12 Service Battalion Museum


Soldiers First, Craftsman Second

By Larry Watkins

INTRODUCTION:   From time to time Service Battalion members wonder why they learn lessons that remind them of the things the infantry do; well the following article was extracted from the Royal Army Service Corps Journal, dated May, 1945.  The author LCol FJ Leland, RASC, was KIA, March 1945. Svc Bn members are “Soldiers first and Craftsmen second”.


In early 1945, in the Geilenkirchen sector a battalion was formed from the British RASC and REME personnel, to act as infantry.

The object of this was a temporary measure to give infantry battalions the opportunity to come out of the line and enjoy a well-deserved respite and have baths, fresh clothing, and amusement.

The “Service Battalion” as it was called; consisted of five identical companies, organized as an infantry unit and made up from various service formations.  Selected service formations provided officers and men to fill an infantry company establishment. Each man was armed with his personal weapon. Brens and Piats were provided by their parent formations and no infantry weapons, such as mortars were provided.

The Battalion Commander was an infantry major, and the remainder of his small Battalion HQ consisted of various “experts.” This quickly assembled Bn had no equipment establishments and needed cooking utensils, transport, lamps, signalling equipment, etc. These items had to be provided by their parent formations.

The majority of personnel were volunteers and more than ready to “have a go”.  They had no special training for their new role, apart from their normal elementary infantry training. However they took to it with enthusiasm, keenness and attention to detail that came as a pleasurable surprise; to the dubious Brigade Commander.

The Service Battalion took over a sector of the line from a battalion of the 43rd Division. The Bn frontage was wide, being close to a mile.  It extended from the village of Waldenrath on the left to Hatterath on the right and two or three miles north-west of Geilenkirchen.  Bn HQ was  in the village of Gillrath on the Sittard-Geilenkirchen road.

The atmosphere in the forward companies was extremely businesslike. Coy HQ’s  were located in small dug-outs into which were squashed the company commander, his second-in-command, the RA liaison artillery officer and a couple of runners.

Battalion HQ’s, Company HQ’s and Platoon HQ’s were  linked by telephone line, providing good communications.

Forward section posts were all in foxholes and the thought there was nothing between them and the enemy except a few hundred yards of open country did not disturb them.   Sentries were very much on the alert, while the rest of the section rested, with their arms and equipment instantly available.

The Bn was not asked to attack enemy positions as their tasks were purely defensive, although they did send out patrols into No Man’s Land to bring back intelligence. They did this with coolness and good judgment. .

The Battalion was in the line for a fortnight (two weeks) and its commander was full of the highest praise for the bearing and soldier like qualities of all ranks.