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117204 (292613) Pioneer
PATRICK CARROLL
Royal Engineers
(later 703606 Private, Labour Corps)

by
Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis
2002. All Rights Reserved.

1. INTRODUCTION

Unless otherwise noted, the details supplied in this narrative were extracted from the soldier’s service papers obtained from the Public Record Office at Kew, Richmond, Surrey by Mr. Stuart Gase of West Drayton, Middlesex. Patrick Carroll’s military service is unusual in that he first volunteered for service during the Great War of 1914-1918 at the age of 45. After serving for four years he was discharged in 1918 as "being no longer fit for service" due to neuralgia. He promptly reenlisted in 1919 for service in the Labour Corps, but was kept on active service for only about four months before again being discharged as "being surplus to military requirements."

2. EARLY LIFE AND FAMILY INFORMATION

Patrick Carroll was born on the 15th of March 1870, the date back-calculated from his age at the time of his enlistment in 1919 [1]. His service papers indicate that he was born in the Parish of Edgestown, near the town of Edgestown, in the County of Longford, Ireland. A search of present day maps of the County of Longford indicated that there was no town by that name in the county, but there was, and is today, a town by the name of Edgeworthstown in County Longford, Ireland. This is thought to be the place of Patrick Carroll's birth [2]. A check of the Vital Records Index of the British Isles [3] shows that the birth of a boy named Patrick Carroll was recorded in the Civil Registration for Ireland with a birth date of 17 March 1868. The birthplace for this child is listed as the town of Longford [4] in the County of Longford. Although the date of birth is two years off from Carroll’s stated date of birth, it is listed in March, and only two days different than his claimed date of birth. The only other birth for a Patrick Carroll within a 5-year period of 1870 in County Longford is listed in June of 1871. Not only is this date a year off, it is also listed in June, three months difference from Carroll’s stated month of birth. The answer to the question of Carroll's year of birth may be his need to shave two years of his age to enlist in the Royal Engineers in 1915. Although the author has not verified this, the maximum age for enlistment might have been 45 and Patrick Carroll would have had to admit that he was 47 years old in August of 1915 when he went to enlist, if he gave his year of birth as 1868. He had no need to change the month of his birth, so he stated that it was March. As for the two days difference, such differences were not uncommon in Victorian times. The Vital Records Index shows that Patrick Carroll’s parents were Thomas and Mary Carroll (nee Thompson) [5]. Patrick was raised in the Roman Catholic faith by his parents.

Patrick was not well educated and had not learned to read or write, at least as late as 1919 when he enlisted in the Army a second time. He became a labourer at an early age and moved to Scotland where, according to his military records, he married Catherine Robbins, a spinster, on the 24th of May 1886. If this date is accurate, according to his military records Patrick was just two months beyond his 16th birthday when he was married. It is more likely that he was actually 18 years of age, as discussed previously [6]. He and his wife lived at 10 Hens Lane in the Howch Hill section of Dundee [7].

Carroll joined the 1st Fifeshire Royal Garrison Artillery (Volunteers) and may have served in No. 2 Company at Tayport [8], located just opposite Dundee across the Firth of Tay. He served with the unit for 6 years and appears to have been discharged in 1908. Patrick Carroll worked as a labourer in Dundee until August of 1915 when he went to London to enlist in the Royal Engineers at the age of 45.

3. PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION

The following is a description of Patrick Carroll at the time he enlisted in the Army in 1915:

Age:

45 years (as claimed by him) – he may actually have been 47 years old.

Height:

5 feet 5 inches.

Chest (normal):

35 inches.

Chest (expanded):

37 inches.

Complexion:

Fresh.

Eyes:

Grey.

Hair:

Light brown.

Distinctive Marks:

None.

The following is a description of Patrick Carroll at the time of his enlistment in 1919:

Age:

49 years and 82 days (he may actually have been 51 years old.

Height:

5 feet 5 inches.

Chest (normal):

35 inches.

Chest (expanded):

37 inches.

Complexion:

Fresh.

Eyes:

Grey.

Hair:

Light brown.

Distinctive Marks:

"P" tattooed on front of right forearm; scar on the back of right shoulder [9].

4. ENLISTMENT AND TRAINING

Patrick Carroll enlisted for service in the Royal Engineers at London on the 21st of August 1915. His was a Short Service attestation for the duration of the Great War. His attestation was certified by the Approving Officer on the day of his enlistment and he was issued Regimental Number 172204 and the rank of Pioneer in the Royal Engineers. Because of his age, Carroll was not assigned to a field engineer unit. Instead, he was assigned to the newly formed Royal Engineers labour organization that had been created to work in army areas, mainly on roads, railways, handling ammunition, docks, supply depots, forestry work, quarries, hutting, trench building and grave digging. As an overage person he enlisted at a special rated of pay of 3 shillings per day for service in a Labour Battalion.

Carroll’s assignment did not require him to report to Chatham or some other training area of the Royal Engineers to receive recruit training. It is also possible that he was considered to have adequate knowledge of basic military procedures based on his six years with the Royal Garrison Artillery Volunteers, hence no basic training as a soldier was considered to be required for him. In any case, Carroll received no special training as a soldier or as a military engineer after his enlistment. In less than two weeks from the date of his enlistment he was on his way to France.

5. ASSIGNMENTS AND CAMPAIGN SERVICE

Pioneer Patrick Carroll embarked for France on the 1st of September 1915 and arrived there the following day. He was immediately posted to the 6th Labour Battalion, Royal Engineers. His battalion was assigned to lines of communications work under the control of General Headquarters, British Expeditionary Force.

The 6th Labour Battalion served in general support of the B.E.F. throughout the winter of 1915 and the spring of 1916. In the summer of 1916 Pioneer Carroll saw his first real action of the war when his unit took part in the great British offensive on the Somme between the 1st and 13th of July 1916. After a week of shelling, the British attacked over a 15-mile front towards the town of Bapaume with 18 divisions. The attacking British formations were hit by a hail of German artillery, machine gun and rifle fire that resulted in the loss of some 60,000 officers and men on the first day of the offensive for an advance of only about 1,000 yards. The 6th Labour Battalion was involved in maintaining lines of communication to keep up the supply of men, ammunition and materials flowing to the front lines. The men of the battalion probably also were engaged in burials and grave registration, as they often were, especially during this period of such enormous casualties suffered by both sides during the Battle of the Somme [10].

Carroll’s battalion remained under General Headquarters control from the 14th to the 17th of July 1916 during the battle at Bazentin and on the 23rd of July the battalion was transferred to British Fourth Army control for the battle of Pozieres. At Pozieres Australian troops captured German trenches in front of the town, routed German machine gunners from their positions in the village and took control of the right side of the Albert-Bapaume road. On the following day the Australians captured that part of Pozieres not already in their hands and although the Germans counterattacked at High Wood, the British line held. The British offensive had managed to push ahead more than three miles along a 6-mile front in two days of fighting. The rear echelon units such as Carroll’s battalion were required to continue to maintain roads and lines of communications forward as the troops advanced.

On the 25th of July 1916 the Australians cleared the last of the Germans from Pozieres and took full control of the village. On the 27th of July British artillery shelled the German positions at Longueval and Delville Wood. The exhausted, outgunned and under-supplied German troops surrendered in large numbers. The British advanced to the northwest of Pozieres on the 21st of August 1916 and at Thiepval Ridge they repulsed German counterattacks. On the 24th of August the British push forward at Thiepval and Delville Wood and on the 28th they capture most of the German positions at Delville Wood. The action known as the Battle of Pozieres finally ground to a halt on the 3rd of September 1916.

After a brief rest, Carroll’s battalion was transferred to the British Fifth Army sector where it took part in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette between the 15th and 22nd of September 1916. The British attack began in the morning of the 15th of September on a wide front stretching from Bouleaux Wood to Mouquet Farm. The troops advanced behind a creeping barrage, captured Courcelette, pushed forward near Mouquet Farm, secured Martinpuich and took both High Wood and Flers. The advance was finally stopped by the Germans at Bouleaux Wood and the nearby Quadrilateral.

After a nine-day delay caused by ongoing heavy rains, the British resumed their offensive with the objectives of Morval and Gueudecourt in the south and Thiepval Ridge in the north. The 6th Labour Battalion, still under Fifth Army control, was assigned to the Thiepval Ridge area to support the offensive operations. The Battle of Thiepval began on the 26th of September 1916 and lasted until the 28th of September.

On the 1st of October 1916 the second phase of the Battle of the Ancre began at the Transloy Ridges in an effort by the British to advance and consolidate a line near the village of Le Sars. The offensive lasted until the 18th of October 1916 when the British, attempting to advance, foundered amid the mire, flooded trenches, and water-filled craters of the front. The 6th Labour Battalion, still under Fifth Army control, supported the front line troops during these operations. On the 2nd of October torrential rains deluged the entire Fifth Army front while the assaulting troops continued to press forward. The rains continued through the 5th of October turning the entire Somme front into a quagmire that compounded the work of Carroll’s battalion while they endeavored to assist the movement of troops and supplies into the battle area.

Following the Battle of Le Transloy, the 6th Labour Battalion was placed under the command of British XIII Corps at Ancre Heights. During the period from the 13th to the 18th of November 1916 the battalion took part in the action at Ancre with the British successfully consolidating positions along the Ancre River. This was the last major action for the men of the 6th Labour Battalion during 1916.

Pioneer Carroll’s last action of the war took place during the Battle of Bullecourt from the 3rd to the 17th of May 1917. On the first day of this action the British attacked along a 16-mile front running from Arleux to Bullecourt. Canadian troops achieved the day’s major success by capturing Fresnoy at the western tip of the front. At the opposite end of the line the Australians managed to gain a small salient at Bullecourt where they were repeatedly counterattacked by the Germans. On the 7th of May British troops secured a foothold in the southeast section of Bullecourt in an attempt to link up with the Australians. Fierce counterattacks by the Germans enabled them to recapture Fresnoy on the 8th of May. On the 14th of May British troops finally succeeded in capturing Roeux and on the 17th, after two weeks of relentless fighting, British troops finally took Bullecourt as the Germans withdrew. During the battle, the 6th Labour Battalion provided support under Fifth Army command.

Pioneer Patrick Carroll embarked for home on the 29th of June 1918 and arrived in England the following day. Upon his arrival he was posted to the Southern Command Labour Centre where he was transferred from the Royal Engineers to the Labour Corps. His rank was changed from Pioneer to Private and his Regimental Number was changed to 292613. On the 11th of September 1918 he was discharged from the army as "no longer fit for service."

Carroll returned home to his wife and children at 10 Hens Lane in Dundee after his discharge. For a common labourer with no special skills or qualifications finding work must have been difficult if not impossible after the Armistice. It must have been so difficult in fact that Carroll decided to reenlist in the Army. He swore the Oath of Attestation at Dundee for a short service enlistment as a Private in the Labour Corps on the 5th of June 1919. His enlistment was duly certified by the Recruiting Officer and he was given the rank of Private and Regimental Number 703606. Even at the age of 49 he was still eligible for service in the Labour Corps [11].

On the 9th of June 1919 Private Carroll was posted to the Scottish Command Labour Centre at Blairgowrie and on the 28th of June 1919 he embarked once again for France. Upon his arrival in France the following day, he was posted to the Labour Corps Base Depot and then immediately assigned to the 174th Labour Company for work with a graves registration unit in France. This must have been gruesome work indeed, burying bodies that had been lying on the battlefield for the better part of a year or more.

Carroll remained in France for about four months and on the 26th of October 1919 he was sent home and posted to the Northern Command Labour Centre at Ripon in North Yorkshire. On the 4th of November 1919 a medical board at Ripon considered his medical fitness and on the 11th of November he again was discharged from the army, "being surplus to military requirements." Once again he returned home to his family at 10 Hens Lane in Dundee.

For his service during the Great War of 1914-1918 Private Patrick Carroll was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal and Silver War Badge [12]. The 1914-15 Star was issued to him from the Labour Corps Record Office at Nottingham on the 9th of November 1920. He received the British War Medal and Victory Medal from the same office on the 8th of April 1921. Oddly enough, all three medals are named to him as 117204 Pioneer Patrick Carroll, R.E. [13].

NOTE: Pioneer Carroll was not entitled
to a Mention in Despatches as shown
on the Victory Medal above.

6. PROMOTIONS AND CONDUCT

a. Promotions: Patrick Carroll received no promotions during his time in service. He did, however, hold the following ranks in the Corps indicated during both periods of service:

Date of Appointment

Rank or Position

21 August 1915

Pioneer, Royal Engineers

2 September 1915

Pioneer (Labour Battalion), Royal Engineers

5 June 1919

Private, Labour Corps

b. Conduct: Carroll did not receive any Good Conduct Badges during his time in service. His "character" (and presumably his conduct) was rated as "Good" when he was discharged from the Army in 1918. His "character" was similarly rated in 1919 when he was discharged the second time.

7. EDUCATION AND QUALIFICATIONS

a. Education: Patrick Carroll did not earn any Certificates of Education during his time in service. His attestation papers in 1915 and 1919 indicate that he could not write his name. Each time he enlisted he made his mark with an "X" when he swore the Oath of Attestation. His mark had to be witnessed each time to verify that indeed he was the person swearing the oath.

b. Qualifications: Carroll’s service papers do not indicate that he possessed any special qualifications either in civilian life or as a soldier other than a common labourer.

8. MEDICAL INFORMATION

The following medical information was taken from Patrick Carroll’s service records during his time in service:

Location

Date of
Admission

Ailment

Period of Hospitalization
or Treatment

Unknown

11 Sep 1918

Neuralgia of the sciatic nerve.

Ailment due to active service (not permanent). Discharged as no longer fit for service.

Royal Hospital, Chelsea, London

30 Sep 1918

Given a 20% disability rating.

Awarded a weekly pension of 5 shillings and 6 pence for 52 weeks, effective 12 Sep 1918.

Ripon, North Yorkshire

4 Nov 1919

Medical Board convened.

Review of medical condition in preparation for discharge. Disability: rheumatism due to active service (not permanent).

9. MARRIAGE AND PERSONAL INFORMATION

Patrick Carroll married Catherine Robbins, a spinster, at Dundee, Scotland on the 24th of May 1886. The Carroll’s had three children, all born in Dundee. The three girls were Margaret Mc Kenzie (born 21 February 1903), Catherine (born 26 March 1905) and Elizabeth (born 11 May 1907).

Carroll was living at 10 Hens Lane when he enlisted in the Army in 1915 and again when he enlisted in 1919. His wife remained at that address while he was on active service. His 1915 enlistment papers indicate that all children were living at home; however, his 1919 enlistment papers only list Elizabeth (then 12 years old) and Catherine (then 14 years old). Margaret would have been 16 years old in 1919 and presumably was not living in her parent’s home. She may have been a domestic servant.

10. DISCHARGE

Patrick Carroll was discharged from his first enlistment in the Army on the 11th of September 1918, two months before the signing of the Armistice ending the Great War. His discharge was based on a temporary medical condition that limited his usefulness to the Army, even in a non-combatant role as a labourer. He was discharged from his second enlistment at Ripon in North Yorkshire on the 11th of November 1919, exactly one year after the signing of the Armistice. This discharge was the result of his being surplus to military requirements. His total service during both enlistments was reckoned as shown in the tables below:

Location

Period of Service

Dundee, Scotland

21-31 August 1915

France

1 September 1915 – 29 June 1918

Southern Command
Labour Corps Depot, England

30 June 1918 – 11 September 1918

Blairgowrie, Scotland

5-27 June 1919

France

28 June 1919 – 25 October 1919

Ripon, North Yorkshire

26 October 1919 – 11 November 1919

 

Location

Period of Service

Home Service

123 days

Service Abroad

3 years and 55 days

Total Service

3 years and 178 days [14]

11. POST SERVICE LIFE

When Patrick Carroll was discharged from the Army in 1919 he indicated that his intended place of residence would be 10 Hens Lane in Dundee, Scotland. Presumably he returned to work as a labourer in the Dundee area. There is no further information available concerning his post service life.

12. LABOUR CORPS CASUALTIES

Undoubtedly Patrick Carroll saw some horrible sights while in France during the Great War and he probably suffered severely from the horrible living conditions there, although not nearly as badly as the front line troops. Statistically, however, service in the Royal Engineers Labour Battalions or the Labour Corps was not nearly as dangerous as service in other units of the Royal Engineers. The following table lists casualties who were actually serving with labour battalions at the time of their death. This table was derived from Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919 [15].

Name

Regimental Number

Rank

Unit and
Place of Death

Bennett, Robert James

125278

Pioneer

11th Labour Battalion, R.E.
France and Flanders

Burton, George

118934

Pioneer

7th Labour Battalion, R.E.
Home

Doherty, John

163417

Pioneer

12th Labour Battalion, R.E.
Salonika

Evans, Percy Charles

125687

Sapper

1st Labour Battalion, R.E.
France and Flanders

Flack, Harry

115417

Pioneer

4th Labour Battalion, R.E.
France and Flanders

Flannigan, J.

163362

Pioneer

12th Labour Battalion, R.E.
Salonika

Holland, William Thomas

125515

Sapper

5th Labour Battalion, R.E.
France and Flanders

McKinley, Edward

163399

Pioneer

Depot Labour Battalion, R.E.
Home

Russell, William

117145

Pioneer

5th Labour Battalion, R.E.
France and Flanders

Scrivener, Charles Henry

118813

Pioneer

7th Labour Battalion, R.E.
France and Flanders

Scrivens, Charles

111161

A/Corporal

2nd Labour Battalion, R.E.
France and Flanders

Timberlake, Robert

125405

Pioneer

11th Labour Battalion, R.E.
France and Flanders

Waple, William

115101

Pioneer

4th Labour Battalion, R.E.
France and Flanders

Weeks, William

110225

Pioneer

1st Labour Battalion, R.E.
France and Flanders

The following statistical analysis of this table provides some interesting information regarding the 14 men who died while serving in the Royal Engineers Labour Battalions.

  1. There are no casualties listed for the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 9th or 13th battalions.
  2. With regard to place of death, 10 men died in France and Flanders, 2 died in Salonika and 2 died at home.
  3. With regard to cause of death, 1 was killed in action (Weeks), 2 died of wounds (Flack and Scrivens) and 10 are listed as "died", presumably of disease or killed accidentally.

ADDENDUM NO. 1.

Mr. Ivor Lee of North East Scotland provided the following information regarding Private Carroll relating to his service in the Labour Corps. Mr. Lee is an amateur historian who has been researching and writing a history of the Labour Corps since 1997.

Mr. Lee indicates that Carroll transferred to the Labour Corps in 1917 when he was given Regimental Number 292613. His transfer would have occurred about June of 1917 following the formation of the Labour Corps, when men from the Army Service Corps and the Royal Engineers Labour Battalions were posted to the new Corps. Private Carroll would have been transferred to the 705th Company of the Labour Corps. His re-enlistment in 1919 was the result of the call up by the Army for men to enlist/re-enlist for Graves duties in accordance with Army Order 196.

The information provided by Ivor Lee is based on a 10,000-name data base developed by him that indicates that men with Regimental Numbers between 292528 and 292918 were all assigned to the 705th Labour Company.

Ivor Lee’s web site on The Labour Corps may be found on the Internet at www.geocities.com/labour_corps

REFERENCES

Books

1. AUTOMOBILE ASSOCIATION. The Complete Atlas of Britain. The Automobile Association, Basingstoke, 1979.

2. BARTHOLOMEW, J. Reference Atlas of Greater London. John Bartholomew & Son Ltd., Edinburgh, 1957.

3. BURG, D.F. and PURCELL, L.E. Almanac of World War I. The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, 1998.

4. GRIERSON, J.M. Records of the Scottish Volunteer Force, 1859-1908. Frederick Muller, Ltd., London, 1972.

5. HARBOTTLE, T. Dictionary of Battles. Stein and Day, New York, 1971.

6. INSTITUTION OF ROYAL ENGINEERS. The Work of the Royal Engineers in the European War, 1914-1919: Work Under the Director of Works (France). The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, Kent, 1924.

7. INSTITUTION OF ROYAL ENGINEERS. The Work of the Royal Engineers in the European War, 1914-1919: Miscellaneous. The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, Kent, 1926.

8. LETTS, C. Roadbook of Britain. Charles Letts and Company Limited, London, 1977.

9. SMITH, F. A Genealogical Gazetteer of England. Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., Baltimore, 1977.

Computer Software

1. Soldiers Died in the Great War. The Naval & Military Press Ltd., Heathfield, East Sussex, 1998.

2. Vital Records Index - British Isles. Family History Resource File, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, 1998.

Periodicals

INSTITUTION OF ROYAL ENGINEERS. Battle Honours of the Royal Engineers. The Royal Engineers Journal, Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, Kent, 1925-1932.

 ENDNOTES

[1] He indicated that on the 5th of June 1919 he was 49 years and 82 days old.

[2] Patrick Carroll was illiterate. The town of his birth shown on his attestation papers is clearly Edgestown. However, as the town name was written on the form by the recruiting officer or recruiting sergeant based on Carroll’s pronunciation of the word, it is very likely that the town name was misspelled, or was mispronounced by Carroll. Since Carroll could not read, he had no way of correcting the spelling. Additionally, the man making the entry on the form spelled Carroll’s county of birth as Lamford and lined through the word and replaced it with Longford. Whoever completed the form obviously was not familiar with Ireland or its counties.

[3] Family History Resource File, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

[4] A town not far from Edgeworthstown.

[5] Vital Records Index – British Isles, FHL Number 101167, 1868, Note 287.

[6] Simply arithmetic would have shown the Recruiting Officer that Carroll was lying about his age if the R.O. had compared his claimed date of birth with his marriage date. One can imagine that in 1915 close scrutiny regarding the age of recruits was something that was routinely done.

[7] Modern day gazetteers do not show any area known as Howch Hill in the city of Dundee. Furthermore, it appears that Hens Lane no longer exists. As further evidence of the sloppiness associated with handwritten military service papers of the British Army during the Great War period and also evidence of Carroll’s illiteracy and inability to correct his records, his street address is written as Hens, Haus, and Hinds Lane at various places in the documents. A search of all these street names in Dundee was made, with negative results.

[8] GRIERSON, pp. 140-142.

[9] These distinctive marks were not noted during his 1915 enlistment. He may have acquired the tattoo and the scar while on active service between 1915 and 1918 or the marks may not have been noted in 1915 during to enlist large numbers of men during the first month of the war.

[10] HARBOTTLE, p. 264.

[11] He probably was really 51 years of age.

[12] From his service papers it is believed that his Silver War Badge is number 2415. This number is written is parenthesis after the entry on his service papers showing his entitlement to the badge.

[13] These three medals are in the author’s collection. It seems rather unusual that all three medals are named to Carroll with his original Royal Engineers Regimental Number and rank and then were issued to him by the Labour Corps Record Centre rather than the Royal Engineers Record Centre. He was serving with the Royal Engineers when he earned the 1914-15 Star; however, at the time he was eligible for the British War Medal and Victory Medal he had been serving in the Labour Corps.

[14] This period of total service does not include his 6 years of service in the Royal Garrison Artillery Volunteers.

[15] This table was compile from the Naval and Military Press Searchable Digital Database of Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919.