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Military Monday - Percival Richardson. Royal Engineers Part I

I've recently added my 2x Great Uncle Percival Richardson to Lives of the First World War . I've already posted a few posts abo...

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Monday, 19 October 2015


Part 1

The end of March 1917 found Percy and the 97th Field Company Royal Engineers stationed on the Hindenburg Line.

The German army was staging a strategic withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line. As they withdrew they destroyed bridges, railways, buildings and roads to hinder the Anglo-French advance.

So there was an urgent need for the Royal Engineers to restore transport and communication links.



Royal Engineers building a pontoon bridge across the Somme River at Peronne, 22 March 1917

Sir Douglas Haig mentioned the contribution of the Royal Engineers in his third Despatch in May 1917.

The systematic destruction of roads, railways and bridges in the evacuated area made unprecedented demands upon the Royal Engineers, already heavily burdened by the work entailed by the preparations for our spring offensive.
Our steady progress, in the face of the great difficulties confronting us, is the best testimony to the energy and thoroughness with which those demands were met.
The bridging of the Somme at Brie, to which reference has already been made, is an example of the nature of the obstacles with which our troops were met and of the rapidity with which those obstacles were overcome.  In this instance six gaps had to be bridged across the canal and river, some of them of considerable width and over a swift-flowing stream.
The work was commenced on the morning of the 18th March, and was carried out night and day in three stages.  By 10.00 p.m. on the same day foot-bridges for infantry had been completed, as already stated.  Medium type bridges for horse transport and cavalry were completed by 5.00 a.m. on the 20th March, and by 2.00 p.m. on the 28th March, or four and a half days after they had been begun, heavy bridges capable of taking all forms of traffic had taken the place of the lighter type.

During the Anglo-French advance, Percy was involved in both the first and second Battles of the Scarpe near Arras. He was to remain in the area around the Hindenburg Line until June 1917.

Whilst based in Les Attaques, Calais, Percy had two more misdemeanors noted on his service record. On the 26th June, when on active service, he was absent from his duty as cook's mate for two hours and received seven days confined to camp and deprivation of three days pay. Two days later, on the 28th June he was awarded fourteen days confined to camp and deprived of seven days pay for being both drunk and absent from duty for eleven hours.

Battle of the Menin Road Ridge, 20 September 1917


Percy's stay in Calais ended in September 1917 when the 21st Divison became heavily involved in the Third Battle of Ypres, more commonly known as Passchendaele. Percy's involvement began with the Battle of the Menin Road Ridge from the 20th September to the 25th. This was immediately followed on the 26th by the Battle of Polygon Wood which ended on the 3rd of October and continued on the 4th of October by the Battle of Broodseinde.





There was a small respite until the Battle of Poelcapelle on the 9th of October and finally the Second Battle of Passchendaele from the 26th of October to the 10th of November 1917.

Despite being in the thick of battle for three weeks, the Royal Engineers then found themselves at the Battle of Cambrai from the 20th of November to the 3rd of December 1917. This is noteable as the first time tanks were used en masse. 


The British front line before the Battle of Cambrai, 10 Dec. 1917.

Despite the innovative use of tanks, Cambrai was not a success and the war continued into 1918.

Part III
Part IV




Picture Credit: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205237910
picture Credit; http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205079730
Picture Credit; http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205239645