Military Labour During The First World War    

No Labour, No Battle

On the Peninsula men from Garrison Battalions, Army Service Corps Labour Companies as well as front line British and ANZAC soldiers were all used to move stores, ammunition and water and to build and maintain roads and trenches. Both the Indian and Zion Mule Corps effectively supported soldier labour on the Peninsula. The Zion Mule Corps taking up arms and routing a Turkish attack near Gully Ravine, with one Private being awarded the DCM. Salonika was a theatre where almost three times as many British soldiers died from disease as from injuries received in battle. British Labour was initially found in 1915 from three ASC Labour Companies. In late 1916 they were joined by the 14th and 15th (Labour) Battalions, Queen’s Regiment and these units became part of the Labour Corps following its formation in April 1917. Locally recruited civilians provided much of the labour in Salonika. Initially as civilian workers and later as members of the British commanded Macedonian and Serbian Labour Battalions.

During 1916 the need for labour to support an Army of a million men led to the creation of Infantry Labour Battalions for service in France made up men medically unfit for front line service, foreign labourers brought from the Caribbean, South Africa and China and 8 companies of the Non Combatant Corps.

The best of the foreign labour units were the two Maltese Labour Battalions who served in Salonika from September 1916 onwards. After the Russian withdrawal from the war a Russian Labour Corps 525 strong was formed from ex-Russian army soldiers. Although commanded by a British officer this unit was not a success and had to be closely supervised by almost 50 British soldiers. From the first eighteen months of the war there was no overall control of the labour supply in France. The Army Service Corps provided men to work at the Ports, Bases and Depots. The R.E. men to work on the roads, railways and other engineering tasks. Local civilian labour was hired but as the Army grew and more and more French and Belgians needed for their own armies the British found they were short of labour. This meant men resting from the trenches were used for labouring tasks. Early 1915 saw the creation of Divisional Pioneer Battalions. An Infantry battalion whose men had specific skills in road making, entrenching and demolition.