COLLECTIONS

COLLECTIONS


The Royal Engineers Museum Collection contains over a million items that together tell a story that encompasses the extremes of human experience in peace and war as well as 300 years of military, engineering and scientific development.

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Our collection is Designated as an outstanding collection of international significance.

It contains personal diaries, official reports, photographs, equipment, vehicles, memorabilia, ethnography, that together depict the life and work of the Sappers – from historic deployments in the UK, France, Canada, Tibet, India and South Africa to more recent campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

EXPLORE THE COLLECTION

The images contained within REM archives are subject to the circumstances of their production and may contain material deemed distressing when viewed from a modern perspective. Including but not limited to graphic representations of war, colonial acts and public nudity. REM makes these images available to the public in a spirit of inclusivity. Encouraging open discussion and reflection on the subject matter without seeking to impose any specific viewpoint or interpretation.

REM encourages comments, suggestions, and reflections that will add to a better understanding of our collections.


Highlights of our Collection

“Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein, we never had a defeat."

 Winston Churchill

The Second Battle of El Alamein (23 October – 11 November 1942) was a turning point of World War Two. The Royal Engineers were at the forefront of this victory, tasked with clearing the Teufelsgarten (Devils Gardens) minefields ahead of the allied advance.

Highlighted below, in commemoration of the 8thanniversary, are some of the archive and objects in the Collection that tell this story of bravery, determination and innovation.

World War Two archives, photographs and the Royal Engineers Journal articles highlighted can all be viewed by booking a research visit to the Museum here.

The Battle

This image shows the Part One Orders for 571 Army Field Company RE, 29th October 1942. By this date the battle had been raging for six days and Lieutenant Ron Moss MC, in whose papers the orders are found, had been on the front line for each of them.

The battle Ron was fighting was critical to the Allied campaign. By October 1942 UK forces had suffered a number of appalling defeats at Dunkirk, Crete, Greece, Singapore and Dieppe. Italy joining Germany’s Axis forces in 1940 threatened British interests in the Suez Canal as a route to India and the East.  

By 1942 an intense desert war was being fought. The Allies had faced defeat, retreating in the face of Generalfeldmarschall Rommel’s Afrika Korps. However, by October 1942, advancing under the command of Field Marshal Montgomery, they won victory at El Alamein. The importance of this to the outcome of the War is hard to underestimate.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE BATTLE PLANS

The Devil's Garden

Developed in the 1930s, the Schrapnell-mine or S-mine 35 was an anti-personnel mine, used by the German army in large quantities from late 1940. It was one of the 400,000 mines laid by the German Army when fortifying their positions at El Alamein.

These minefields were known as Teufelsgarten or Devil’s Gardens. Each individual garden would be surrounded by 36km of barbed wire and contain up to 27,000 anti-tank mines and 8,000 anti-personnel mines. Each would be laid in different patterns and groupings and supported by artillery to disrupt mine clearance efforts. When detonated, the S-mine jumped into the air, delaying its explosion for a few seconds and allowing the buried mine to reach a height of around three to four feet. The mine was filled with steel balls which exploded in all directions, creating a 360 degree shrapnel radius of 65 feet. The most effective way to survive the blast was not to attempt to run, but to fall face down on the ground.

The S-mine was detectable by a mine detector, although in uneven ground, manual prodding with a knife or bayonet was more thorough. It could be made safe by placing a pin into a small safety hole at the top.
EXPLORE THE CATALOGUE

Innovation and Adaption

Mine warfare of the scale and intensity seen in the desert during 1942 was a completely new feature of conflict. The Sappers held the responsibility for preparing defensive positions and laying minefields. They also had the task of countering this new obstacle.

The Chief Engineer of the 8th Army, Brigadier Fred Kisch, established a mine clearance school in early September. Commanded by Major Peter Moore a mine-clearance drill was devised and very quickly passed on to Field Squadrons. The techniques used and lessons learnt would inform mine clearance throughout the post-war decades.

A collection of papers relating to the 8th Army Mines School in North Africa is held in the Archive and can be viewed by appointment.

The below linked article is used courtesy of the Institute of Royal Engineers, for more information on the institution, and details of how to join, please click here.
Article: Brigadier Kisch
An Enduring Contribution to Mine Warfare

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Desert Sappers

Royal Engineers serving in the Western Desert were faced with supporting the movement, fighting and survival of the 8th Army in one of the most hostile environments of the War.

The Military Medal shown in this picture was awarded to Sergeant William Hill, 572nd Field Company, RE.  It was an immediate award for gallantry, agreed by General Montgomery, and Alexander.

Citation:
“On the 24 October 1942 during the battle of Alamein (During phase 2, the Crumbling), Sgt. Hill was detailed to widen a gap in the foremost captured enemy minefield, Immediately in the rear of a tank battle. Despite shell and small arms fire, the work was carried out under Sgt. Hill’s exemplary leadership with the greatest speed and determination.

On 2 November 1942 (During phase 4, Operation Supercharge), Sgt. Hill’s section again came under heavy shell fire. Casualties to men and vehicles occurred but this N.C.O. with great coolness and disregard for his own security, maintained control of the party, and later in accordance with orders withdrew It to safety in spite of further shelling.”

This medal, along with many other amazing awards are on display in our medal galleries.

Thanks to research undertaken by the Royal Engineers Historical Society we now have a complete medal roll for those men who won Gallantry Awards in this campaign.

The Friends of the Royal Engineers Museum have also produced a medal roll for the hundreds who received the Africa Star for their service (this is available for researchers).

Medal Roll for El Alamein

Survival

The North African desert was an unfamiliar and testing terrain for European troops. This and the desert campaign’s development into a war of rapid movement and heavy dependence on armoured vehicles made the RE role in maintaining supply lines crucially important.

Middle East Force depended on reinforcement and supply from the sea. Sapper units enlarged dock facilities at Alexandria, Port Said and Suez, and developing smaller ports along the Red Sea coast. Where possible road and rail links were built from the ports to bring supplies nearer to the army in the field. 

A consistent water supply was essential to keep the army healthy and moving. Each man had a ration of 4.5 litres of water per day, including that needed for cooking and often topping up vehicle radiators. Stocks of water were maintained and conserved by Sappers boring wells, building storage tanks and clearing ancient cisterns.

The picture here shows a British Well Boring Unit at work near Derna.  This unit produced water quickly and effectively while in enemy held territory.
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Shorts and Sweaters

In this photograph, the soldiers are wearing KD or Khaki Drill uniform. Until the 1890s British soldiers wore scarlet jackets on the battlefield, due in part to the short-range muskets that were widely used. During the Boer Wars of 1899-1902, the British began the change into khaki coloured uniforms, allowing the soldiers to blend into the terrain.

KD was introduced as standard for desert climates and tropical service in 1896, although it had been in localised use since around 1848. Made from a lighter material, both in weight and colour, this uniform was better suited to the climates and scenery found in countries such as North Africa and Egypt.

The uniform in the 1940s consisted of KD shorts with long socks with puttees or web anklets and ammo boots, and an aertex shirt. A more formal option was long trousers and a four pocket shirt, although both options varied in style and details, as dress codes relaxed during the North Africa campaign. 
EXPLORE THE CATALOGUE

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CONSERVATION


The Museum cares for the items in its Collection, ensuring that they are available for future generations to view, learn from and enjoy. For most, this involves ensuring that the Collection remains in a stable environment. Other items, however, sometimes need more intensive cleaning or conservation.The Museum has to raise funds to ensure that this work can be undertaken.

Support Us to find out about our current conservation and funding campaigns.

Drag the arrow handles left and right to see the condition before and after conservation treatment.

RESEARCH


Explore


Explore our online database to discover more about our fascinating Collection, the story of the Corps and the men and women who have served.

Our curatorial staff and volunteers are constantly working to improve records and digitise the Collection. Visit our Support Us  pages to discover how you can get involved in this essential work.

Visiting to Research


Before you contact the Museum with a research enquiry we thoroughly recommend that you:

Listed below is a range of documents that also contain information on many of the frequently ask questions we receive:

  • Corps Memorandum – information of the traditions, structures and institutions of the Corps.
  • A simple timeline for RE Corps history.

Public Research Enquiries


All research must begin with an emailed enquiry.

Our team of curators and volunteers will then assess your enquiry and contact you with a number of options. These will be:

A Research Visit to the accessible Pasley Research Room. This provides a rare opportunity to study original material and includes a visit to the Museum. Our team of curators and volunteers will be on hand to advise you with your research.

This costs £5.00 on top of the usual Museum entrance prices and bookings MUST be made in advance.

The Enquiries Service where Museum staff or volunteers will undertake up to 2 hours research for a fee of £25.00. Please note that this service can get very busy and it may be a number of months before we are able to provide information.

Further advice on alternative sources of information if we do not hold what you require.

Image Requests


Images of items in the Collection can be ordered. For personal (non-commercial) use a charge of £7.00 per image applies.

Contact Us to place an order or for more information about our licences and charges for commercial use of images and filming.

DONATE AN ITEM


The Museum regularly collects new items for its Collection. The scope of our collecting is outlined in the Collections Development Policy and Plan.

If you believe that you have items that we may be interested in then please Contact Us. Do note, however, that we are very unlikely to accept unsolicited material and will return unwanted items.

DOWNLOAD OUR COLLECTIONS DEVELOPMENT POLICY AND PLAN