Corps of Royal Engineers

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Known as the Royal Engineers (RE) or commonly as the Sappers.

The Signals Service was part of the Royal Engineers up until the time of the creation of the separate Royal Corps of Signals in June 1920.



  • 1716 Corps of Engineers consisting of officers only formed by the Board of Ordnance
  • 1772 Soldier Artificer Company comprising other ranks raised in Gibraltar
  • 1787 officer corps became the Royal Corps of Engineers. Corps of Royal Military Artificers comprising NCOs and private raised
  • 1797 Gibraltar company absorbed by the Corps of Royal Military Artificers
  • 1812 Corps of Royal Military Artificers became Corps of Royal Sappers and Miners
  • 1856 Royal Engineers and Royal Sappers and Miners became a unified corps as the Corps of Royal Engineers
  • 1862 1 April, the three engineer corps of the East India Company:- Bengal Engineers, Bombay Engineers and the Madras Engineers were amalgamated into the Corps of Royal Engineers absorbing the British officers and men [1].

Also see

Regimental History

History of the Corps of Royal Engineers has been published in twelve volumes, most being available online, refer below.
In addition there is Volume XII: 1980-2000. Available at the British Library. Also available from the Institution of Royal Engineers (InstRE), as books or a CD-ROM (limited numbers). Volume XIII is expected to be available early in 2024.[2]

The Work of the Royal Engineers in the European War 1914-1919. For online editions, refer below. Available at the British Library:

  • Water supply. [Containing 9 maps showing the] Water supply in France] (1921) UIN: BLL01004844114 ;
  • Work under the Director of Works (France) (1924) UIN: BLL01006788368 .

Regimental flash

The flash, also known as a pagri (puggaree) badge, was generally affixed to the pagri on the sun helmet. The Royal Engineers had three styles of flashes. The first was a rectangular one with blue and red in equal halves - blue to the front. This was introduced in 1884 during the Sudan Campaign. During the 2nd Boer War they adopted a plain yellow flash to better distinguish them from the RA and then in 1902 changed to a red rectangular flash with two narrow royal blue lines near the outer edges i.e. red/blue/red/blue/red.[3]

It is difficult to identify Foreign Service (Wolseley Pattern) helmet flashes because the type of black & white film used at that time distorted coloration. [4]

External links

Historical books online

  • History of the Royal Sappers and Miners: from the formation of the Corps in March 1772, to the date when its designation was changed to that of Royal Engineers, in October 1856 by T W J Connolly, QuarterMaster of the Royal Engineers. 2nd edtion, with considerable additions 1857 (first edition 1855) With coloured plates
Volume I, Volume II Google Books
Same digital files HathiTrust Digital Library, where images may be rotated. Volume I, Volume II
Transcribed editions from, with coloured images Vol. I, Vol. II.
History of the Corps of Royal Engineers, Volume VI: Gallipoli, Macedonia, Egypt and Palestine 1914-18.
History of the Corps of Royal Engineers, Volume VII: Campaigns in Mesopotamia and East Africa, and the inter-war period, 1918-38.
Volumes 5-7 edited by H.L. Pritchard, published 1952. Note: Volume VI does not include information about Signals as "The history of their work is being produced by the Royal Corps of Signals themselves"[6], so it is likely the other volumes for the WW1 period similarly do not include information about Signals.
Volume IX: Campaigns in Sicily and Italy; the War Against Japan; North-west Europe, 1944-45; minor and non-operational areas; post-war, 1945-48 by Major-General R. P. Pakenham-Walsh. Both published 1958. Note: War Against Japan includes c 200 pages regarding India, Burma, Hong Kong and Malaya. [7]
The Indian Borderland, 1880-1900 by Colonel Sir T Hungerford Holdich 1901 edition, Second and cheaper edition 1909
India by Colonel Sir Thomas Hungerford Holdich 1904
The Gates of India, being an Historical Narrative by Colonel Sir Thomas Holdich 1910
Political Frontiers and Boundary Making by Col. Sir Thomas H Holdich 1916
Some Rambles of a Sapper by Brigr-Genl. Herbert Henry Austin. 1928 HathiTrust Digital Library. He was posted as an Assistant Engineer to the Military Works Department in Peshawur c 1889 and was obliged to retire in 1920, as there was no longer a role for him. He spent most of his career in India, with some years in Africa, (for the Indian Government), but appears to have remained as part of the British, not Indian, Army.
  • The River of Golden Sand: being the Narrative of a Journey through China and Eastern Tibet to Burmah by Captain William Gill R. E. Volume I 1880, Volume II 1880 Condensed [memorial] edition 1883
  • The Work of the Royal Engineers in the European War 1914-1919. Seven full view editions from HathiTrust Digital Library: Water Supply - France. Part I. General development of organization, plant and works. Part II. Operations (1921); Work in the field under the engineer in chief, B. E. F.. Geological work on the Western Front (1922); Military mining (1922); Supply of engineer stores and equipment (1921); Bridging (1921); Miscellaneous: The organization and expansion of the Corps, 1914-18. Organization of engineer intelligence and information. Camouflage service. Concrete defence works and factories. Forward communications. Machinery, workshops, and electricity. Anti-Aircraft searchlights. Inundations. Schools. Compiled by Colonel G. H. Addison. 1926. (372 pages). All the Miscellaneous sections have been reprinted as separate volumes by Naval&Military Press; Work in the field in other theatres of war. Egypt and Palestine--Water supply (1921). The Work of the Royal Engineers in the European War, collection, five (of the previous 7) volumes. Four of these editions are available as pdfs from under Heritage Material/World War One (refer above).
  • The Signal Service in the European War of 1914-1918 (France) by R E Priestley (Late Major, R E) 1921 Part of the above series The Work of the Royal Engineers in the European War. Includes information about the use of carrier pigeons (Index entry)
    • Page 11 includes a very brief reference to the Indian Telegraph units of the Indian Army. These were very likely to have been men from the Post and Telegraphs Department in India, who were appointed to the Army at the outbreak of war.
  • Records of the Survey of India, Volume 20. The War Record 1914-1920 1925. If the download button does not display, locate in Books/Survey Of India, or Direct link PAHAR Mountains of Central Asia Digital Dataset. Google Books version (now full view). version. Work of Royal Engineers and other staff of the Survey of India mapping in various theatres of war, in Mesopotamia, Kurdistan, Macedonia, Arabia, Persia, Palestine, East Africa and Afghanistan.
Maps for Mesopotamia, not available online, are to be found in The National Archives[UK] series WO 302
Volume 1 1837 Volume 2 1838 Volume 3 1839 Volume 4 1840 Volume 5 1842 Volume 7 1845 Volume 8 1845 Volume 10 1849
Note that the volumes which are digitised specifically for may have better plans and maps compared with those that are, or are copied from, Google Books. An example is the books from the University of Toronto
For some papers from these volumes, see 1st Afghan War, Battle of Meeanee, 1st Sikh War, 2nd China War and Abyssinian Campaign. Other papers include
  • Arabian Adventures : Ten years of joyful service by John Glubb (Sir John Bagot Glubb) 1978. The period from 1920, when he was posted to Iraq as a member of the Royal Engineers. Books to Borrow/Lending Library. John Bagot Glubb Wikipedia.
  • Update in respect of the following item. Also see the free website NZSappers Sappers of New Zealand, above, which contains most/all? of the following Royal Engineers Journals.
Royal Engineers Journals 1939-1945 is a Searchable database available on the pay website Findmypast, located in the category Armed Forces & Conflict/Second World War. The Journals appear to have been published quarterly in March, June, September and December. It is also possible to browse the Journals, although somewhat time consuming. Examples of articles are
  • "The Kohat Pass Rifle Factory" by Lieut-Colonel E E Read pages 539-541 December 1939 (images 62-66). Findmypast link, need to be signed in to Fmp.
  • "Fortified post for Tochi Scouts at Biche Kashkai and Ghariom" page 542 December 1939 image 67 Findmypast link, need to be signed in to Fmp.
Indian Engineers
  • The Indian Engineers, 1939-47 by Lieut.-Colonel E. W. C. Sandes 1956. version, mirror from Digital Library of India.
An earlier book is The Indian Sappers and Miners by E. W. C Sandes [Edward Warren Caulfeild] 1948. (726p). Covers the period from the pioneers in 1759 to the prelude to the Second World War.


  1. The Royal Engineers Museum and Library “Corps History Part 10 – Engineers of the Honourable East India Company Army 1750-1862”; Retrieved 17 Aug 2016
  2. Corps History (archived page) and Corps History Vols I – XIII (scroll down). The Institution of Royal Engineers (InstRE)
  3. Stuart_Bates. helmet flashes Victorian Wars Forum 15 November 2010, now archived.
  4. FROGSMILE. Help needed ID-ing unit flash on pith helmet Great War Forum 30 May 2011. Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  5. Matthew B. Walk Warily in Waziristan Great War Forum 23 April 2008. Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  6. michaeldr. Royal Engineers soldier abandoned in Gallipoli Great War Forum 29 June 2017. Retrieved 12 December 2018.
  7. idler. Book content question: R E History WW2Talk Forum 13 December 2015. Retrieved 13 December 2018.