has four other carts for gas-tubes and various gear, each drawn by four horses, in addition to two baggage and store carts. The gas is stored in a compressed state, the equipment is complete, and the winding apparatus is very strong and efficient. The training of Royal Engineers in ballooning work takes place at Aldershot, where the section has its headquarters, with a school of aerial navigation provided with an efficient and well-trained staff. Within recent years ballooning has made great progress in the British Army, and the experience gained in the present war should prove extremely valuable.
11th Field Company, RE. These excellent men, who are represented with three or their officers, are now engaged in the operations of Lord Roberts's force, and have done excellent service during the advance to Bloemfontein. From what has been said in relation to the previous pictures it will be seen that the sappers have a highly important duty before them. In the present war they have not, it is true, had to repair wharves or landing-stages wrecked by an enemy driven from his coasts, but they have had a great deal to do in restoring damaged railways and rolling-stock and in working the railway material. They have repaired and constructed many telegraph lines, and have made good many bridges and roads. They enabled the Modder and the Tugela to be crossed, and have rendered valuable assistance in preparing field fortifications. They have made adequate provision for many camps, and have taken efficient measures in regard to water supply and sanitation. Upon them, indeed, has devolved a great deal of work upon which the success of the military operations has largely depended, and the excellent manner in which their operations have been conducted is ample testimony to the admirable training which officers and men have received. In addition to their practical duties, the Engineer! have charge of a vast quantity of stores, and it is the work of a great organiser to see that they are distributed and used well.
A Pontoon Bridge across the Tugela. The Engineers have constantly been employed about Ladysmith and on the Tugela, and it was they who provided the practical means for the relief of the place. They threw a long pontoon bridge across the river at Trichardt's Drift when Sir Charles Warren crossed and the attack on Spion Kop was made. They made another pontoon for the attack on Vaal Krantz, and still another was laid down when Sir Redvers Buller had driven the Boers out of Colenso, and, when the course was obstructed and the Inniskilling Fusiliers lost so terribly, they built a fresh pontoon with the utmost celerity. As has been explained, every field company can undertake a certain amount of bridging work, but the bridging battalion, to which nothing in the bridging way is impossible, forms a distinct section of the force, and has its headquarters at Aldershot, where the work of practical training goes on regularly, and where every facility for the exercise of bridge-building and pontooning exists.
Pontoons of the RE ready for embarkation. The character of the pontoons is well seen in this picture, as they were brought up on waggons ready to be put on board a transport. The material is very heavy and extremely bulky, and large numbers of draught animals are required to bring it to the point where it has to be used. A single pontoon company has, in fact, not less than twenty waggons, each with six horses. Sixteen of these waggons carry one pontoon each, while the other four transport the trestles and other pontooning material. This supply will enable a bridge to be built 100 yards long, and capable of being used by all arms of the service. There are additional vehicles also for various purposes — two carts for medical equipment and forage, a field smithy, two waggons for equipment, and three for baggage stores and supplies. Most of these are drawn by four horses. A great quantity of pontooning material was sent to the front in Natal early in the course of the war, and has been used with the utmost skill.
17th Field Company at Durban. We have here a picture of a company of Royal Engineers, which has done excellent service with Sir Redvers Buller, just landed from the transport at Durban. It was engaged on the Tugela, and suffered in conducting its operations under fire. Nowhere in South Africa have the Engineers done better service than in the operations in and about Ladysmith. They have been continually employed in assisting the gunners by preparing the positions to be taken up, and in the digging of shelter trenches, besides all the work which has fallen to them at the camps. At Frere they built a bridge alongside that which the Boers had so thoroughly wrecked, and they found a great deal of work in repairing the railway line. In the picture the men are seen drawn up and wearing the khaki which is universal in South Africa. At home their uniform consists of red tunics, or serge frocks in undress and marching order, with collar and facings of blue, braided with yellow, dark blue trousers with red stripes, and infantry helmets.
Royal Engineers of the Ordnance Survey. These men belong to a party which went out in charge of Captain Close, RE. They were picked for the work of reconnaissance, and having come from the Ordnance Survey Office they are thoroughly acquainted with surveying and cartography; The Ordnance Survey of the United Kingdom, commenced in 1746, has been a most important duty undertaken by the corps of Royal Engineers, and one of great value to the country at large. The work has developed marvellously in quality and excellence, and has been the means of training a large body of most efficient men in independent duties, thus developing in them self-reliance and highly important professional qualifications. The men depicted were chosen expressly because of their competence, and were thoroughly equipped and capable. Examination of positions, and a grasp of the essentials constituting their military value, are most important for Royal Engineers in the field.
Royal Engineers Bridging a Chasm. This striking picture, illustrating the kind of work which is required in South Africa when heavy weights have to be carried across deep river courses, was actually taken at Malta, and shows a bridge which was constructed over a gap 35-ft. deep to admit the passage of a 12.5 in RML gun weighing 38 tons upon a sleigh weighing 2 tons. It is only one example of the kind of bridging work which is executed by the Royal Engineers, and it is especially interesting to know that this particular bridge was constructed by a Fortress company, thus showing that the Fortress Engineers are not by any means confined merely to sapping work. It is the characteristic of many South African sluits and spruits that they lie in deeply-worn beds analogous to the chasm depicted, and calling for work of the same character as the sturdy bridge in the illustration. Bridge-builders in South' Africa have to take account of the fact that slender streams may soon become roaring torrents.