The Corps of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME)
REME was formed in 1942 to rationalise the various technical corps that had developed in an ad hoc manner in response to the increasing mechanisation of the British army. REME units were attached to all fighting regiments, brigades and divisions, including the paratroops.
The 6th Guards Tank Brigade was an independent, self-contained, brigade with an integral REME workshop responsible for maintaining its tanks and other mechanical and electrical equipment. The Brigade workshop operated at second and first echelon levels. The first echelon Light Aid Detachments operated in close support to the tanks in fighting operations, carrying out tank recovery and minor repair. At the second echelon level other elements of the workshop carried out more substantial repairs and maintenance. All elements of the REME attachment to 6th Guards Tank Brigade were highly mobile, and the Workshop seems to have had a modular structure comprised of a number of self-contained sections under the command of senior artisan NCO’s with their own equipment and vehicles.
The 6th Guards Tank Brigade Workshop suffered the Brigade’s first casualties when, in 1944, while awaiting departure for Normandy, the workshop camp in Kent was hit by a flying bomb at 7am on June 24, 1944. Fifty one men were killed and over 40 wounded in that one event. Those killed amounted to about one third of the total REME contingent. These were quickly replaced before the Brigade embarked for Normandy on 17 July, but this event remains a significant event for those who served in the workshop.
Brigadier Greenacre had the following to say about the Brigade Workshop:
“Often recovery had to be carried out in difficult or dangerous circumstances and always under steadily deteriorating weather conditions. Many tanks were repaired which should by right have been evacuated to more static workshops, but Major Yarker fully realized how fond the crews became of their ‘own’ tanks, and made every effort to see that they were repaired by the Workshops if it was at all possible. Nothing was too much trouble and no hours were too long when an urgent call for speedy repair was made. This spirit continued right through the Campaign and the Workshops have every reason to be proud of their record.” (From Patrick Forbes’ book, pp. 191-192)
Here are a some photos taken in England before 6th Guards Tank Brigade left for Normandy, and some in NE Europe during and after hostilities. Each photo includes, Les King, who was, by 1944, a Staff Sergeant in the Brigade's REME workshop.
Staff Sergeant Les King, UK 1944
This photo was probably taken shortly before the Brigade left for Normandy. I don’t know whether it was taken before or after the V1 strike on the workshop.
Officers, Warrant Officers and Staff Sergeants 1944 UK
This seems to have been taken around the same time as the individual photo of my father. Les is second from right in the second row. The officer in the centre of the front row must be Major Yarker, the workshop commander named in Forbes’ book.
Les King with tank crew NE Europe
This is a photo of Les King (on the right) with a tank crew (minus the photographer). It must have been taken in NE Europe due to the tank tracks which are attached to the turret because that was a strategy that originated in the immediate period following the Brigade’s arrival in Normandy. Another photo with the same tank crew members shows them to be Grenadier Guards.
Les King and Jackson VE Day
This photo was taken on VE Day. A note on the back reads “Jackson and self, VE Day”. Les is on the right. It would therefore have been taken at Kiel, which is where the Brigade was at the time. Jackson appears to be a Coldstream Guard and appeared in some other photos with Les.
Les King and others VE Day
Also taken on VE Day, this photo has Les King (right), Jackson, and two other REME soldiers.
Warrant Officers and Staff Sergeants 1945 Germany
This was probably taken at Ichendorf in late 1945 or even 1946. Les King was now a WOII and second from left in the front row. They were now called the 5th Armoured Brigade Workshop with the BAOR. Ichendorf was close to the Czech border.