Canadian Military Engineers Throughout History

Sapper John McDougall Stewart - word document

Lt Spouse - word document

 Index

This series of articles were written by Don Thomas, Warrant Officer (retired). Don was the assistant curator at the Canadian Military Engineer Museum when it was located at CFB Chilliwack. Don presently lives on Vancouver Island and spends time as a volunteer with the CFB Esquimalt Naval & Military Museum. Some of these articles have appeared in CFB Chilliwack newspaper, the Mountaineer
 
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CANADIAN SAPPER IN THE BRITISH "HUSH - HUSH"

"You have been specially selected for this adventurous expedition and is quite possible that you might be sacrificed on the altar of British prestige in the Caucasus Mountains".  So was the opening remarks of Col. Steele of the British War Office and the beginning of a little known unit called the "British Hush-Hush" or officially "Dunster Force".

The force was made up of less than a thousand hand picked men throughout the Empire including 15 officers and 30 sergeants from the Canadian Corps.  In short, as Col. Steele carried on he was addressing "the flower of the British Army" based on their bravery, initiative and resource and Sjt. B. Clark of the Canadian Engineers was the only Canadian Sapper to serve with the unit.  Generally little is known of the Canadians that operated in Persia during the Great War but, their story reads of one from "Lawrence of Arabia" or "Arabian Nights" and how this determined little unit, equipped only with undaunted courage and limitless nerve, held 600 miles of front against an entire Turkish Amy and bluffed that Army to such an extent that it remained immobile for many months.

The unit came into being as a result of the Bolshevik Revolution.  The Russian front, which had extended southward through the Caucasus Mountains, across the southern end of the Caspain Sea and down into Persia where it linked up with the Mesopotamian Force (prelude to Desert Storm), had now collapsed.  The Russians were crowding back home leaving a wide open corridor eastward to India but the British were expecting a German offensive in France, Allenby was completely occupied in Palestine, the Mesopotamian Army had no troops to spare.  With the situation at it's blackest hour, a War Office visionary had a brainstorm.  Somewhere in the mountains of Persia were thousands of enthusiastic Warriors who were more than willing to settle a few grudges with the Turks, so Dunster Force's mission would be to"Penetrate into the Caucasus Mountains, raise an army and use that army against the Turks" and their commander would be General L.C. Dunsterville, an officer who had already been immortalized as the "Stalky" in Rudyard Kipling's stories.

It took over four months for the unit to reach the mountain range that divides Mesopotamia from Persia, transported part of the way by fellow Canadians serving with the Royal Engineer's inland water transport system.  The force was quick to recognize that their mission would not be an easy one as Persia had been devastated years before when the Russians and Turks turned the country side into a cockpit of ruined and deserted villages.  The mountains were the hideout of Kurdish Tribesmen who robbed and murdered unhindered along the hard and lonely passes.  Famine stalked grimly through the land.  The Persians were brutally indifferent to the sufferings of their fellow countrymen.  As Persians were dying by the thousands the store houses of the wealthier were bursting with grain giving no thought of the thousands who were dying of starvation.  Into this welter of disease and misery rode Dunster Force, before them rose the task of raising an army to combat the Turks, but first they were tasked to ease the sufferings of the locals by setting up supply lines and providing escorts for the thousands who fled their homes.

With the British scattered throughout the mountains in various outposts they hastily organized a protective rear guard to protect the fleeing refugees.  The Turks and Kirds ambushed the fugitives from the mountain sides, shooting them for the sheer love of killing.  Turkish Cavalry pursued them, rode them down and putting thousands to the sword, hacking and mutilating them as they lay by the sides of the mountains.  Many times a small handful of Dunster Force Troops drove recklessly into the butchers, fighting hand to hand, rescuing many who had fallen into the hands of the Turk Forces.  It was in one of these rear guard actions that Sgt. Robert Clark, C.E., along with other Canadians, greatly distinguished themselves, with their bravery and fighting ability.

During the months ahead Dunster Force trained and armed small armies that deserted at the first shot, operated bread lines, became jailers, bankers, spies and Engineers.  Many of the Canadians were assigned to duties which saw them operating practically on their own in the remotest regions of Kurdistan carrying their lives in their hands.  Night and day they had to be constantly vigilant for that distant shot from a hillside or a knife thrust as they lay asleep and the constant danger of ambush in the lonely gorges through which they travelled.  After a little over a year from it's creation and doing battle with the Turks, Kurds and Red Russians, Dunster Force withdrew from Persia.  Even though they failed to create the army they were sent there for, they did convince the Turks they had.  As for the Canadians, they all made it out alive and our Sapper Sgt. Clark has been lost in time, but his deeds and performance while serving in the "British Hush-Hush" are an outstanding credit to the Canadian Corp and our Engineer Branch.
 

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EXERCISE SWEETBRIAR

In April 1949 representatives of Canada and the United States decided to conduct a combined exercise for the Army and Airforce of both countries.  "Exercise Sweetbriar" was to be held on the Northwest Highway system - Alaska Highway between Whitehorse, Yukon Territory and Fairbanks Alaska.  It was held in February 1950 when weather conditions were the most suitable to test men and equipment in sub-zero temperatures.  This would be the first large scale tactical winter exercise for the Canadian Military since WWII.  Prior to this three limited size exercises had been carried out but dealt mainly with survival, movement in equipment etc., with the tactical aspects at a low priority.

Exercise Sweetbriar would cover a distance of 350 miles and approximately 5500 troops from all parts of Canada and the United States, were the Allied Force.  Aggressor Forces were provided by the Commanding General Alaska.  The Allied mission was to carry out an offensive and capture Northway Airfield.

Combat Team B was made up by the Canadian element, with engineer support being carried out by 23 Fld Sqn R.C.E. from Chilliwack B.C.  A Field Troop of two officers and nineteen other ranks began preparation by carrying out indoctrination training in Allison Pass on the Hope Princeton Highway, then on 3rd Jan. 1950 arrived in Wainwright Alberta to complete their winter indoctrination and draw the required stores and equipment.  During this training period special attention was paid to creating mine warfare/booby trap operations and water supply.  As a result of this training some interesting recommendations were made, that mine markers and tape be dyed black and kerosine route marking lamps be used instead of the standard lights as the batteries failed quickly in the cold temperatures.  Also that electrical exploding equipment did not function efficiently unless kept warm prior to use.

To carry out their tasks the troop was equipped with two 3 ton trucks and two 1 ton trailers, that carried the tent groups, personal kit, section stores and explosives.  Also to the troop two D6 angle dozers, mounted on 10 ton mack trucks, and a No. 4 water supply unit were allotted to complete their stores and equipment holdings.  During the operation the troop was committed to the following  tasks:
    a. Advice to the Canadian Force Commander on Engineer matters;
    b. Engineer Reconnaissance;
    c. Route denial operations;
    d. Route clearing;
    e. Snow and harbour clearance;
    f. Airfield construction and repair; and
    g. Repair and construction of improvised bridges.

The unit set up three different water supply points during the exercise.  The pumps and small engines were set up in a 6 man tent and warmed up with blow torches.  All canvas hose was replaced by armoured hose and hard rubber 2" dia
 hose.  The water points were all a success as within 1 hour from landing on site they were delivering potable water.

For the call sign from 23 Fld Sqn the exercise proved to be a learning experience.  One of the most important conclusions that the unit came to, was in order to support a Brigade Group in Northern Operations that a air mobile full independent Field Squadron would be needed and the requirement for the normal supporting engineers in the rear of the tactical force still exist.  Overall exercise Sweetbriar was a huge success and many valuable lessons learned.  Lessons that paved the way for our winter Warfare Operations today.  As for 23 Fld Sqn their recommendations were put into play be a message from HQ B.C. area, dated 14 Dec 1951 which stated that the unit was to begin "training an Airborne Troop and be available for action as part of the mobile striking force".  But by Feb 1952 the unit was put on war footing and had the warning order to prepare for movement from Chilliwack to Korea.
 

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PRELUDE TO "DESERT STORM"  (1916-1918)

The Canadians who served in "Desert Storm", and with the U.N. mission since, were not the first Canadians to serve in "Mesopotamia" or since 1921 what has been known as Iraq.  By the time the British Indian Expeditionary Force marched into Baghdad on 11 March 1917, they would have suffered close to 100,000 casualties.

When oil was discovered, in Southern Persia in 1908, it became a vital supply of fuel for the new oil driven warships of the Royal Navy and when war broke out in 1914 this resource became challenged by Germany's ally, "Turkey".  On the 16 Oct 1914 the force sailed from Bombay India and had achieved their objectives by the 19 Dec 1914, but "Baghdad" which had no strategic importance, was felt to be a means to re-establish British prestige in the Middle East after the defeat at Gallipori.  The advance on Baghdad began in May 1915 and by April 1916 Gen Charles Townsend and 14,000 Troops, surrendered to Turkish Forces.  It was the largest force to surrender in the British Army since the American Revolution only to be exceeding only by the fall of Singapore in 1942.

A force under General Sir Stanley Maude, began to assemble to resume operations in the Gulf, but due to the drain on British manpower by the Western front Britain turned to North America for reinforcements and upwards to 4,000 men were recruited from Canada and the U.S. to serve in the "Inland water section transportation Branch", Royal Engineers.  Among those enlisted in Canada were a number, who had served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and were discharged to re-enlist in the Royal Engineers.  Some 3,500 Canadians sailed from Canada in 75 drafts.  Many sailed as crew on steam hoppers, tugs and shallow draught vessels, built in Canada for the RE's for service on the Tigres River in Mesopotamia.

By the end of Nov 1916 a force of 340,000 men began their march on Baghdad and the inland water transport steamers took the main burden of supplying the Mesopotamian Force.  The Sapper fleet worked day and night, pushing supplies and troops forward.  Among their other achievements they established floating workshops and built a fishery, supplying tons of frozen fish to the advancing army.

On the 11 March 1917 the force hoisted the Union Jack over the city of Baghdad.  Gen. Maude became the most popular General in the Empire, by securing victory out of a disaster, but victory would not have happened if not for the Royal Engineers Inland Water Transport Branch and it's Canadian Volunteers.
 

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CANADA'S FIRST MILITARY FLIGHT

The idea of flight to support military operations is in no stretch of the imagination a 20th century concept.  The use of balloons for observation and artillery fire control was used by Napoleon and during the U.S. Civil War.  By the late 1800's the Royal Engineers had established balloon sections and a Air Battalion.  It was these Engineer sponsored units that carried out the experimentation that brought Britain to the fore of Military aviation.  Indeed the Royal Air Force dates it's history back to these R.E. Balloon Sections.

Unfortunately, the suggestions put forth by the 6th Field Company R.C.E. in 1913 to form an aviation section were not implemented in Canada, but the young Corp of R.C.E. did have the privilege to be connected with Canada's first Military flight.  In July 1909 the Corp was tasked to construct a hanger and temporary airstrip in Petawawa, Ontario.  Also on site were two associates of Dr. Alexander Graham Bell and Ex-Sappers of the 2nd Field Company C.E.  On the 23 July 1909, Mr. J.A.D. McCurdy and F.W. Baldwin, with the assistance of Capt. Tyrrell R.E. and Lt. Perrin R.C.E., began to assemble two aircraft delivered by rail from Braddock N.S.

On the 2 Aug 1909, Baldwin and McCurdy made four successful take-offs and landings.  Unfortunately the "Silver Dart" was wrecked on the fourth landing.  With the aid of a Sapper ground crew the second aircraft "Beddeck 1" was assembled and flown before a considerable audience of military and civil officials.  Again misfortune plagued the demonstration and the "Beddeck 1" crashed on its second landing.  As a result of these demonstrations Maj. Maunsell, as Director of Engineer Services, was assigned to observe any new trials carried by McCurdy and Baldwin.  He spent several days at Beddeck N.S. in 1910 and was taken up on two "short flips".  As a result he was convinced that flying had a future in the military and suggested that an aviation section R.C.E. be formed to conduct trials on the handling of aircraft and balloons.

Even though the Militia Council approved his recommendations, the Minister of Militia and Defence vetoed the proposal.  Thus ending Canada's first attempt at forming a military aviation section.  The reasons for the veto are unknown.  Perhaps, with war clouds looming in Europe and the heavy commitments for Engineer services to the permanent Corp, military flight had a low priority.  But, as the bronze plaque at C.F.B. Petawawa states "The first Military demonstration of aircraft flight in Canada" was in fact a Sapper flight.
 

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SAILOR SAPPERS

In August of 1873 the Commanding Royal Engineer in Nova Scotia received a document from the British war office.  The accompanying memo stated that "the notes on defense by submarine mines" was a strictly confidential file and it was to "be distinctly understood" that it was to be confined to Commissioned Officers of the Royal Engineers only!  Thus, the first steps in establishing submarine mining installations within Canada took place.

Attempts to fire explosives under water were first made during the American Revolutionary War, but it was in 1839 that General Sir Charles Pasley R.E. fired the first explosive charges by means of electricity.  From that point on the use of electricity, as applied to firing circuits, searchlights and telephones, provided a mysterious force that would develop into a "harbour defence arm" that eventually employed one third of the Corp of Royal Engineers.  Between 1871 - 1883 the Submarine Mining Service carried out extensive trials and evaluations on the types and size of explosive charges, configuration of individual minefields and the ships to lay them.  In 1880 the first manual of submarine mining was published and electric searchlights were developed.  By 1892 a total of twenty-six stations throughout the Empire were fully operational and achieved a training level which enabled the whole system of submarine mine defence to be laid out within a few hours following an outbreak of hostilities.  Within Canada the dock yards of Halifax and Esquimalt were manned by the No. 4 and 48th Submarine Mining Coys R.E.

The duties of a Submarine Mining Unit was to position and fire a series of mines placed around the harbours and defended ports by ship.  Having moored the mines, each device was then connected to the shore and an electric battery by an insulated cable.  The mines were of the electro contact type and could be exploded either manually, by an observer on shore when a hostile vessel passed over the minefield, or automatically upon impact.  In 1897 the Electrical Engineers R.E. were formed to assist the mining coys in manning and running the search lights and telegraph systems.

Although the mining coys were an army organization they retained the scarlet tunics of the Royal Engineers for parade and walking out dress but on board ship the dress was blue bell bottom trousers, pea jackets and sea boots.  Their head dress was a blue sailor's cap and the traditional naval cap tally lettered "Royal Engineers".

In 1905, for whatever reasons may have been, the Committee of Imperial Defence recommended that the duties of Submarine Mining Defence of military and commercial ports would be transferred to the Royal Navy and by 1906 both the 4th and 48th Submarine Mining Coys R.E. had hauled down their ensigns and left Canada's shores.  After 42 years of service the Sapper Sailors past into time but left behind a series of Engineer trades and services that still exist in our branch today.
 

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THE CANADIAN RAILWAY KING

As time marches on, it has not dealt too kindly to the memory of a generation of Sappers, who have been forgotten in the wake of numerous wars and peacekeeping missions.  In 1882 a 15 year old French Canadian named Percy Girouard was being sworn in as cadet no. 147, at R.M.C., Kingston.  Little did he realize at the time a far away war and a group of Canadian Boatman would be setting in motion a chain of circumstances which was to lead to his successful career some fifteen years later.  (Canadians in the Sudan 1884-1885)

Percy Girouard was born in Montreal in 1867, the son of a prominent Member of Parliament and Supreme Court Judge, Désiré Girouard and Essie Canwill from Ireland.  He received his early education at a religious seminary in Three Rivers.  At the age of fifteen and a half he entered R.M.C. and graduated four years later with "Distinguished Marks" in Civil Engineering.  After graduation he took up a Engineering post with the Canadian Pacific Railway.  It was during this era that Percy Girouard began to become a master in the art of Railway Construction, but Girouard's main passion was the military and two years after his graduation from RMC, much to his father's wishes, he took one of the limited commissions offered to Canadians in the Royal Engineers.

 After training at Chatham, his first posting was that of traffic manager of railways within the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, an appointment he held for five years.  During this time frame he so impressed his superiors that it was said that this Canadian Sapper Officer was indeed in the railway business and had original ideas.

In 1895 when Sir Herbert Kitchener R.E., Commander-In-Chief of the Egyptian Army, was ordered to occupy the Sudan, he realized that the success of such an operation depended on satisfactory rail communication.  It was no wonder that Lieut. Girouard was immediately posted to Egypt and appointed Director of Railways in the Egyptian Army and in the space of two years, through blistering heat and desert, 588 miles of railway were put into operation.  Up to 26,000 men and stores were moved into the Sudan under the direction of Lieut. Girouard.  It must be remembered that at this time there were no manuals on Military Railways, nor did the subject receive much attention at the War Office.  What Girouard accomplished, he did from scratch, based on his Canadian training and his personal studies of railways in the Franco-Prussian War (1870) and the U.S. Civil War (1861-5).  It was not only his technical knowledge that led to his success.  Girouard was a natural leader!  It was said "he inspired the greatest enthusiasm, confidence, loyalty and affection in all his subordinates, British and Egyptian.

 Lieut. Girouard would carry on and serve in the Boer War as Director of Military Railways and construct railways all over the "Dark Continent", become "Commander and Chief" of what is now Kenya and serve as President of the Canadian Branch of Armstrong-Whitworth Armament.  In 1932 the old "Soldier and Statesman" died in London, England at the age of 65, but, throughout his varied career Sir Percy Girouard always referred to himself with pride as a Canadian Sapper!

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FIFTY-FOUR FORTY or FIGHT

In 1845 the settlement of the North West Boundary or the "Origin Question", as it became known, placed Great Britain and the United States on the brink of war.  The Origin Territory was bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean, on the east by the Rocky Mountains, the south by the Spanish Territory and the north by Russian Territory.  This stretch of land, which included parts of present day British Columbia, was to remain free and assessable to subjects of both Britain and the U.S. but by 1845 this Territory was being claimed by the U.S.

In that same year, the Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company. "Sir George Simpson" sailed to England with his recommendations regarding the Anglo-American conflict.  As a result two officers Lt. Warre and Lt. Vauasour of the Royal Engineers were sent on special "Spy Mission", pretending to be gentlemen adventures, visiting the yet untamed west.  Their mission was to reconnoitre a route to transport troops overland from the east and future defensive positions along the Columbia River which Britain claimed as the boundary.

It was on this mission that the true potential of what is now known as C.F.B. Esquimalt was soon to be discovered.  The two Engineers were highly opposed to the sight of the Hudson Bay's "Fort Victoria" and strongly suggested that the nearby inlet of "Squimal" would be far more suitable for Military operations.  By the time their reports reached England the 49? parallel had been established as the new border but the recommendations for Esquimalt were taken to heed and the home station for Canada's West Coast Naval fleet owes it's origins to the Engineers.
 

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PLUTO (Pipeline Under the Ocean)

In the spring of 1944, throughout Britain there was a strange tension in the air.  No one knew exactly when or where but all sensed that the time for the invasion of Europe was near.  Units had been training all winter, then the long awaited word came, orders were issued and units began to move to the south of England.  Overnight camps sprang up, with train loads of vehicles of every description being moved into staging areas.  Finally, after a series of weather delays, Eisenhower made the vital decision "OK, let's go", that order gave the go ahead for the greatest invasion in history.  By the first light, on the 6th June 1944, invasion troops began to hit the beaches of Normandy, preceded earlier in the morning by allied Airborne Forces.

On D-day alone the Force contained 15,000 vehicles to support the advancing Infantry, with thousands more every day there after.  The fuel tankers off shore would not be able to handle their tremendous thirst for fuel.  The master plan to solve this problem was "PLUTO", pipeline under the ocean, and one of the best kept secrets of WWII.  Conceived by the "Back Room Boys", Pluto would be the lifeline of the invasion.  Early in the war the experts went to work constructing 710 nautical miles of 3" dia. pipe, that would be laid by ship across the channel to
 France.  And Engineers and Service Corp personnel were trained to operate the pumping systems that would push the fuel to the waiting vehicles.

Crouched in their landing craft the men of 47 Commando, would have the critical mission of advancing ten miles though enemy territory to capture Port-en-Bessin, which would be the fuel terminal on the French side of the system.  On the east coast of England a small village had become the home pumping station.  The village had been evacuated and the homes and shops gutted to hide the pumps and generators to make Pluto work.  The man tasked to keep the village looking at a normal state was a young architect named Maj. Wilson Satler of the Royal Canadian Engineers.

Two years prior Maj. Satler left the R.C.E. and was seconded to the British.  He became an expert at the art of camouflage and making armies and equipment disappear.  He developed fake armies and props that could be assembled or knocked down, then moved.  They would then appear as companies or platoons in the air photos of the German reconnaissance planes.  All this was part of a mass deception plan to keep the enemy off balance prior to the invasion.

By the end of July 1944 there would be four Pluto pipelines pushing 2500 tons of fuel daily.  As in the words of Sir Winston Churchill, "In war, truth is so precious she must always be wrapped in a bodyguard of lies".  And Maj. Satler R.C.E. was in the vanguard of these lies, because without his uncanny sense of deception the lifeline of the invasion would have failed.  As the war ended, Maj. Satler's art of deception carried on, for he and his deeds are still one of the unknown secrets of WWII

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CANADIANS IN THE SUDAN

"Good boatmen required to accompany an English expedition up the Nile to steer boats through the rapids and do all necessary portaging."  Ottawa Free Press, August 27, 1884.  For the first time in our history, Canada was to send military assistance in aid of Great Britain.

In the early 1880's, Egypt was to find herself in a state of great unrest.  This concerned Great Britain, who sought to occupy the country so as to protect her interests in the Suez Canal, and by 1882, had succeeded.  However, in conquering Egypt, Britain not only gained the country; it gained its problems.

Worst of its problems was the Mahdist uprising in the Sudan.  In Khartoum on the 3rd of November, 1883, the Mahdists wiped out 10,000 Egyptian troops who were under the command of General William Hicks, a former Indian army officer.  The British government gave orders to evacuate the Sudan and sent Major General C.G. Gordon, R.E., to oversee the operation.  Gordon arrived at Khartoum on the 18th of February, 1884 and by June the Mahdists had besieged the city severing all communication links between Major General Gordon and his small garrison and Cairo.

The siege was to last almost a year before, (due to British public opinion), a relief expedition was organized under the command of Lord Wolseley, former commander of the Canadian Red River expedition of 1870.  It was through Lord Wolseley that the advertisement was placed for boatmen, with the terms of service being a six-month contact including rations and clothing.  Pay was set at $40.00 per month for a boatman and $75.00 per month for a foreman.  As a result, 380 voyageurs were taken on from Manitoba and Nova Scotia.

On the 13th of September, 1884, under the command of brevet Lt. Col. Frederick Charles Denison, the Canadian contingent was marched from Parliament Hill to the C.P.R. station to begin their journey to the shores of Egypt.  The contingent landed in Alexandria on the 7th of October where they and 400 whalers were transported to Wadi Halfa by steamer.  The journey from Wadi Halfa to Khatoum was to take almost 3 months:

"month after month convoys of British troops slugged it up the river with the Canadians in command of each whaler.  The food was only passable.  But as one wrote home, 'rum is also served three times a week and is strong enough to make me vote conservative, which I would not do under other circumstances.'" (The Citizen, Sept. 22, 1984, p. E1).

Even Lt. Col. Denison was beginning to have his doubts.  In January, 1885 Denison's diary complains about "the way the boats are overloaded and makes the gloomy prediction that the expedition will reach Khartoum too late to save General Gordon" (The Citizen, Sept. 22, 1984, p. E1).  He was right.  They arrived in Khartoum on the 28th of January, 1885; two days too late.  On the 26th of January, 1885 the Mahdist forces captured the city and General Gordon with his entire garrison were massacred.

With the task of the voyageurs complete, the contingent (less 85 men who re-engaged to carry out yeoman and courier services), returned to Canada via England.  The second group returned home to Canada six months later, but their arrival was hardly noticed due to the excitement of the second Riel Rebellion.  The expedition had failed its original purpose and in March, 1885 the British were forced to withdraw from the Sudan.

Although the role of the Canadians was non-combatant, they succeeded in leaving their mark, for as Lord Wolseley wrote in his final dispatch:

"(the) men and officers showed a high military and patriotic spirit, making light of difficulties, and working with that energy and determination which have always characterised Her Majesty's Canadian Forces."
 

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UPPER CANADA 1791 - 1802

The sweating soldiers, uniformed in green waistcoats, white breeches and black gaiters, formed a strange sight to the local native Americans.  First came the point party, marking trees to be cut.  Then came the fellers followed by the ox teams and the teamsters to yard the fallen logs out of the way.  Last came the Baggage train with the tentage and kit.  The route these soldiers were constructing is what would be the modern day Dundas street in Toronto.

The unit performing this traditional Sapper task were the ranks of the Queen's Rangers under the supervision of Lt. Pilkington of the Royal Engineers.  The Queen's Rangers were embodied by John Graves Simcoe, the appointed Lieutenant-Governor of the newly formed province of Upper Canada and so named the "Queen's Rangers" after the unit he had commanded during the Revolutionary war.

The unit was recruited in 1791 for the defence of the new colony, plus would be employed on Public and Defence Works.  It was also proposed that on their discharge the soldiers would be given grants of land and to assist in the provision of a trained Militia but, due to the heavy cost of her war with France, Britain felt that the defence of the Colonies was a low priority and in 1802 the unit was disbanded.  During their eleven years of existence, the "Rangers" constructed roads and bridges, defences and public buildings.  The unit was unique in that it was recruited and trained both as Sappers and Infantry and were responsible for laying the foundations of what is now the province of Ontario.
 

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ENGINEER CAVALRY

By the end of the war in South Africa in 1902 the Canadian fighting man had established himself in the eyes of both Britain and Boer as a hard riding, reliable individual.  In fact General Smith-Dorrien issued a special order of the day in which he proclaimed of Canada's Mounted Troops "that he would choose no other Mounted Troops in the world before them if he had his choice".  For the grieving families of the dead and wounded the price had been high but in terms of national interest it was low.  The Militia establishment had learned some valuable lessons about the demands of modern war which would shortly be put into practice at home.

One of the foremost lessons learned was that of mobility and the advantage of lightly armed soldiers on horse back formed into flying columns, moving swiftly from point a to point b.  Fighting as Infantry became the tactic of the era and Canada began to reform the Militia to meet this requirement.

By 1911 there were seven independent Cavalry Brigades across Canada with a mounted Engineer Troop per Brigade.  The new reforms caught on like wild fire and men were flocking to the newly formed Militia Units.  The 6th Mounted Brigade, from Manitoba in 1914, held the biggest percentile concentration of Cavalry ever in Canada:  5400 Officers and men and 3400 horses were on strength.

By general order, 38 of 1st April 1910, the first Field Troop Canadian Engineers were authorized and thus the first Cavalry unit of Engineers was born in Hamilton Ontario.  Enlistments and general military training had gone well and when the troop left for Petawawa, in June of 1911, forty out of forty-two were on parade.  One of the absent, "Sapper Dwight", was with the Coronation Contingent in England.  In Petawawa considerable emphasis was placed on riding drill while some of the time was spent on Military Engineering and by the end of the two weeks the horses had become used to the saddle and drill and the riders had become hardened and immune to saddle sores.  It should be noted that each Sapper had to supply his own horse.  It was at this camp that two Sappers paid for the absence at "stables" by being "ordered" one day on bread and water with restriction of leave and a stoppage of three dollars in their pay.  Three dollars was a lot of money in 1911 as a basic Sapper's pay was about $11.00 a month.  In those days half of the wage was guaranteed and the balance depended on the score obtained on the Rifle Range.

On the 1st April 1912, the first Field Troop established a wireless section and became the proud possessor of the first military wireless equipment in Canada.  Complete with gasoline generators, all designed to be carried on horseback, over the next two years the unit continued to grow and attend Petawawa summer camp.  Considerable emphasis was placed on equitation and wireless training but Military Engineering was not neglected.  The unit became proficient in the construction of flying bridges, demolitions and field works.  They won the Gzouski cup two years running, the prize would remain with the unit until 1947.  By the time the unit returned from Petawawa in 1914, war had been declared.  In typical Sapper fashion two of the troop NCO's went into immediate action and set up an official recruiting station.  By midnight, on the 4th of August 1914, the First Field Troop became the first unit in Canada to be up to full war strength.  By 19 August 1914 the first elements of the unit left on horseback to Valcartier.  By the time the unit left for overseas they had lost their horses and were absorbed into the First Canadian Division.  Though many of the original Sappers would find their way into the Engineer Signal Troop of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade.  Thus, the first Engineer Cavalry Troop would survive the Great War but would continue their mounted role until the start of the second world war when they were redesigned First Field Squadron RCE in support of the Canadian Fifth Armoured Division.

So indeed all Canadian Armoured Engineer Troops can truly trace their lineage to the FIRST FIELD TROOP C.E. (CAVALRY)!
 

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FRONTIER SURVEYOR

Stored away in the Government Engineer Department of Victoria lies many records, field notes and plans that bear the name Lance Corporal G. Turner, Royal Engineers.  One also finds documents with only his signature accompanied by the term "surveyor" of the firm Woods, Turner and Gamble.

George Turner was borne and educated in London, England.  In 1855, after the death of his soldier father in India, he decided to join the Royal Engineers.  By 1859, Turner along with 165 all ranks, were on the high seas bound for the new colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia.  Their mission: to maintain order, conduct surveys, as well as design and construct the desperately needed Cariboo Road.

Lance Corporal Turner can be credited with many firsts one of which is the survey of Coal Harbour (Stanley Park).  Concerning Vancouver's downtown core, his field notes state that it is heavy timber land - very swampy in places - coal seam about 10 on top, very good clay set.

When the Columbia Detachment of Royal Engineers disbanded in 1863, George Turner stayed on in the new colony as a civilian surveyor.  He carried out most of his work on foot, horseback and in canoes, until he made his final survey of no return. On April 26, 1919, George Turner, surveyor and Royal Engineer passed away at the age of 83.  He was laid to rest in the Royal City Cemetery in New Westminster; oddly enough an area he had helped to survey.

George Turner was one of B.C.'s most historic surveyors; there is hardly a township in B.C. that does not bear his signature.  For those of you who belong to the Association of Professional Engineers of British Columbia, you can thank Lance Corporal G. Turner as he is your founder.
 

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SPITSBERGEN OPERATION

On August 1942, a U.S. Military Intelligence report was published on various operations by British Commandos.  One operation which was covered in great detail was the "Spitsbergen Operation," of August 1941.  A significant point of the operation was that Brigadier A. E. Potts, ED, (a Canadian), was in command of the Land Force.  Also involved were the Sappers from 3rd Field Company, R.C.E.

Spitzbergen is a Norwegian archipelago lying within 600 miles of the North Pole.  It acquired strategic importance after Germany began its war with Russia due to its location on the Arctic route to Russia's northern ports.  Although not garrisoned by the enemy, it served as a shipping base, source of coal and as a weather station.

The task force was mixed consisting of officers and men from the Canadian, British and Norwegian armies and of the approximate 540 Canadians, 200 were sappers.  The total force began training on August 6, 1941 at the Combined Operations Training Centre, Scotland.  Training stressed landings on enemy controlled coastline while the engineers concerned themselves with demolitions, the use of tractors on beaches and dock equipment.  They also trained on improvised rafts, constructing beach roadways and landing stages.  Teams were also supplied to the Gunners and the Infantry to supervise rowing drills.

On August 25, 1941, the expedition reached Spitsbergen and dropped anchor without incident.  The Engineers had numerous tasks: ferrying the civilian population from the various Russian and Norwegian settlements to the mother ships, destruction of coal stocks and port facilities, and finally,  keeping a steam- turbine power plant operational to re-supply the task force ships with water.

By the 3rd of September, 1941, the expedition sailed for Scotland leaving behind a sapper detachment of 8 men to complete the final demolitions; by September 9th, they were back in their billets.  Overall, the mission was a success.  There were numerous lessons learned on the uses and limitations of fire and explosives as agents of destruction.  The sappers who took part played a major role in denying the enemy a valuable resource and, had served on the most northerly military expedition in history.
 

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NUCLEAR SAPPERS

As early as 1944 the British identified the Soviet Union as a potential enemy.  However, it took the Communist Coup in Czechoslovakia in Feb. 1948 and the Berlin blockade a month later to open the eyes of the rest of the world, the Cold War had begun.  The Soviet Union had maintained its large wartime army and retained all it's conquered territory.  Canada was propelled into the Cold War by the defection of Igor Gouzenko.  Igor was a Soviet Cypher clerk with the Russian Embassy who brought with him evidence of a Soviet spy ring within Canada.  It was the Soviet nuclear tests in 1949 that caught the world totally off guard.  As it was conceived, it would take the Soviets much longer to gain the technical knowledge that would bring them into the age of Nuclear Warfare!

Short of the horrifying accounts of nuclear attacks on Japan, nuclear warfare as a whole was virtually an unknown subject.  However, the Canadian Army, seeing the virtue and need of defence against this weapon, turned to the Sappers to develop a plan that would help the nation defend itself if and when nuclear weapons were ever used.  Thus in the supplement to Canadian Army orders dated 27 March, 1950 para 110-2 - Formation - Active Force Units read as follows:
Pursuant to section 20 of the militia act, the Minister of National Defence hereby authorizes the formation of the under-mentioned unit of the Canadian Army active force:
  No. 1 Radiation Detection Unit, RCE
  (effective 13th March 1950)
It should be noted that Canada was the first in NATO to form such a unit.

Originally the unit was based at the Defence Research Chemical Laboratory, near Ottawa and had on strength four Officers and twelve other ranks.  All Sappers except for one Captain and Staff sergeant from RCEME.  The Unit went to work right away on the ground work required to gain the knowledge required that would ensure the Canadian soldier in the field the greatest protection against atomic weapons.  The first step was to receive training from various radiation laboratories, civil defence and Universities.  That would give them the knowledge to put such a program together.  The unit topped, or nearly topped, all the courses the attended and during 1950 the unit conducted courses at RMC Kingston, Ont and RCSME Chilliwack, B.C. for scientists, civil defence officials and army personnel.  On the defensive measures against the "A" bomb, with particular regard to problems regarding radio activity.

Between 1950-1953 the unit was moved to Kingston Ont, and it's strength and increased to five Officers and twenty-nine other ranks.  Also during this time period the unit carried various exercises, which included radiation detection drills and the handling of "live" radio active materials.  In late 1952 and Feb. 1953 the unit was called to Chalk River atomic energy plant in Ont., to help in radiation control following a break in the reactor. In 1953 the units terms of reference were revised to include the following roles in addition to radiation reconnaissance investigation.
  a. An operational responsibility;
  b. A training role;
  c. Investigation of problems in chemical reconnaissance;
  d. Responsibility for user trials and minor development of special equipment.

Within the last requirement the task of "participating in trials and tests involving special weapons" would become a major role for 1 R.D.U. for between 1955-1957 the unit with attached personnel from the R.C.N., RCAF were involved in numerous atomic explosions in the United States conduct of operations in "Operation Teapot" in Desert Rock Nevada USA 1955 as follows:

After several delays due to weather, the unit accompanied troops of the US Army into the forward trenches, approximately 3200 yards from "ground zero".  Immediately following the exploding the unit carried out a ground survey of the radio active fall-out.  The following two days, a similar survey was made to determine how much the contamination had diminished.  On each occasion, an accurate map of the contamination was produced.

It must be remembered that during the early stages of 1 RDU's participation in some of these operations, the tasks were carried out with no or little protective clothing , short of the "mask protective" and "battle dress" and as late as 1959 CAMT 2-10 individual training nuclear, biological and chemical warfare states that protective clothing will be issued to personnel who are engaged on major decontamination tasks or who handle dangerous C.W. materials.

In Aug. 1958, 1 RDU was removed from the list of category "b" units, and moved to Camp Borden, Ont.  There they formed the forerunner of the present Canadian Forces N.B.C. school.  Finally on 15 Mar 1960 the unit was reduced to nil strength.  As the individual units had reached a stage where they had selected personnel trained to instruct and carry out N.B.C. training on an annual basis.  So the requirement for a central school for training these troops became the priority.  During its ten years of existence, 1 RDU was involved in some of the most famous atomic tests.  In an era when little to nil knowledge of the long term effects, that nuclear fallout and radio active contamination would have on an individual.  An era also of deadly experiments in which both civilian and military were unknowingly subjected to radiation in many forms to calculate the affects on human subjects.

In all 173 personnel from the army, RCN, RCAF served with 1 RDU RCE and one has to think of the long term physical and mental affects their service with the unit produced and how many have become fallen veterans for their service in the "COLD WAR".
 

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CANADIAN FORESTRY CORP

As in any armed conflict, there is a requirement for special materials and units.  World War II created a crisis in wood supply for the United Kingdom.  Pre war home production covered not more than about four percent by volume of needed timber to support the war effort.  In addition to civilian requirements it was estimated that every soldier needed five trees: Once again the British Government turned to Overseas Woodsman to assist in the war effort.  Given their impressive record in World War One it was natural that they looked to Canada to provide forestry units once again.  In May 1940 the Canadian Government decided to form a Canadian Forestry Corps.  Twenty Companies were initially formed with ten more as the war progressed.

The financial agreement between the two Governments was similar to that in World War I.  Canada would bear the cost of pay, allowances and pensions, all initial personal equipment, transport to and from the United Kingdom.  The British Government paid for "all other services connected with equipment, work or maintenance" and certain others, including medical services.  Canada covered the cost for Medical Officers and Britain paid for hospitalization.  The arrangement was unusual as it resulted in a Canadian Unit working for the British, who controlled the areas of work and disposal of the product, but Military operations of the C.F.C. was never surrendered by the Canadians and came under command of Canadian Military Headquarters in London.  Even though the C.F.C. had to serve two masters, no serious problems ever resulted.

Mobilization centres for the corp spanned all across Canada, and recruited both English and French speaking personnel.  Many of the volunteers were veterans of World War One, including the Corp's Commander, Brigadier- General J.B. White.  Many of the men carried out the same duties as they did in civilian life, such as loggers, black smiths, lawyers, storeman, cooks and clerks.  The big difference between the new Corp and their World War One counter parts were the new Corp were considered Combat Troops.  The main training centre for the Corp was in Valcartier, where they received 5-7 months training and then proceeded Overseas to the United Kingdom, where the main areas of operations were centred in Scotland.  For the most part, the C.F.C. camps were constructed from scratch, and the personnel built barracks, roads, bridges and set up power plants.  Each company's sawmill usually was located close to their camp and employed both "Canadian Mills" and the smaller "Scotch Mill" but the later was not viewed with approval by the Canadians.  The average time lag between arrival at the camps and the start of logging operations was 97 days.

The companies worked in two sections, one cutting in the bush and bringing out the timber, and the other sawing it into lumber at the company mill.  The felling crew consisted of three men, two sawing and one trimming.  Hand saws and axes were the tools employed and three man "Cat" teams yarded the logs to the roadside landings, either by dragging them or use of sulkies.  Each C.F.C. Unit was a self-contained community, including men capable of turning their hand at any task from black smithery and mechanical repair to snow clearance on the highland roads.  A regular potion of each unit's time was devoted to military training, each company preparing defensive positions in its area in cooperation with the troops of Scottish Command in the event of German invasion.

The C.F.C. had a very positive impact on the Scottish Highlands.  The men became active participants in local functions, from fund raising to staging Christmas parties for the local children.  Many times scrap wood mysteriously fell from lorries to land beside individual homes in need of fuel.  During their stay in the Highlands, the C.F.C. cleared an estimated 230,000 forest acres in Scotland and in doing so they contributed to the urgency of reforestation in post war Scotland.  But at the same time it demonstrated more efficient cutting and clearing techniques, which was adopted by Scottish forestry in post war years.  A notable tribute to the C.F.C. was paid by Laura Lady Lovat when she stated, "you Canadians may be cutting the Scots firs of the Highlands, but in Highland hearts you are planting something far more lasting".

With preparations for the allied invasion in the spring of 1944, the C.F.C. was also prepared for movement across the channel.  C.F.C. personnel began to assemble at Southampton, and began to construct timber into rafts to be towed across the channel.  In all seventy-seven square timber and fifty-four round timber rafts were constructed and towed successfully to France.  By the end of August 1944 the C.F.C. were in operation in Europe.  And in December of 1944 when the Germans launched their Ardennes counter-offensive, six companies of C.F.C. were called upon to help hold the front line.  The only other Canadian Unit in the operation were members of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion.

On August 31, 1945 the C.F.C. was officially disbanded and returned to Canada.  In all at it's peak, the Overseas strength of the Corp was 220 officers and 6771 other ranks.  But little physical evidence of their work remains today, many of the camps have long since been reforested and only partly overgrown sawdust piles remain to remind us of their wartime contribution.  Due to the fact that much of their work was Sapper related the Canadian Military Engineers include them in our heritage and it is only through units like the Canadian Forestry Corp that our history has become the strong contribution to the Canadian Freedom we enjoy today!

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SAPPERS OF NEW FRANCE

Canadian Sapper History stems from French Canada, Newfoundland and the Maritimes.  All early settlements were centred on a fortification.  Usually of a strong stockade and a small gun battery of three to four guns.  As was the "Habitation" of Champlain at Quebec in 1608.

Up to the mid 18th Century the "King's Engineers" of France and New France were a distinct department of Government.  In 1743 the great majority of these Engineers were transferred to the Ministry of War (Army) and the remainder to the Ministry of Marine, who were responsible for all French Coastal and Colonial Fortifications.  In 1732 the "King's Engineers" adopted a scarlet uniform which was worn here in Canada until the French surrender in 1763.

The arrival of Lieutenant Colonel Franquet to Louisbourg in 1750, brought the Army Engineers to New France.  By 1755 the Engineers and Artillery became united as one branch but the union was an unpopular one and by 1758 the engineers were once again a distinct unit and so served with their Colonial counterparts "The King's Engineers" until the surrender of Montreal in 1760.

The Sapper duties of the French were carried out by the Troops of the infantry line Regiments.  These troops would receive extra pay for the work in constructing of fortifications and roads within the New Colony.  one of the first units recruited for New France was the "Troupe de la Marine" later to be the "Compagnies Franches de la Marine".  In time this unit took on a truly Canadian character.  Although the ranks were recruited in France they were expected to remain in New France when discharged.  The Officers of the unit came from prominent Canadian families.  Even though only the Officers of the "Compagnies Franches de la Marine", were Canadian, the unit is the first truly Canadian regular army unit.  Thus the fore runners of the Canadian Army and our present Canadian Military Engineer Branch.
 

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CANADA'S BLACK BATTALION

Black Canadian's have a long and honourable tradition in Canada's Armed Forces, starting with the American Revolution 1775-83 to our present day U.N. Operations.  During the Revolution thousands joined the Loyalists cause, serving as labourers and in line Regts.  A Black Pioneer Corp served with distinction and received commendations for bravery and conduct for it's actions during the Revolution.

During the war of 1812 black soldiers served as Pioneers in the 104th New Brunswick Regt. of Foot on their famed 24 day march in (-25 F) -31 C temperatures from Fredericton N.B. to Quebec City and then on to fight with distinction at the battles of Sackett's Harbour, Beaver Dam, Lundy's Lane, the blockade of Fort George and were one of the forward units on assault of Fort Erie.  But, the first and only true Black Battalion in Canadian Military History is the No. 2 Construction Battalion C.E.F. formed on July 5, 1916 and disbanded Sept 15, 1920.  The Battalion has the honour of having the only black Commissioned Officer in the British Forces that of Reverend Captain William A. White, the Unit chaplin.

Another unique status of the Battalion was the fact that the Commanding Officer Lieutenant-Colonel Daniel Hugh Sutherland was authorized to bypass normal channels of command and deal directly with the Militia Council in Ottawa.  The Battalion was also granted special authority to recruit in all provinces.  Due to widespread rejection of black volunteers, it was recognized that the Battalion wouldn't compete with other units.

Despite some recruiting problems, the Battalion sailed from Halifax on 28th March 1917 with 19 Officers and 605 Ranks and arrived 10 days later in Liverpool England.  Due to the Unit being under strength, they were reduced to a Company.  They then proceeded to France where they were attached to the Canadian Forestry Corp, C.E.F.  The Unit was highly commended for its discipline and faithful service.  Some of the men were eventually assigned to line units and participated in trench warfare.  The Unit returned to Canada in 1919 and officially disbanded on Sept 15, 1920.

From that point the Unit went virtually unknown until 10 July 1993, when in the town of Pictou, N.S., at Market Wharf, the Historic Site and Monuments Board laid a plaque recognizing the contribution of No. 2 Construction Battalion to Canada's Military history and thus to the lineages of the CME Branch as we know it today.
 

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ENGINEERS OF THE NORTHWEST REBELLION

 As in all of Canada's conflicts it has depended on volunteers.  In March of 1885 when the North-West Rebellion broke out, Militia Engineers were not called out but a select group did volunteer.

 A group of Dominion Land Surveyors met at an Ottawa Hotel to form a Surveyors Corps.  On 1 April 1885 with Major General Middleton's approval the unit was formed.  "The Dominion Land Surveyors Intelligence Corps" as it was known, proceeded to Winnipeg by way of Chicago and St-Paul, and arrived on April 11.

 At Qu'Appelle the new unit, under command of Capt. J.S. Dennis, began to learn of military life.  As the main duty of the unit was reconnaissance, the unit was mounted.  With the aid of Quartermaster Abe Burrows, who like any good troop storeman could steal the fillings out of the teeth of the commissariat staff unless they slept with their mouths shut, the unit became operational.

 Armed with Winchester repeating rifles and colt revolvers the unit deployed in a line of pickets from Swift Current Creek to Lone Lake, a distance of 130 miles.  When action was ordered, on the 3rd of May they began to join Middleton's column.  In just four days they assembled and rode the 150 miles to meet the General.

 "Dennis's Scouts" as they became known arrived at Batoche Sunday the 10th of May, the second day of the action.  By the time the fighting was over the unit had 1 killed and 2 wounded.

 In all essence, the rebellion was put down by the 2nd of July, and on the 12 July "Dennis's Scouts" were disbanded.  And in the words of their Captain, the activities of the corps were commented upon being very favourably in dispatches of the Commanding General, and the work may be reasonably included in the statement of the important work done by the Surveyors of Canada in the development of our great western territory.
 
 

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UBIQUE