Cap badge help! Sierra Leone railways

Discussion in 'Searching for Someone & Military Genealogy' started by LukeATurner, Sep 15, 2020.

  1. LukeATurner

    LukeATurner Member

    Hi everyone,

    this is my first post here. I'm currently trying to research my grandad, who was working on railways in Sierra Leone during the war. I spoke loads to my granny about him while she was still alive, but of course like a typical teenage idiot never recorded anything and it was so long ago (90s) I can't remember details. So I thought I would come on here and see if anyone could help. All I have to go on is a picture of him in a forage cap with a badge. Now it's from a funny angle so hard to decipher, but given the Essex Regiment were in Sierra Leone and the Royal Engineers were too I am thinking it's probably one of the two. It might be a long shot but I was hoping there might be a badge expert out there who could take a look and tell me what it is! I know he worked on the railways out there - his civilian job was at Stratford Works for the LNER. Would railway units have purely been RE troops, or did other units get involved too?

    Any help would be massively appreciated


  2. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron


    Welcome. The Forum is full of expertise and help will come along. It helps to provide as much information as you know, as there are many different ways to help.
    Searching here finds 181 posts or threads on Sierra Leone, this one for example explains its wartime importance: Royal Engineers in Freetown, Sierra Leone and this one has mention of the Essex Regiment: 161 infantry brigade west africa

    Google has many images of the Essex Regiment cap badge; the common feature are three fortified towers, one large and two smaller. Like below:

    Have a peek at a RE officer forage cap with badge:
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2020
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  3. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Do you have a name and an army number? I have some paperwork I can check.

    British units present in Sierra Leone 1940-41 (I think):

    1/4th Essex Regiment
    2/5th Essex Regiment
    71st L.A.A. Bty.
    197th HAA Bty
    296th Field Company R.E.
    13th Field Ambulance, RAMC
    49th Field Hygiene Section
    51st General Hospital

    Not sure about Royal Sigs or RASC.

    Edit: How is it that I can type that from memory but I can't recall what I had for lunch?

    See here.

    Screenshot 2020-09-16 at 03.47.33.jpg
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2020
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  4. LukeATurner

    LukeATurner Member

    Thanks very much for this - on looking at the badges and the angle of the photo on my grandad's cap my feeling is it's an RE badge - I realise the image I posted was a bit hopeless! But the more rounded shape and the slight point of the crown at the top suggests it is that rather than the Essex Regiment. I'm also assuming that given he worked on the railways pre-war he would have been most likely to end up in the Engineers after conscription thanks to his expertise. Really appreciate your links - they've led along to a big chapter of An Imperial World at War which has loads of interesting information on what was happening there. It does seem that most UK troops were eventually moved out, which is intriguing as I am pretty sure he was there for the entire war. He was very unwell for a while - nearly killed for not taking a bribe by some locals and I think got malaria too, like so many, so perhaps that's why, or maybe his railway work kept him in the country.

  5. LukeATurner

    LukeATurner Member

    Hi Charley, thanks very much for this. Further to my reply to David above, I'm leaning towards thinking he was in the RE from the look of the cap badge and also the nature of his work. And then your info that the the 296th Field Company R.E. was in Sierra Leone - he was from East London and worked at Stratford and Liverpool Street, and that unit, it says, was connected with Tower Hamlets, so pretty much local - I think Bishopsgate Goods Yard, which would have been part of where he worked, is actually in Tower Hamlets. However from what I can see online the unit moved around a lot, and as I was typing to David above, I'm pretty sure he was in Sierra Leone for the duration. Sadly I don't have his army number. I've asked my dad and uncle but they don't know what unit he was in or anything further. The experiences he had of illness and the attempted murder I mentioned changed him and he never spoke about it to them. It's always sobering to know that those who weren't on the frontline also suffered these long-term consequences. His name was Percy Turner - I've tried running it through the Forces War Records site but can't seem to get much joy. My assumption would be that a serious attack and hospital stretch would have been serious enough to make it into a war diary. Really appreciate this assistance, any further tips would be gratefully received.

  6. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Perhaps a clue to him remaining in Sierra Leone is this:
    From: Sierra Leone Government Railway - Wikipedia

    From memory the need to use sea routes via the Cape of Good Hope receded once convoys could pass through the Mediterranean; probably after Italy changed sides. The trans-Africa air ferry route I suspect ended being important at the same time. Oddly the first link found does not refer to Sierra Leone: South Atlantic air ferry route in World War II Nor this USAAF account: HyperWar: Army Air Forces in WWII: Volume VII: Services Around the World [Chapter 2] See map (minus Freetown) though text suggests use!

    In July 1942 an emergency reinforcement of Spitfires were unloaded at Freetown to be flown to the Middle East. See: takoradi air route - Page 3 - Axis History Forum

    There is a 2020 book on the railway: The Sierra Leone Government Railway by Helen Ashby | Waterstones

    It is possible that Percy Turner's railway skills were in demand at least into 1942, if not 1943. Apologies I add my meandering research here as I go. Enough now.
  7. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Attempted murder is indeed the kind of thing likely to make it into diaries.

    There's nothing in the (sparse) 296th Fd Coy diary, but I'll check the couple of HQ Sierra Leone Area diaries I have in the next couple of days.

    In the meantime, if he transferred to a local unit, here are the options (file attached).

    Attached Files:

  8. LukeATurner

    LukeATurner Member

    Yeah this is my suspicion too - I ordered the book on the SLGR the other day and looking forward to it arriving! I wonder if perhaps he moved around more than we realise. My granny never used to talk to me about him when we discussed the war, and my dad and his brother don't know. Really appreciate your help with this.

  9. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    IF Helen Ashby's book is not enough you could try the Narrow Gauge Railway Society. They may have a request for information facility; it is such an obscure railway in Sierra Leone it might have knowledge. Their website: The Narrow Gauge Railway Society and they did publish in 2018 a very long list of articles in their magazines: TNG Index

    Good luck!
  10. LukeATurner

    LukeATurner Member

    Thanks very much. I'm going to read the book about the Sierra Leone Government Railway and see what that has on wartime involvement by the British Army, and give Forces War Records some further attention.

  11. minden1759

    minden1759 Senior Member


    Helen's book is not published until 25 Sep 20 but I have steered her to this thread so she should be along shortly. Helen is a guru on all things railways so if anyone knows it will be her. She is also a delightful lady.


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