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Ralph Wilson
Rank: Private
Ralph Wilson



Royal Pioneer Corps

England, Normandy, France


Survived the war?
Royal Pioneer Corps

Royal Pioneer Corps

Pioneering D-Day

Ralph Wilson came from Middle Rainton County Durham. He was conscripted into the army in 1939, and there joined the Royal Pioneer Corps and did his initial training at Catteric Camp. Where they trained first as regular infantry then Demolition, Railway and Road Repair Etc along with other military training.

He told me that they would serve as regular infantry regiment, for some weeks and at other times doing whatever other work was required. He told me they preparing ready for D-Day, for some time. They were taken to a southern harbour and loaded onto a transport vessel and into landing craft ready to go, but somehow it was put off for a day, so they stayed for a day waiting onboard ship ready to go.

On the way to France

They day they left, the crossing was fine, no problems at all, all a bit nervous, some men sick with worry. Well this was D-Day + 1. They were unloaded, from the transport vessel in their landing craft proceeded to go ashore, he said they could see nothing, only the man steering the boat was able to see where they were going. But apart from an odd bit of shellfire the trip ashore was quiet. Next a shout “Prepare to disembark” down went the front of the craft, and everyone scrambled out. Into nearly 5 feet of water, soaked through rifle held overhead and onto the beach to see a complete mess, bodies washing back and forth in the waves, torn up barbed wire, rifles and abandoned equipment was everywhere.

The scars of battle

But the fighting had moved away from the beaches, so they were not under fire. He told me they went to look into the German bunkers and gun emplacements. One large gun emplacement in a large concrete bunks that they went into was a shock. A shell from the naval bombardment had by sheer luck, gone into the bunker through the gun aperture, before exploding inside. He said the walls floor and ceiling were covered with blood, bits of flesh and bone, and torn up fragments of uniform. Ralph said the poor buggers must never have known what hit them.

After France

Well from there he went through France, into Belgium, and on to Germany, The helped prepare for the Rhine crossing, they put up a sort of battery of lights, flashing somehow to try to confuse the Germans when the boats went over. He said they took loads of prisoners, most were amicable, just glad the war was over for them , talked, shared a fag and photos, just like our lads in different uniform, no animosity at all, that is apart from some very young Hitler Youth who were very unpleasant.

Back home

He came home safe, slept on the floor for many weeks, unable to get used to a soft bed and returned to his life a lot slimmer man.

Royal Pioneer Corps

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 in May 1940, No. 5 Group AMPC commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Donald Dean VC, were engaged in labouring tasks in the Doullens area, near Amiens, when the group were threatened by the advancing Germans. After requisitioning a train, and following a fire-fight with the leading German units, the Group were able to reach Boulogne-sur-Mer. Here Dean was ordered to help establish a defensive perimeter around the town.

On 23 May, the Germans attacked in earnest; in fierce fighting at their barricades, the pioneers destroyed one tank by igniting petrol underneath it. The pioneers were the last to fall back from the perimeter and most were evacuated from the harbour. Further to the south, on 18 May, 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 Aerial. 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 was awarded the George Cross. Corps members have won thirteen 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.

Veteran's personal medals
1939 -1945 Star
1939 -1945 Star
War medal 1939 -1945
War medal 1939 -1945
France and Germany Star
France and Germany Star
Veteran's personal file
Royal Pioneer Corps cap badge
Royal Pioneer Corps cap badge

Motto: Labor omnia vincit

Personal photographs

Click on a picture for enlargement

  • 1964

Remember each and every sacrifice, made for your freedom!

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