The Royal Pioneer Corps was a British Army combatant corps used for light engineering tasks. It was formed in 1939 and amalgamated into the Royal Logistic Corps in 1993. Pioneer units performed a wide variety of tasks in all theatres of war, including stretcher-bearing, handling all types of stores, laying prefabricated track on beaches, and effecting various logistical operations. Under Royal Engineers supervision they constructed airfields and roads and erected bridges; they constructed the Mulberry Harbour and laid the Pipe Line Under the Ocean (PLUTO).
The first record of pioneers in a British army goes back to 1346 at Calais where the pay and muster rolls of the English Garrison show pay records for pioneers. Traditionally, there was a designated pioneer for each company in a regiment, when, about 1750, it was proposed that a Corps of Pioneers be formed. Nothing came of this for nearly two hundred years, until the Army Works Corps was established during the Crimean War in 1854
The Labour Corps was formed in 1917 during World War and employed 325,000 British troops, 98,000 Chinese, 10,000 Africans and at least 300,000 other labourers.
In September 1939 a number of infantry and cavalry reservists were formed into Works Labour Companies, which were soon made the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps (AMPC); a Labour Directorate was created to control all labour force matters. A large number of Pioneers served in France with the British Expeditionary Force. During the Battle of France an infantry brigade was improvised from several AMPC Companies under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel J. B. H. Diggle. Known as “Digforce”, the brigade became part of Beauman Division and fought in defence of the Andelle and Béthune rivers on 8 June 1940 against the 5th and 7th Panzer Divisions. Digforce brigade and thousands of other BEF Pioneers were evacuated to England in Operation Ariel. An unknown number of AMPC troops were killed when the HMT Lancastria was sunk off St Nazaire on 17 June
On 22 November 1940 the name AMPC was changed to Pioneer Corps. In March 1941 James Scully became the only member of the Pioneer Corps to be awarded the George Cross. Corps members have won some 13 George Medals and many other lesser awards.
A total of 23 pioneer companies took part in the Normandy landings. The novelist Alexander Baron served in one of these Beach Groups and later included some of his experiences in his novels From the City From the Plough and The Human Kind. He also wrote a radio play about the experience of being stranded on a craft attempting to land supplies on the beaches of Normandy. Nos. 85 and 149 Companies, Pioneer Corps served with the 6th Beach Group assisting the units landing on Sword Beach on D Day, 6 June 1944.
On 28 November 1946, in recognition of their performance during the Second World War, King George VI decreed that the Pioneer Corps should have the distinction “Royal” added to its title
In April 1993, following the Options for Change review, the Royal Pioneer Corps was joined with the Royal Corps of Transport, the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, the Army Catering Corps, and the Postal and Courier Service of the Royal Engineers to form the Royal Logistic Corps.
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