No. 1 Siege Company in World War 1
from Low & Everett’s history of the Regiment

This was an original Company. Having been made up to strength in Officers and Other Ranks, the Company in accordance with the mobilisation scheme, embarked at Fishguard for Ireland on 6th August, 1914. On arrival it was employed on strengthening the defences of Queenstown, (Cork). It remained there until the end of October, when orders were received to join the B.E.F. in France and Belgium and it moved to Southampton via Fishguard.

The route of the special train passed through Cardiff and Newport. As a side line on the security arrangements of the day, it may be mentioned that the times at which the train was due to pass became known. The Company Commander, Major Forestier-Walker, feared that if the train stopped at either of these stations he would be in danger of losing most of his command. He therefore got the Railway Officials at Fishguard to telegraph ahead that under no circumstances was the train to stop in the stations. The Railway people were as good as their word. The train ran through the platforms without stopping to the consternation of the troops, and the wives and relatives gathered on the platforms. On arrival at the transit camp at Southampton the troops gave themselves leave, more or less en masse.

This was an unfortunate incident. At this time the B.E.F. was fighting for its life and the Channel ports and leave was for the moment unheard of. But it should be remembered that the men had left their homes early in July when called out for annual training and had no leave before this move. Had it been possible to grant a few hours leave before embarking for France there might have been a few absentees and the trouble would have been avoided. All the men of the Rly. Coys. got at least one week-end leave before embarking, and also their relatives were able to visit them.

The Company landed at Havre on the 3rd November, 1914. After a short period on the Lines of Communication to allow it to shake down it was sent to II Army. On the 25th December, 1914, the Company was sent to 5th Div. in the line to reinforce a sorely tried Field Coy. (59 Fd. Coy.) in front of Wulverghem, and at once began to build up a reputation for good work and reliability. It next temporarily relieved 59 Field Company for six weeks in the line, until, in the early spring of 1915, it was sent to II Corps. From then until the Armistice in 1918, it remained with various Corps (with the exception of a short spell in 1917 with the 62nd Div.) employed on the multitudinous tasks which fell to the lot of Corps Troops Engineers.

From July 1915 until May 1916, the Company was with XIV Corps in the Ypres salient. During this period, the greater part of the Company’s work consisted of wiring, construction of dug-outs and of forward “O.P.s” (Observation Posts) for the R.A. for the use of the Gunner F.O.O.s. (Forward Observation Officers). For this work the Company was dispersed in detachments over the whole of the Corps front, at the disposal of the Commander Corps Artillery (“Brig. Gen. R.A.”). The work was laborious and much of it had to be done at night. These O.P.s were constructed of reinforced concrete, and for the last part of the journey all materials, etc., had to be carried by hand up the communication trenches. There were also times when it was nerve-wracking in the extreme.
Nevertheless, a first-class job was done and these O.P.s survived many direct hits by shells of various sizes, without, in many cases, unduly hindering the work of the F.O.O. inside!

For this work, the Company received two awards of the M.C. (Vyvyan-Robinson and Bence-Jones) and some fifteen awards and mentions to other ranks.

In July, 1916, the Company having been sent to 1st Anzac Corps, was moved south to the neighbourhood of Albert. The Somme Battle started on 1st July and the concentration of troops in the Corps Areas was very heavy. Water supply for men and horses was a major undertaking and, as the slow advance took place, pipe lines had to be pushed forward and maintained, and roads repaired and constructed. The Company was employed on these and kindred tasks. When the Germans retired to the “Hindenburg Line” in March, 1917, demands on the sappers increased, but they were assisted by large infantry working parties as the fighting had died down. It is interesting to note that up to the end of 1917, the Company had been attached to the following formations :—1 st Anzac, Canadian, V. IV, XIII, VI Corps, 62 Div.

At the end of 1917, the Company was transferred to XVII Corps, and moved to the valley of the River Scarpe, east of Arras and was employed on strengthening our positions in that area. Wiring, and construction of deep dug-outs and machine gun posts, were the order of the day; considerable tunnelling work was involved. This was all part of the feverish efforts which were started all along the British Front to improve the defences against the German offensive which was obviously coming.

On 21st March, 1918 when the storm broke, the Company was moved back west of Arras. Although the greatest enemy advance had taken place further south astride the River Somme where the main attack had been put in there was room to retreat. In the north it was a different story. Any sizeable enemy advance would have hemmed us in against the Channel ports and disrupted our northern bases and supply arrangements. In rear of the northern portion of our front extensive defensive positions sited in considerable depth were put in hand. The Company was employed as part of the large force engaged on this task until July, 1918. It was then transferred to VIII Corps.

The following letter was received by the Coy. Commander from the Commander XVII Corps dated 14.7.18.

“I wish to thank you, and all officers and men under your command for all they have done during the period spent in the XVII Corps.
“It is greatly due to their good work and fine spirit that the defences on this front are so well developed. The soldierly spirit and good discipline shown have been fully appreciated, and they reflect credit on all ranks.

“My heartiest good wishes to this Company, from whom I part with great regret.

(signed) Charles Fergusson,
Lieut.-General, Cmdg. XVII Corps.”