My father, Francis John Hutchings, served with 698 General Construction Company during WW2. I would be grateful of any information anyone can give me regarding that units service during the war.
I would like to thank one of his fellow RE's, Sid Callaway, for his help in filling the blanks regarding my Dad's service during WW2.
1918965 Sapper Francis John HUTCHINGS Royal Engineers
Enlisted in Portsmouth into the RE embodied Territorial Army 31.01.40
Cause of Discharge: Attained the age of 45 no
further reserve liability.
Military Conduct: Good
The 698 R.E.Coy was formed in Portsmouth in 1939 but did not form as a unit until January 1940 at Brompton Barracks, Chatham, and almost immediately moved to Margate, then via Southampton to Le Havre on March 5th. We went on to Thelus, a village near Arras, where we erected our own shelters, and set to work clearing farmland for a landing strip for the R.A.F. having it ready for the first German planes. We 'dug in' around the base after a brief machine gun (air) attack, and our associated infantry (Green Howards) moved into Arras.
The next moves were chaotic. I know we went to Lens, St Omer, and Arc, ('Drome) where a lone lysander attempted to take on the German air force, and was lost. We returned on old coaches etc. But finally lost all but two transports which were destroyed by us - and then walked. Section Officer was Ken Privett (of the building firm). Francis was, I believe, one of 20 volunteers, who went back to guard a drawbridge over a canal, and when relieved, walked 16Km to the coast where we had some attacks from the air. We were formed up in section and marched through the burning town, in complete order to board HMS Grenade, - and on to Dover.
The unit came to Portsmouth during the big raids - and eventually on to Liverpool and Boné -Algeria (Operation Torch) mainly American operation. Transport S.S.Volendam. Boné was our base, but detachments went far afield. I believe Francis may have been one of twelve who were at the 'front' at battle of Terbourba, (we were the 1st Army). We joined up with 8th Army when Tunis fell and went on to Taranto (Italy) and Bari, Foggia, Naples (Portici) where we watched Vesuvius erupt as we were attempting to build huts on the slopes, until larva intervened. We went on to Rome (an open city but we helped to restore services) - Florence (American 5th Army HQ on banks of Arno).
The only bridge was the Ponte Vechio - and some went on to build another bridge across the river. I was not with this detachment. Other places of interest on our tour were Siena, Pisa, Leghorn (where we embarked on American landing craft, for Marsailles), moving up to Dutch/German border and eventually to Munster , where the unit was split up to make up the compliment of other units. I can only give a scanty outline as detachments of the company could be many miles apart, attached to other units for specific operations. Francis would have been overseas from 1942 to 1945, with one weeks leave in 1945. Francis was a good companion -very reliable. He could have been involved in sweeping for mines - at Solerno and was instructed in the use of the Bren Gun. He built pill boxes and defence works on Salisbury plain and was one of a few people who knew how to build a Hamilton Bridge. He was attached to the R.A.F. at Netherhavon, or possible Uphavan as an air component R.E.'s in 1940, and would have had an R.A.F. identity card.
Some of us had a few days leave in Rome some while after our original entry. I think that these 'photos' may have been taken on the leave. The ship from Philipville (North Africa) to Taranto, was the Ville D'Oran.
Page Last Updated 11/08/2013