Royal Engineers in Freetown, Sierra Leone

Discussion in 'Royal Engineers' started by susancammas, Apr 12, 2018.

  1. susancammas

    susancammas Member

    Good morning

    I am searching for information concerning what my father could have been doing in Sierra Leone between May 1942 and April 1943. He was an officer in the Royal Engineers and served in SL from May 1942to April 1943.

    I have done a thorough search on internet and found some interesting information concerning the building of a harbour. It is attached.

    My question is this: does anyone know whether this harbour was actually built?

    Also, are there any Forum members who have a special interest in the Royal Engineers and who might be able to suggest what the RE’s would/might have been doing in Freetown between May 1942 and April 1943? What was going on that required the intervention of the RE’s?

    “From Britain, the first pause was at Freetown, where the shorter legged Atlantic liners and the coal burners required fuel and the whole convoy water, both boiler feed and potable. In fact, this enormous demand on the limited resources of Freetown was always a major problem leading both to delays in the troop convoys caused by the heavy demands upon labour in coaling ship, and in the homeward bound trade convoys by the depletion of coal stocks, which were shipped out from Britain. Water supplies were also a problem in that Freetown, while certainly not bereft of rainfall, possessed only minimal reservoir capacity which was very easily overwhelmed by large demands. Finally, Freetown was, basically, an anchorage where all supplies had to be loaded by hand from lighters (in the case of coal), or by water boats which were also in short supply.” (sorry can’t remember the source)

    So, SL was basically a fuelling /watering stop for the WS convoys which were in operation between 1940 and 1943 when the North African coast and Sicily had been cleared of the enemy and the passage of loaded troopships through the Suez Canal became possible and the WS convoys were cancelled.

    Any ideas will be very welcome.

    Kind regards


    PS: I have a copy of Archie Munro’s “The Winston Specials - troopships via the cape 1940-1943” and would be happy to do lookups.


    Attached Files:

  2. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Which field company was your father with?

    I ask as although almost all the material I have pertaining to Sierra Leone is (mid) 1940 to (mid) 1941, I do have some very sparce diaries for one field company (can't recall which) that was there at this time. It's possible that they stayed on after this period. Other than that, I do have a couple of general articles on Freetown/Sierr Leone in the war and will take a look at them when I am at home and see whether they mention engineering.
  3. Tullybrone

    Tullybrone Senior Member


    OP previously created a similar topic which contains a transcribed service record/chronology of service. The OP’s opening post in this new topic has also been contemporaneously posted on the previous thread.

    Help with RE service records and posting in Freetown

    Last edited: Apr 12, 2018
  4. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Thanks, Steve. I don't have any material directly relating to Artesan Works Companies, but I will check the other paperwork.

    It would probably be helpful if a mod could merge this thread into the previous one.
  5. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    I've searched all I have and turned up nothing of help about engineering. I did, however, read the document you uploaded that sketched the work done to the harbour in 1942 and wondered whether this map might be of use [Click to expand]


    Note the area around 6923939, the south-west corner of the King Tom Peninsula: 'Engineering Works'.

    I can't find anything else that might correspond with the list of proposed developments in your document.

    From all I've seen, it was a pretty busy harbour with a lot of arrivals, departures and comparatively short stays from naval vessels:

    Freetown Harbour.jpg
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  6. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    Its an interestimg memoire of time in Freetown, you may gain something from it

    World War II Memories, Arthur James Humphreys

    Also - Sierra Leone Government Railway - Wikipedia
    World War II
    The railways assumed increased importance in World War II. Apart from moving mineral resources from the interior to the coast, the railway was also important in supporting fighting in North Africa. Fighter aircraft were shipped to the end of the line, where they were assembled and flown on to Egypt.

    My guess would be that into 1943 after the landings in North Africa (Operation Torch) they didn't need to have the facilites in Freetown to supply the military in the western part of North Africa, so the wind down began

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  7. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    Just as an aside, this is a watercolour sketch of the harbour by the war artist Anthony Gross, who sailed on WS14 and stopped over in Freetown in December 1941.


    The Landing Pier, Freetown from the 'Convoy' series, 1941 - 1942
    A crowded landing pier in a busy harbour, where cargo is being lifted from boats and people are disembarking. In the background the sea is packed with sailing vessels. (Imperial War Museum collection)

    My grandfather was on WS15, sailing on the Strathmore. I've got the lay-over dates and mention of the attack by U-402 from Lieutenant Commander Arnold Hague's records (his 'Background to the WS Convoys' article is the source of the quote you posted, from, but does your book have any interesting titbits on WS15 or the Strathmore by any chance?
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  8. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles


    The same artist did a series of sketches of 4th Indian Division.
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  9. susancammas

    susancammas Member

    Good evening - I'm not at home at the moment, PackRso can't check the Archie Munro book, but will do when I get back at the end of next week.
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  10. susancammas

    susancammas Member

    Good evening - I'm not at home at the moment, PackRat so can't check the Archie Munro book, but will do when I get back at the end of next week.
    Concerning the unit my father belonged to, I have no idea. I attach an extract from his service records - perhaps the experts can decode the jargon!

    Many thanks

    Attached Files:

  11. sjw8

    sjw8 Well-Known Member

    Hi Susan

    Have had a look at the above extracts. Due to the number of entries, I will break down my reply into sections.

    Firstly, by way of background for the first five entries, generally speaking each Division would have 3 x Royal Engineers Field Companies (Fd Coy) plus a Field Park Company (Fd Pk Coy) which would hold stores etc. and together were collectively known as Divisional Engineers. One Field Company would be attached in support of each Brigade in the parent division. The Divisional Engineers would be under a Commander Royal Engineers (CRE), who would report directly to the Divisional Commander. 9th (H) = 9th (Highland) Division; 51st (H) = 51st (Highland) Division.

    Turning to the extracts, deciphered as follows -
    1. 2/9/39 - called up and posted to 9th (H) Div in Dundee. The 9th Infantry Division was a second line TA division and was a duplicate of 51st (H) Div, a first line TA unit.
    2. 9/8/40 – due to the loss of 51st (H) Division at St Valery, the 9th was renumbered and reconstituted as 51st (Highland) Division.
    3. 25/11/40 – posted to 15 Bomb Disposal Coy at Halifax (Yorkshire).
    4. 5/2/41 – posted back to 51st (H) Divisional Engineers.
    5. 15/9/41 - posted to HQ 51st (H) Div RE from 275 Fd Coy RE. Note - 275 Fd Coy was one of the Field Companies attached to 51st (H) and would suggest that he was posted to them sometime between 5/2/41 and 15/9/41, probably as a Platoon Commander.
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  12. sjw8

    sjw8 Well-Known Member

    Part 2

    Next 4 entries -

    NB -serial RGKAK was a code to be placed on all pieces of equipment, kitbag etc. to ensure it was loaded correctly – similar to a baggage tag

    6. 26/4/42 – posted to the RE Depot at Halifax, prior to overseas deployment, draft serial RGKAK.
    7. 8/5/42 – leaves Halifax for overseas.
    8. 9/5/42 – leaves UK with draft RGKAK.
    9. 23/5/42 - arrives in Freetown.

    Freetown entries –
    10. ? 9/8/42 - appointed S.O.R.E. to D.C.E. Works, Sierra Leone = Staff Officer Royal Engineers to District (or Deputy) Chief Engineer (Works).
    11. 9/8/42 - promoted to Acting/ Unpaid/ Captain (i.e. still a Lieutenant).
    12. 9/8/42 – promoted to Acting/ Paid/ Captain (still a Lieutenant but now getting paid the higher rank!).
    13. 9/8/42 – promoted to Temporary Captain.
    Last edited: May 8, 2018
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  13. sjw8

    sjw8 Well-Known Member

    Part 3

    Next entries –

    14. 16/4/43 – leaves Freetown for UK.
    15. 23/4/43 – arrives back in UK and posted to RE Depot at Halifax
    16. 21/5/43 – reports to RE Depot Halifax following leave.
    17. 23/4/43 – reverts in rank back to W/S (War Substansive) Lieutenant. (Late entry.)
    18. 29/6/43 – posted to 7 T.B.R.E. (Training Battalion Royal Engineers) at Chatham as Acting Captain, pending re-granting as Temporary Captain.
    19. 21/9/43 – posted to Chief Engineer (C.E.) Western Command as S.O.R.E. (Int), Lancashire and Border District in rank of Captain.
    20. 4/10/43 – moves to Preston as S.O.R.E Int, again in rank of Captain.
    21. From 12 to 28/2/44 – on temporary duty attached to 11 Armoured Div.
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  14. sjw8

    sjw8 Well-Known Member

    Part 4

    Final entries –

    22. 12/8/44 – posted to 50 R.H.U. (Reinforcement Holding Unit) at Bordon (Hants), retains Temporary Captain rank.
    23. 2/9/44 – embarks for Europe to report to 37 R.H.U.
    24. 3/9/44 – disembarks in Europe.
    25. 12/9/44 – attached to 100 C.R.E. Works (surplus to War Establishment) for Adjutant’s duties.
    26. 24/11/44 – formally posted to 100 C.R.E Works and appointed Adjutant.
    27. 24/11/44 – posted to 229 Works Section R.E.

    That's it folks!!

    Steve W
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  15. susancammas

    susancammas Member

    Easy peasy when you speak the lingo!! and of course many thanks.:)
    But I still can't see what unit he belonged to, which would enable me perhaps to find a War Diary.
    (I have found something about when he was in Halifax - it's very succinct but enough.
    I'll have to keep digging.

    Many thanks again
  16. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    Checking out 100 CRE Wks War Diaries. not only 100 but they all seem to stop at Dec 1943 and restart Jan 1945 ??

    Browse records of other archives | The National Archives

    anyone know why or did they change something

    Reference: WO 166/11988
    100 C.R.E. Wks.
    Date: 1943 Mar.-Dec.
    Held by: The National Archives, Kew
    Legal status: Public Record(s)
    Closure status: Open Document, Open Description
    Access conditions: Closed For 29 years

    Reference: WO 171/5357
    100 C.R.E. Wks.
    Date: 1945 Jan.- Dec.
    Held by: The National Archives, Kew
    Legal status: Public Record(s)
    Closure status: Open Document, Open Description

  17. sjw8

    sjw8 Well-Known Member

    War Diaries traced -
    WO 173/365 - War Office: West African Command: War Diaries, Second World War. AREAS. Sierra Leone Area. D.C.E.
    WO 171/1445 - 100 CRE Wks. - 1944 Jan-Dec.

    There are Diaries for 228 Works Section (WO 171/1484) & 230 Works Section (WO 171/1485) - but no trace of a Diary for 229 Works Section.

    Steve W
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  18. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    100 C.R.E. Wks and 100 CRE Wks so its just the difference between using full stops and not in the search box - thats why 1944 didn't show up on my search - well blow me down with a ................................... answers on a postcard please

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  19. sjw8

    sjw8 Well-Known Member

    Yep - that's why it took me some time to trace, during which you replied!!

    Answer "..... with a wet lettuce". Do I get my Blankety Blank cheque book and pen?

    Steve W
  20. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    Not yet - I haven't seen any other replies that I might fancy as much as yours :blush::whistle:


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