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The Royal Pioneer Corps was a British Army combatant corps used for light engineering tasks.

The Royal Pioneer Corps was raised on 17 October 1939 as the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps. It was renamed the Pioneer Corps on 22 November 1940. It was renamed the Royal Pioneer Corps on 28 November 1946.

On 5 April 1993, the Royal Pioneer Corps united 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 Logistics Corps.

There are currently 3 specialist pioneer units in the Royal Logistics Corps. These are 23 Pioneer Regiment based at Bicestermarker, Oxfordshire ; the ARRC Support Battalion based at Rheindahlen, Germanymarker, plus 1 specialist pioneer unit in the Territorial Army, 168 Pioneer Regiment, formed in 1995 with headquarters at Granthammarker.

The History of the Pioneers

The principle of having fighting soldiers whose chief role was to provide the army with labour goes back many thousands of years. There is reference in the Bible, in the Book of Nehemiah 538 BCE, which states:

"They which build on the wall, and they that bear burdens, with those that laded, everyone with one of his hand wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon".

Throughout the ancient world armies would require manpower to provide labour other than for fighting. In ancient Egypt soldiers would be used in the quarries to extract the stones used in the temples.

The Roman army would always dig a perimeter ditch 3 feet deep by 4 feet wide, around its camp whenever it stopped for the night, the earth being used to construct a rampart with sharp stakes mounted in the rampart. To this end all soldiers would carry a spade. The Army did, in addition, utilise artisans to maintain siege engines and to perform other tasks such as the erection of stockades and fortifications.

The first record of Pioneers in the British army goes back to 1346 where the pay and muster rolls of the British Garrison at Calaismarker show Pioneers being paid between 4d and 6d a day (2 to 2 ½ pence in today's currency).

In 1660 Pioneer contingents, under their own officers and NCOs, were attached to Artillery Units. By 1739 The Guards included Pioneers as part of their fixed establishment.

About 1750, it was proposed that a Corps of Pioneers be formed, although nothing was done on this for nearly two hundred years.

During World War I, Pioneer Battalions of Infantry Regiments served in France until 1917 when the Labour Corps came into being. This was, however disbanded in 1919.

In September 1939, a number of infantry and cavalry reservists were formed into Works Labour Companies. These, in October 1939 became the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps (AMPC), and a Labour Directorate was created to control labour matters. On 22 November 1940 the name was changed from the AMPC to the Pioneer Corps.

Pioneers were recruited from throughout Africa, Mauritius and India. They performed a wide variety of tasks in all theatres of war. These tasks ranging from handling all types of stores, laying prefabricated track on the beaches and stretcher-bearing. They also worked under Engineer supervision on the construction of the Mulberry Harbourmarker and laid the Pipe Line Under the Ocean (PLUTO), constructed airfields, roads and erected bridges. Hardly known today is the fact that many thousands of Germans and Austrians joined the Pioneer Corps to assist the Allied war efforts and liberation of their home countries. These were mainly Jews and political opponents of the Nazi Regime who had fled to Britain while it was still possible, including the cinematographer Sir Ken Adam. These men - often dubbed "The King's Most Loyal Enemy Aliens" - later moved on to serve in fighting units like the Royal Fusiliers, Royal Tank Corps and even with the RAF. Serving as German nationals in the British forces was particularly dangerous, since, in case of taken captive, with a high probability they would have been executed as traitors by the Germans. Also, the number of German-born Jews joining the British forces was exceptionally high. Until the end of the war, one of seven Jewish refugees from Germany had joined the British forces. Especially their profound knowledge of the German language and customs proved to be very useful. A lot of them served in the administrative bodies of the British occupation army in Germany after the war.

Companies (Squadrons) established with Beach Groups took part in the assaults in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and North East Europe. 26 Companies totalling 7,500 men landed on the beaches at Normandy on D-Day. They were followed by 34 Group Headquarters, 205 Companies and 5 special operations units, totalling 60,000 men. 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.

In 1945 the Pioneer Corps included 12,000 officers and 166,000 men. Though they controlled over a million civilian staff, of many different nationalities, employed with British Forces throughout the world.

After the war, in 1946, King George VI conferred upon the Pioneers the title "Royal" for its meritorious work during the 1939 - 1945 war.

In 1977 the Queen approved the appointment of HRH The Duke of Gloucester as Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Pioneer Corps.

Over the years since the end of World War II Pioneers have seen service in most of the conflicts around the world, though the numbers have reduced significantly.

The rationalisation of Army logistics instigated by the Logistic Support Review in 1990 advocated that all logistic support matters should be the responsibility of a new corps, The Royal Logistic Corps (RLC). This would be created from the amalgamation of the Royal Corps of Transport, Royal Army Ordnance Corps, Royal Pioneer Corps, Army Catering Corps and the Postal and Courier Branch of the Royal Engineers. The implementation of the Reviews recommendations resulted in The Royal Logistic Corps being formed on 5 April 1993 from these Corps.


  1. National Geographic documentary Churchill's German Army
  • Smith, L, Forgotten Voices of the Holocaust, Ebury Press, 2005, ISBN 0091898250
  • Fry, H, The King's most loyal enemy aliens - Germans who fought for Britain in the second world war, 2007, ISBN 9780750947015

The Pioneer Corps In Fiction

The 1958 comedy film The Square Peg featured the Pioneer Corps. The story follew the exploits of Private Norman Pitkin and Private Wilfred Grimsdale during WW2. Sir Norman Wisdom starred as Pitkin.Also in the popular sitcom Dad's Army Captain George Mainwaring managed to secure a commission in the corps in France 'during the whole on 1919!'

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