Barge Engineer WW2 - Royal Engineers - duties and training ?

Discussion in 'Royal Engineers' started by RobM, Jul 25, 2020.

  1. RobM

    RobM Active Member

    My grandad was a barge engineer in an IWT (inland Water Transport), Royal Engineers in 1944 and 1945 in UK/Europe then Burma, (Prior he was in Royal Artillery).

    Does anyone know what the barge engineer main duties were ?
    Were they the crews on the TIDs and in Burma the Unicraft Twin Screw Tugs and Higgins ? Were they responsible for operating the craft for loading and uploading ? I do not have a clue but have read the war diaries.

    Any pointers on possible main duties and training would be greatly appreciated. Thanks Rob
  2. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    There are a lot of references to IWT units on this forum. Putting Inland Waterway into the search box should give you a list of threads. Perhaps you have already done so.

    The barges were mainly Thames barges which had been fitted with engines and sometimes ramps. The engineer looked after the engines. Again there should be details of these on the forum.

    Some units also operated Rhino ferries on the Normandy beaches.

    You did not say which unit your grandfather was with but the War Diary is always a good starting point. If we know the unit and the location it should be possible to find a lot of information. There are several knowledgeable peple on the forum.

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  3. RobM

    RobM Active Member

    Thanks Mike, I've looked through some of the threads I'll look through some more.

    My grandad was in Royal Artillery until March 1944 then transferred into the Royal Engineers.
    I have his army release booklet but not his full military records (I'm still waiting on due to the current delays).
    I know at release he was with 980 IWT company who were sent to Burma early 1945.
    The 980 was a heavy workshop company in RE.
    It stated in his release documents that he was a barge engineer.

    I went to the National Archives last week. This is what I discovered.
    In the War Establishment for the unit no barge engineers were listed as trades.
    From the war diaries I saw the movements of the unit around Burma, starting at Kalewa for 3 months. They took on various duties including operating a port later in 1945/6.

    What was interesting, is in Dec 1944 the diaries stated this under attachments (shortly before they left for Burma)...
    '12 ORs from 966 port operating company RE reported to this unit" it then says they are crews of Tid 113 and 96. Then "both crews are awaiting orders to return to B.L.A. with Tids". I know the TID is a tug does anyone know what B.L.A. stands for ? Not sure if this is relevant of not.

    Then when they had left for Burma is states on the long sheet breakdown for the unit completed multiple times each month that 12 or 13 or 16 (depending on date) barge engineers were attached to the unit.
    It says "16 BORs (Barge Engineers B111) attached to this unit"

    Later in 1946 I saw another document that showed the war establishment breakdown of roles for the unit and there was no barge engineers on that. Onto the third page it is titled "Attached Strength (in excess of w/e (full) plus attached). On this page there are 12 sapper barge engineers listed by name and including my grandad. I am assuming therefore that he was previously in a different unit of RE unit before being attached to 980 and going to Burma. I have no idea though if that was maybe 966 IWT or if not what other company it was. I guess I will need to wait for his military record to arrive.
  4. DannyM

    DannyM Member

    “BLA” is British Liberation Army.

    The attached personnel might have come from one of the IWT Light Aid Workshop Companies. They seem to have sent detachments out to various companies and the War Diary for 966 Coy say they were attached for “Barge Maintenance”.


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  5. RobM

    RobM Active Member

    Thanks Danny, sounds like a possibility and would defo make sense.
  6. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    I think that it is very likely that your grandfather was with 966 Company before being transferred to 980. 966 operated Rhino ferries off the Normandy beaches. Later they did operate TIDs.

    Only your grandfathers service record will give a definate answer.

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  7. RobM

    RobM Active Member

    Thanks Mike, also I'd like to thank you for a number of your previous posts that I have found very useful whilst researching my grandad over the past 4 months not least this analysis of the different IWT groups that was helpful on more than one occasion, cheers

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  8. RobM

    RobM Active Member

    Mike and others, you may be able to help, again ... in the War diaries on one of the longer sheets in Burma for the company in August 1945 It says the following, do you know what some of these abbreviations mean ?

    12 Barge Engrs attchd f.a.p. from Tn,Tc.R.E. (inc 3 in Hospital).

    Thanks guys - Rob
  9. RobM

    RobM Active Member

    FAP = For all purposes

    Tn, Tc RE ?
    RE is going to be Royal Engineers but any ideas on Tn, Tc ?
  10. sjw8

    sjw8 Well-Known Member

    Hi Rob
    I think it would help if you could let us have sight of the relevant page.
    Without sight of the original document for context, my best guess for Tn / Tc would be Training Centre - 12 Barge Engineers attached for all purposes from Training Centre R..E - but that would not explain why both Tn / Tc?

    Steve W
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  11. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    Tn + Transportation?
    If so Transportation Training Centre. Makes sense but only a suggestion.

    RobM likes this.
  12. RobM

    RobM Active Member

    Thanks guys.

    The IWT 980 Company reached Burma in March 1945. I've attached copies of two sheets one from May '45 and one from August '45 you can see where it says barge engineers, the description changes slightly from one to another ... In May they were still in Kalewa by the boat building facility on the Chindwin. By August they had moved much further south to Prome.
    Also attached ;
    - a reference to unit - no 1 RTC TN.TC. RE Longmoor ?
    - a reference to 12/12/44 - 12 ORs from 966 port operating coy being attached to the unit under Tn.
    - the 1 pager listing the barge engineers attached to the unit as of Jan '46, this list includes my Grandad - Sapper Stanley Allen who by then had been moved to Kirkee in India.
    What unit do you think he was most likely attached from ? thanks

    FEB 45.jpg MAY45.jpg AUG45.jpg DEC44.jpg ATTACHEDJAN46.jpg
  13. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce Patron

    My father-in-law was an Officer with 966 Inland Water Transport:).

    Tn. T.C. = Transportation and Training Centre at Longmoor
    RTC = Return to Corps

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  14. sjw8

    sjw8 Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the attachments - much appreciated.

    3 Feb 1945 - with regard to Part B of the Field Return, 1 R.T.C I think this may be No 1 Railway Training Company, so the full deciphering would be -
    1 x CPL & 26 x SPRS - No.1 Railway Training Company, Transportation & Training Centre, Royal Engineers, Longmoor.
    12/12/44 - as to the entry "under Tn. Rear Link Hofor" - this shows that the 12 ORs returned from Europe under orders / authority of the Transportation Rear Link Home Forces, prior to returning to Europe as crew.

    Steve W
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  15. RobM

    RobM Active Member

    Thanks very much guys, much appreciated.
    I guess I will not know the full picture until I get my grandad's full army records, I've been waiting 4 months but I guess there are major delays due to COVID.

    I do know he was in Royal Artillery Anti Aircraft 227th driver training regiment in UK 1942 until March 1944. Then he joined the Royal Engineers.

    Then there is this mystery period until March 1945 when he was attached to IWT 980 Coy as a barge engineer and went to Burma aged 40. I know from war diaries where the company went in Burma.

    After Japanese surrender he went to Kirkee near Bombay India and worked there in the quartermaster department until returning home in March 1946.

    I suppose there appears then 2 scenarios as it definitely looks like he was attached to 980 coy.
    Either he had been part of another RE company in 1944 such as 966 coy (although] he never did mentioned going to France at all). Hence part of the 12 that returned from Europe and were attached to this company.
    Or he was part of the transportation and training centre and got trained as a barge engineer specifically to join this company ?
    Is it possible it could have been a combo of both they returned were assigned to the Tn TC RE and then attached to 980 ?
  16. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    There's a book by David Habesch called 'The Army's Navy' that might well be worth a shufti.
    Long time since I read but had a look at the index & quite a bit on RE inland fleets.
    Still a reasonable price on Abe etc.

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  17. RobM

    RobM Active Member

    Thank you I will most probably get that book !

    At the weekend I was looking through more photos I took of the war diaries of the 980 IWT coy at National Archives that my grandad was attached to.

    In the 27th October 1945 field return (attached) it says
    13 Barge Engrs (Sprs) attached fap from Tn.Tc, RE, UK (administered by 2nd Ech), 1 (incl.1 on X(ii) list & 1 detached).
    This breakdown corresponds to (the attached photo) of attachments to the unit in Jan 1946 which shows 13 barge engineers and 1 on X(ii) list and 1 detached (my grandad).

    I assume that this means the barge engineers were 2nd echelon work focused and having read TRUX great work on REME on this site, it seems that's replacement of damaged or worn assemblies plus urgent repairs. Although I know grandad was officially RE not REME this seems to all make sense as he was an expert of motors and engines and how everything worked.

    It also shows me that he was first further detached to Kirkee from 980 coy between August and October. which stacks up with his release papers.I had calculated August on counting back. After the Japanese surrender.

    Would this mean these sapper barge engineers were more likely 2nd echelon detachment/attached rather than a light aid detachment ?

    Oct45.jpg ATTACHEDJAN46.jpg
  18. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    The ways of the War Office were complicated. Ports and Railways were Transportation and operated by RE. Watercraft and locomotives were outside the remit of REME.

    Second echelon workshops provided facilities beyond those of the unit Light Aid Detachment. They could attach pesonnel to units especially if they were dispersed.

    Did your grandfather have previous experience with barges, tugs etc?

  19. RobM

    RobM Active Member

    Hey Mike, no not really any experience on barges or tugs that I know of.

    I know he was in the sea scouts but that was way back and he lived close to the Thames. In fact once he swam across it and back (from Erith where it's pretty wide) !

    When war was declared he was 34 and was a transport foreman. he joined the ARP and was an ARP transport officer. When he joined Royal Artillery 1942, he was in 227th AA driver training regiment, instructing how to drive and fix and maintain the larger vehicles (tractor division). He was always very good with engines and mechanical stuff.

    In March 1944 he was switched to Royal Engineers, he trained as a barge engineer and then I have this blank (until I get the military records) until he gets attached to 980 IWT at end of '44 beginning of '45. Cheers Rob
  20. RobM

    RobM Active Member


    Thanks for your help I now have my grandad's military records.
    After joining the Royal Engineers from the Royal Artillery he was indeed with the Transportation Training Centre where he trained as a barge engineer.

    He had the necessary training and then was attached to the POTT Wing (I believe the Port Operating Technical Training) Wing. I'm unsure in mid 1944 whether that was based at Marchwood or one of the RE run ports in Scotland.
    From November 1944 to early March 1945 he was attached to the No 1 Port Construction and Repair Depot Group. Although it unclear what company he was part of so that could be quite a few from what I've seen 969, 951, 935 are my best guesses from reading war diaries and seeing which were in need or barge engineers at that precise time, not sure how I can get clarification. Pretty sure he spent all or at least most of his time based in Marchwood so part of the home deployment of the company.
    Next to the POTT Wing entry it also stated P.O.4637 (no idea yet if that will yield info somehow). There was also a stamp next to the signature, that was O.C. P.O.T.T. WING (HOLDING) DET. R.E.

    In March 1945 he was attached to 980 IWT Company RE and they were flown out to India then onto Burma to work at Kalewa on the Chindwin before moving down the river to Prome and eventually Rangoon.

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