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WWI Royal Engineers Tunnelling Companies

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WWI Royal Engineers Tunnelling Companies

Postby cimqag » Mon Apr 06, 2015 4:42 pm

How can I find out which Tunnelling Company in the Royal Engineers in WWI my ancestor was in?

His name was JAMES WILLIAM McGAHAN, a coalminer from Manchester. He appears in the National Roll of the Great War as having seen action at Hill 60, Ypres, Loos, Somme, Messines, Cambrai and the retreat and advance in 1918 - all rather vague!

By process of elimination using the excellent Long, Long Trail website and others devoted to Tunnelling Companies, I have whittled this down to 170, 171, 172 and 175 Tunnelling Companies as 'possibles' as all of these were in all the areas mentioned. I have gone through the war diaries of all of these in The National Archives just in case McGahan was mentioned - he wasn't.

The Medal Roll Index does not, unfortunately, state which company a man was in (unlike infantry battalions). His number was 79308. He was stated to be Acting Corporal.

He had also been in the 5th Rifle Brigade No. Z/854. Presumably this would have been before being in the RE? Why might he have gone into the Rifle Brigade first when his civilian experience made him so suitable for a Tunnelling Company?

I don't know when he joined the army but according to his Medal Roll Card he went to France on 18 May 1915. He was awarded the 1915 Star. As Tunnelling Companies were being formed early 1915, he cannot have been in the Rifle Brigade for very long.

No service record or pension documents have survived.

Any ideas for identifying his Tunnelling Company?
Anne
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Re: WWI Royal Engineers Tunnelling Companies

Postby AdrianB38 » Mon Apr 06, 2015 8:43 pm

About the only chance to identify his company that I can think of is to see if an Absent Voters List survives for his home constituency. Even then there is no certainty that his details will include a company number. I just checked some AVL entries from Cheshire and only about half of the RE guys in a very restricted sample have a company listed.

Try this link for a list of surviving AVLs.
http://armyancestry.blogspot.co.uk/p/ab ... s.html?m=1

Apparently some do survive for part of Manchester.

Good work on what you've done so far though!

Sent from my GT-I8190N
Adrian
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Re: WWI Royal Engineers Tunnelling Companies

Postby damon rogers » Wed Apr 29, 2015 4:27 pm

Hi Anne,

Not an immediate answer but some things that may help.

1: Have you checked the Royal Engineers medal roll, not just the medal card, as this may provide some further information

2: Treat information from the National Roll with a 'pinch of salt' - the biographies that they provided for individuals were often 'imaginative' to say the least!

3: It was not unusual for men joining Tunnelling Companies to join 'In The Field' - essentially what happened was that Divisional Orders showed that men were needed for tunnelling duties and skilled/experienced men from other units, including infantry such as the Rifle Brigade, were allowed to apply to join. The advantage of being in a Tunnelling Company was simple - they got paid more!

4: There have been various research projects about block allocations of RE service numbers in WW1. A brief note to the RE museum (not a research request) may be fruitful and/or a brief note the secretary of the Orders and Medals Research Society may put you in touch with someone who can work out the company from the service number [there was an American member of the OMRS who did the ground-breaking work in this area about 15 years ago].

Hope this is of some use.
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Re: WWI Royal Engineers Tunnelling Companies

Postby damon rogers » Fri May 01, 2015 3:45 pm

Some further thoughts:

James' Royal Engineers service number is part of a block given to men transferring to the REs from infantry regiments; numbers 79307 to 79315 are all men who served initially with the Rifle Brigade.

In this group are two men - 79312 H. A. Brown and 79315 J. Greenhalgh - who were killed. They were both serving with 181st Tunnelling Company when they died.

It might be worth exploring the possibility that these men, including James, served with 181st - at least initially.
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Re: WWI Royal Engineers Tunnelling Companies

Postby cimqag » Wed Aug 12, 2015 2:01 pm

A very belated thank-you for your suggestions as to how I can further search for James McGahan, a RE tunneller, primarily his company number. Some useful suggestions there - and I am most grateful.

I found online his name on a Roll of Honour for Bradford Coal Mine (Bradford in Manchester, not Yorkshire) which confirmed he had been a miner.

In addition to his medal card I had also checked the Medal Roll in TNA but no more info there.

At last, after making a trip to Manchester (where James lived) to consult the Absent Voters' List 1918, there it was - his company number: 181st Tunnelling Company.

Unfortunately, its war diaries have not been digitised and are not downloadable so I will either have to go to TNA to see them or send for a copy which may be expensive depending on how many pages there are.

Anyway, for the time being at least, I have a specific company to search for so I am happy!

Once again, very many thanks for taking the trouble to help me, and once, again, I apologise for the lateness of the acknowledgement.
Anne
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