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1917 Breakup of 3rd Pioneer

A.1.b.2.0 May 17, 1917 The Commanding Officer in accordance with War Office instructions and Canadian Corps A.24-0-21 dated 8-5-17 received orders from the 3rd Canadian Division that the 3rd Canadian Pioneer Battalion would be withdrawn from the 3rd Canadian Division and replaced by the 123rd Canadian Battalion (Pioneers). The available personnel of the 3rd Canadian Pioneer Battalion, with the exception of the Commanding Officer, 2nd in Command, Adjutant, Quartermaster, R.S.M., B.Q.M.S, Orderly Room staff and servants of above officers, to be disposed of as follows: - Nos. 1 and 3 Coys, and part of Headquarters to 7th Canadian Inf. Bn. Nos. 2 and 4 Coys, and part of Headquarters to 29th Canadian Inf. Bn. 100 other ranks, to 75th Canadian Inf. Bn. The Transport section including horses and vehicles and 25 other ranks to 123 Canadian Bn. (Pioneers) By a mutual agreement which was authorised by Canadian Corps Hd Qrs, between the 3rd Canadian Pioneer Battalion and the 123rd Canadian Bn. (Pioneers), it was arranged that 200 other ranks of the latter should be drafted into the former and that the 123rd Cdn. Bn. (Pioneers) should receive an equal number in exchange, with the proviso that they accept 129 other ranks of the 3rd Canadian Pioneer Battalion 'on command' within the Division and the balance to make up the 200, to be picked N.C.Os and men. The 100 other ranks which were sent to the 75th Cdn. Inf. Bn. on May 17th were drafts that had been reserved from that Battalion as reinforcements when it was in England. Nos. 1 and 3 Companies, less those sent to the 123d Cdn. Bn. (Pioneers), together with 45 of the draft received from that Battalion proceeded to the 7th Canadian Inf. Bn. on May 17th. Nos. 2 and 4 Companies, less those sent to the 123d Cdn. Bn. (Pioneers), together with 157 of the draft received from that Battalion, proceeded to the 29th Canadian Inf. Bn. on May 18th. 28 N.C.Os were recommended for commissions by the Commanding Officer before proceeding to their new Battalions. A list is appended showing how the Officers were disposed of.

Major-General L.J. LIPSETT, C.MG. G.O.C. 3rd Canadian Division reviewed the Battalion on the morning of the 17th and addressed them afterwards saying how very sorry he was to see a Battalion broken up which had done such good work during the 14 months it had been on active service. In that time it had gained for itself the reputation of being one of the finest Pioneer Battalions in FRANCE. The work done by them had been excellent throughout both before and since he assumed command of the Division. No place had been too hot for them and they had proved not only capable of handling their allotted tasks but had performed them in such a satisfactory and workmanlike manner as to make their work especially noticeable. He mentioned particularly the trench constructed by them in the YPRES salient which ran South from the MENIN ROAD and skirted SANCTUARY WOOD. It was thanks to this defence to a large extent that the German advance was stopped on the 2nd and 3rd June 1916. On the SOMME they had maintained their reputation for good work no matter what obstacles had to be surmounted or how hot a corner they had to work in. Around VIMY their work spoke for itself and had been performed in the same satisfactory manner. He assured Colonel HOLMES that it was through no fault of the Officers or men that the Battalion was disbanded, neither was it his wish that it should happen. He was sorry to loose them from the Division but was sure they would give a good account of themselves in the different units to which they were sent and maintain the high standard of efficiency which they had gained in the 3rd Canadian Pioneer Battalion.

The Commanding Officer also received the following letter from the Canadian Corps Commander, Lieut-Gen. Hon. Sir Julian H.G. BYNG, K.C.B., K.C.M.G, M.V.O.

Dear Colonel, Now that it has been definitely decided to break up your Battalion, I should like to let you know how much all the good work that they accomplished, has been appreciated. The high opinion I formed of them in the Salient and on the SOMME has been more than upheld by their devotion to duty at Mt. VIMY. Though the Battalion has ceased to be a unit in the Corps, I feel sure that all ranks will continue to gain the expressions of praise which have always been bestowed on them and will help their new formations in maintaining the traditions of the Canadian Corps. Yours sincerely J. BYNG

The following letter was received from the G.O.C. 3rd Canadian Division, Major-General L.J. LIPSETT, C.M.G.

My Dear HOLMES, On the breaking up of the 3rd Canadian Pioneer Battalion I wish to express my appreciation of the good service the Battalion has rendered during all the time it has served with me in the 3rd Canadian Division. The work of the Battalion before and during the operations in the YPRES salient in June 1916 was very good, as were also its services during the operations on the SOMME and the VIMY RIDGE. The Battalion has always worked hard and with a good spirit no matter how dangerous the places the men had to work in. I need hardly write that I am very sorry to lose the Battalion from my command, for I feel not only that I am losing an excellent Battalion which has always done its duty well, and of which you have every reason to feel proud, but I also feel that I am parting from a number of good loyal friends. Yours sincerely J.L. LIPSETT

As the different parties formed up outside the Battalion Orderly Room ready to move off, the Regimental band which had returned from the Corps School for the occasion, played a number of well chosen selections. The arguments put forth as reasons for breaking up the Battalion can be summed up in a few words. Because British Columbia was unable to furnish a sufficient supply of recruits to keep the British Columbia units in the field up to strength, due to the fact that the majority of British Columbian manhood had enlisted during the early part of the war. The authorities took the stand that this was a British Columbian unit, as it was organized out of the 48th Canadian Battalion, although at the present time only 40% of the personnel come from British Columbia, the remainder being from the East and a few from the Prairies. To a certain extent, the policy of reinforcing units with men from the same province as that in which the unit was organized, was defeated, as 55% of the men sent to the 7th and 29th Battalions, both British Columbian units, came from the East. It is regrettable that such a highly trained formation with all its organization and equipment complete, composed to a large extent of trained miners and technical men with 14 months experience in FRANCE, should be broken up. The Commanding Officer took steps and did all in his power to have the Battalion remain as a unit in the Canadian Corps and failing in that to have it transferred as a unit to the Canadian Railways Troops, as a large proportion of the Officers and men had been employed on railroad construction work previous to the war.

May 19th All that remained of the Battalion now were a few details and the Orderly Room Staff; the latter were busy making out nominal rolls and disposing of the few remaining men.

May 20th Orders were received for the remaining personnel to move to VILLERS-AU-BOIS.

May 21st Moved to billet No. 59, VILLLERS-AU-BOIS.

May 22nd to 31st Continued the work of winding up the battalion.

80 of the remaining personnel, plus 80 from each of the other two pioneer battalions in the field were formed into an new ad hoc unit dubbed the Canadian Corps Light Railway Company, this later in 1917 being designated as No.1 and No.2 Sections Canadian Corps Tramways. On November 14th 1917 the Canadian Light Railway Operating Company was formed from No.1 Section and the Canadian Light Railway Construction Company from No.2 Section. At the beginning of 1918 these were renamed the 1st and 2nd Canadian Tramway Companies C.E. On the withdrawal of the 48th Pioneer battalion in May 1917 the 123rd Pioneer Battalion became the new 3rd Divisional Pioneers.

3rd March

Warloy, May 1917