Branch British Army
Part of Commander Land Forces
|Country United Kingdom|
Size 15 Regiments
Garrison/HQ Chatham, Kent, England
The Corps of Royal Engineers, usually just called the Royal Engineers (RE), and commonly known as the Sappers, is one of the corps of the British Army. It is highly regarded throughout the military, and especially the Army.
- Significant constructions
- British Columbia
- Royal Albert Hall
- Indian infrastructure
- Rideau Canal
- Dover's Western Heights
- Pentonville Prison
- Boundary Commissions
- Abney Level
- H.M. Dockyards
- Chatham Dockyard
- Brigades & Groups
- The Royal School of Military Engineering
- Corps' Ensign
- Bishop Gundulf, Rochester and King's Engineers
- The Institution of Royal Engineers
- The Royal Engineers' Association
- Royal Engineers' Yacht Club
- The Royal Engineers Amateur Football Club
- FA Cup
- Successor units
- Notable personnel
- Victoria Cross
- The Sapper VCs
It provides military engineering and other technical support to the British Armed Forces and is headed by the Chief Royal Engineer. The Regimental Headquarters and the Royal School of Military Engineering are in Chatham in Kent, England. The corps is divided into several regiments, barracked at various places in the United Kingdom and around the world.
The Royal Engineers trace their origins back to the military engineers brought to England by William the Conqueror, specifically Bishop Gundulf of Rochester Cathedral, and claim over 900 years of unbroken service to the crown. Engineers have always served in the armies of the Crown; however, the origins of the modern corps, along with those of the Royal Artillery, lie in the Board of Ordnance established in the 15th century.
In Woolwich in 1716, the Board formed the Royal Regiment of Artillery and established a Corps of Engineers, consisting entirely of commissioned officers. The manual work was done by the Artificer Companies, made up of contracted civilian artisans and labourers. In 1782, a Soldier Artificer Company was established for service in Gibraltar, the first instance of non-commissioned military engineers. In 1787, the Corps of Engineers was granted the Royal prefix and adopted its current name and in the same year a Corps of Royal Military Artificers was formed, consisting of non-commissioned officers and privates, to be officered by the RE. Ten years later the Gibraltar company, which had remained separate, was absorbed and in 1812 the name was changed to the Corps of Royal Sappers and Miners.
The Corps has no battle honours. In 1832, the regimental motto, Ubique Quo Fas Et Gloria Ducunt ("Everywhere That Right And Glory Lead"; in Latin fas implies "sacred duty"), was granted. The motto signified that the Corps had seen action in all the major conflicts of the British Army and almost all of the minor ones as well.
In 1855 the Board of Ordnance was abolished and authority over the Royal Engineers, Royal Sappers and Miners and Royal Artillery was transferred to the Commander-in-Chief of the Forces, thus uniting them with the rest of the Army. The following year, the Royal Engineers and Royal Sappers and Miners became a unified corps as the Corps of Royal Engineers and their headquarters were moved from the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, to Chatham, Kent.
In 1911 the Corps formed its Air Battalion, the first flying unit of the British Armed Forces. The Air Battalion was the forerunner of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force.
In 1915, in response to German mining of British trenches under the then static siege conditions of the First World War, the corps formed its own tunnelling companies. Manned by experienced coal miners from across the country, they operated with great success until 1917, when after the fixed positions broke, they built deep dugouts such as the Vampire dugout to protect troops from heavy shelling.
Before the Second World War, Royal Engineers recruits were required to be at least 5 feet 4 inches tall (5 feet 2 inches for the Mounted Branch). They initially enlisted for six years with the colours and a further six years with the reserve or four years and eight years. Unlike most corps and regiments, in which the upper age limit was 25, men could enlist in the Royal Engineers up to 35 years of age. They trained at the Royal Engineers Depot in Chatham or the RE Mounted Depot at Aldershot.
The Royal Engineers Museum is in Gillingham in Kent.
Britain having acquired an Empire, it fell to the Royal Engineers to conduct some of the most significant "civil" engineering schemes around the world. Some examples of great works of the era of empire can be found in A. J. Smithers's book Honourable Conquests.
The Royal Engineers, Columbia Detachment, commanded by Richard Clement Moody, was responsible for the foundation and settlement of British Columbia as the Colony of British Columbia.
Royal Albert Hall
The Royal Albert Hall is one of the UK's most treasured and distinctive buildings, recognisable the world over. Since its opening by Queen Victoria in 1871, the world's leading artists from every kind of performance genre have appeared on its stage. Each year it hosts more than 350 performances including classical concerts, rock and pop, ballet and opera, tennis, award ceremonies, school and community events, charity performances and lavish banquets. The Hall was designed by Captain Francis Fowke and Major-General Henry Y. D. Scott of the Royal Engineers and built by Lucas Brothers. The designers were heavily influenced by ancient amphitheatres, but had also been exposed to the ideas of Gottfried Semper while he was working at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Much of the British colonial era infrastructure of India, of which elements survive today, was created by engineers of the three presidencies' armies and the Royal Engineers. Lieutenant (later General Sir) Arthur Thomas Cotton (1803–99), Madras Engineers, was responsible for the design and construction of the great irrigation works on the river Cauvery, which watered the rice crops of Tanjore and Trichinopoly districts in the late 1820s. In 1838 he designed and built sea defences for Vizagapatam. He masterminded the Godavery Delta project where 720,000 acres (2,900 km2) of land were irrigated and 500 miles (800 km) of land to the port of Cocanada was made navigable in the 1840s. Such regard for his lasting legacy was shown when in 1983, the Indian Government erected a statue in his memory at Dowleswaram.
Other irrigation and canal projects included the Ganges Canal, where Colonel Sir Colin Scott-Moncrieff (1836–1916) acted as the Chief Engineer and made modifications to the original work. Among other engineers trained in India, Scott-Moncrieff went on to become Under Secretary of State Public Works, Egypt where he restored the Nile barrage and irrigation works of Lower Egypt.
The construction of the Rideau Canal was proposed shortly after the War of 1812, when there remained a persistent threat of attack by the United States on the British colony of Upper Canada. The initial purpose of the Rideau Canal was military, as it was intended to provide a secure supply and communications route between Montreal and the British naval base in Kingston, Ontario. Westward from Montreal, travel would proceed along the Ottawa River to Bytown (now Ottawa), then southwest via the canal to Kingston and out into Lake Ontario. The objective was to bypass the stretch of the St. Lawrence River bordering New York State, a route which would have left British supply ships vulnerable to attack or a blockade of the St. Lawrence. The construction of the canal was supervised by Lieutenant-Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers. In 2007 it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site recognizing it as a work of human creative genius. The Rideau Canal was recognized as the best preserved example of a slack water canal in North America demonstrating the use of European slackwater technology in North America on a large scale. Lt. Denison was one of the junior Royal Engineers who worked under Lt. Colonel John By, RE on the Rideau Canal in Upper Canada (1826–1832). Of note, Denison carried out experiments under the direction of Lt. Col. By to determine the strength, for construction purposes of the old growth timber in the vicinity of Bytown. His findings were published by the Institution of Civil Engineers in England who bestowed upon him the prestigious Telford Medal.
Dover's Western Heights
The Western Heights of Dover are one of the most impressive fortifications in Britain. They comprise a series of forts, strong points and ditches, designed to protect the United Kingdom from invasion. They were created to augment the existing defences and protect the key port of Dover from both seaward and landward attack. First given earthworks in 1779 against the planned invasion that year, the high ground west of Dover, England, now called Dover Western Heights, was properly fortified in 1804 when Lieutenant-Colonel William Twiss was instructed to modernise the existing defences. This was part of a huge programme of fortification in response to Napoleon's planned invasion of the United Kingdom. To assist with the movement of troops between Dover Castle and the town defences Twiss made his case for building the Grand Shaft in the cliff:
"... the new barracks. ... are little more than 300 yards horizontally from the beach. ... and about 180 feet (55 m) above high-water mark, but in order to communicate with them from the centre of town, on horseback the distance is nearly a mile and a half and to walk it about three-quarters of a mile, and all the roads unavoidably pass over ground more than 100 feet (30 m) above the barracks, besides the footpaths are so steep and chalky that a number of accidents will unavoidably happen during the wet weather and more especially after floods. I am therefore induced to recommend the construction of a shaft, with a triple staircase ... the chief objective of which is the convenience and safety of troops ... and may eventually be useful in sending reinforcements to troops or in affording them a secure retreat."
Twiss's plan was approved and building went ahead. The shaft was to be 26 feet (7.9 m) in diameter, 140 feet (43 m) deep with a 180 feet (55 m) gallery connecting the bottom of the shaft to Snargate Street, and all for under an estimated £4000. The plan entailed building two brick-lined shafts, one inside the other. In the outer would be built a triple staircase, the inner acting as a light well with "windows" cut in its outer wall to illuminate the staircases. Apparently, by March 1805 only 40 feet (12 m) of the connecting gallery was left to dig and it is probable that the project was completed by 1807.
Two Acts of Parliament allowed for the building of Pentonville Prison for the detention of convicts sentenced to imprisonment or awaiting transportation. Construction started on 10 April 1840 and was completed in 1842. The cost was £84,186 12s 2d. Captain (later Major General Sir) Joshua Jebb designed Pentonville Prison, introducing new concepts such as single cells with good heating, ventilation and sanitation.
Although mapping by what became the Ordnance Survey was born out of military necessity it was soon realised that accurate maps could be also used for civic purposes. The lessons learnt from this first boundary commission were put to good use around the world where members of the Corps have determined boundaries on behalf of the British as well as foreign governments; some notable boundary commissions include:
Much of this work continues to this day. The reform of the voting franchise brought about by the Reform Act (1832), demanded that boundary commissions were set up. Lieutenants Dawson and Thomas Drummond (1797–1839), Royal Engineers, were employed to gather the statistical information upon which the Bill was founded, as well as determining the boundaries and districts of boroughs. It was said that the fate of numerous boroughs fell victim to the heliostat and the Drummond light, the instrument that Drummond invented whilst surveying in Ireland.
An Abney level is an instrument used in surveying which consists of a fixed sighting tube, a movable spirit level that is connected to a pointing arm, and a protractor scale. The Abney level is an easy to use, relatively inexpensive, and when used correctly an accurate surveying tool. The Abney level was invented by Sir William de Wiveleslie Abney (1843–1920) who was a Royal Engineer, an English astronomer and chemist best known for his pioneering of colour photography and colour vision. Abney invented this instrument under the employment of the Royal School of Military Engineering in Chatham, England, in the 1870s.
In 1873, Captain Henry Brandreth RE was appointed Director of the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering, later the Admiralty Works Department. Following this appointment many Royal Engineer officers superintended engineering works at Naval Dockyards in various parts of the world.
Chatham, being the home of the Corps, meant that the Royal Engineers and the Dockyard had a close relationship since Captain Brandreth's appointment. At the Chatham Dockyard, Captain Thomas Mould RE designed the iron roof trusses for the covered slips, 4, 5 and 6. Slip 7 was designed by Colonel Godfrey Greene RE on his move to the Corps from the Bengal Sappers & Miners. In 1886 Major Henry Pilkington RE was appointed Superintendent of Engineering at the Dockyard, moving on to Director of Engineering at the Admiralty in 1890 and Engineer-in-Chief of Naval Loan Works, where he was responsible for the extension of all major Dockyards at home and abroad.
All members of the Royal Engineers are trained combat engineers and all sappers (privates) and non-commissioned officers also have another trade. These trades include: air conditioning fitter, electrician, general fitter, plant operator mechanic, plumber, bricklayer, plasterer / painter, carpenter & joiner, fabricator, building materials technician, design draughtsman, electrical & mechanical draughtsman, geographic support technician, survey engineer, armoured engineer, driver, engineer IT, engineer logistics specialist, amphibious engineer, bomb disposal specialist, diver or search specialist. They may also undertake the specialist selection and training to qualify as Commandos or Military Parachutists. Women are eligible for all Royal Engineer specialities.
Brigades & Groups
The Royal School of Military Engineering
The Royal School of Military Engineering is the British Army's Centre of Excellence for Military Engineering, Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), and counter terrorist search training. Located on several sites in Chatham, Kent, Camberley in Surrey and Bicester in Oxfordshire the Royal School of Military Engineering offers superb training facilities for the full range of Royal Engineer skills. The RSME was founded by Major (later General Sir) Charles Pasley, as the Royal Engineer Establishment in 1812. It was renamed the School of Military Engineering in 1868 and granted the "Royal" prefix in 1962.
The Royal Engineers, Ports Section, operated harbours and ports for the army and used mainly specialised vessels such as tugs and dredgers. During the Second World War the Royal Engineers' Blue Ensign was flown from the Mulberry harbours.
Bishop Gundulf, Rochester and King's Engineers
Bishop Gundulf, a monk from the Abbey of Bec in Normandy came to England in 1070 as Archbishop Lafranc's assistant at Canterbury. His talent for architecture had been spotted by King William I and was put to good use in Rochester where he was sent as Bishop in 1077. Almost immediately the King appointed him to supervise the construction of the White Tower, now part of the Tower of London in 1078. Under William Rufus he also undertook building work on Rochester Castle. Having served three Kings of England and earning "the favour of them all", Gundulf is accepted as the first "King's Engineer".
The Institution of Royal Engineers
The Institution of Royal Engineers, the professional institution of the Corps of Royal Engineers, was established in 1875 and in 1923 it was granted its Royal Charter by King George V. The Institution is collocated with the Royal Engineers Museum, within the grounds of the Royal School of Military Engineering at Brompton in Chatham, Kent.
The History of the Corps of Royal Engineers is currently in its 12th volume. The first two volumes were written by Major General Whitworth Porter and published in 1889.
The Sapper is published by the Royal Engineers Central Charitable Trust and is a monthly magazine for all ranks.
The Royal Engineers' Association
The Royal Engineers Association was formed to promote and support the Corps among members of the Association in the following ways:
Royal Engineers' Yacht Club
The Royal Engineers' Yacht Club, which dates back to 1812, promotes the skill of watermanship in the Royal Engineers.
The Royal Engineers Amateur Football Club
The club was founded in 1863, under the leadership of Major Francis Marindin. Sir Frederick Wall, who was the secretary of The Football Association 1895–1934, stated in his memoirs that the "combination game" was first used by the Royal Engineers A.F.C. in the early 1870s. Wall states that the "Sappers moved in unison" and showed the "advantages of combination over the old style of individualism".
The Engineers played in the first-ever FA Cup Final, losing 1–0 at Kennington Oval on 16 March 1872, to regular rivals Wanderers. They also lost the 1874 Final, to Oxford University A.F.C..
Their greatest triumph was the 1874–75 FA Cup. In the final against Old Etonians, they drew 1–1 with a goal from Renny-Tailyour and went on to win the replay 2-0 with a goal each from Renny-Tailyour and Stafford.
The winning side was:
A match programme from an Old Etonians FA Cup Final sold in an auction held at Sotheby's, New Bond street. The game was played at Kennington Oval on 25 March 1882 and shot past the £20,000-25,000 estimate to hit £30,000. It was bought at the sale on 13–14 May 2014 appropriately enough, by the Old Etonians Football Club to go on display at Eton College's Museum of Eton Life.
A sword owned by Royal Engineers defender G.H. Sim who played in two FA Cup Finals in 1875 against the Old Etonians is going under the hammer at John Mullock auctions on 15 April 2015. John Mullock has been quoted as stating "Any FA Cup artifacts pre-1900s are like hen's teeth".
Their last FA Cup Final appearance came in 1878, again losing to the Wanderers. They last participated in 1882–83 FA Cup, losing 6–2 in the fourth round to Old Carthusians F.C..
The Engineers' Depot Battalion won the FA Amateur Cup in 1908.
On 7 November 2012, the Royal Engineers played against the Wanderers in a remake of the 1872 FA Cup Final at The Oval. Unlike the actual final, the Engineers won, and by a large margin, 7–1 being the final score.
The Army were represented in the very first international by two members of the Royal Engineers, both playing for England, Lieutenant Charles Arthur Crompton RE and Lieutenant Charles Sherrard RE.
Several units have been formed from the Royal Engineers.
The following Royal Engineers have been awarded the Victoria Cross (VC), the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.
The Sapper VCs
In 1998, HMSO published an account of the 55 British and Commonwealth 'Sappers' who have been awarded the Victoria Cross. The book was written by Colonel GWA Napier, former Royal Engineers officer and a former Director of the Royal Engineers Museum. The book defines a 'Sapper' as any "member of a British or Empire military engineer corps, whatever their rank, speciality or national allegiance", and is thus not confined to Royal Engineers.