In this article we continue with our series about REME trades in the Archives, in which we focus on the trade of metalsmith.

The trades of Blacksmith, Sheet Metal Worker and Welder were part of REME since the formation of the Corps in October 1942. As a consequence of the re-organisation of the mechanical trade structure in REME, which took place on 1 July 1963, these three previous trades were phased out (amalgamated) into a new trade, namely that of Metalsmith. (Malcolm Heppolette’s article: History of REME Trade Changes since its Formation in 1942, 2011, p. 26).

The material in our archives depicts the trades from the early days of the REME blacksmith/welders/sheet metal workers to the current metalsmiths, in theatres and operations from the Second World War right through to more recent times, from LADs to static workshops.

An early reference to the trades can be seen in one of the REME War Reports we have in the archives, namely the History of REME in British North Africa and the Central Mediterranean Force, Part 1. The internal organisation chart of 693 Base Manufacturing Workshop, Fusaro, Italy, includes No 11 Sub-Workshop, which consisted of: blacksmiths, tinsmiths, plating, sheet metal work and machinery repair sections.

Piece of white paper with black type and lines organised like a family tree, which lays out the internal organisation of 693 Base Workshop.

Internal Organisation of 693 Base Manufacturing Workshop. A:1978:1652.267.

The report also describes an incident just after the initial landings at Salerno, Italy, in preparation for the crossing of the Volturno River. It was necessary to waterproof six squadrons of tanks, but all waterproofing kits had been returned to North Africa. The countryside was therefore scoured for sheet metal and 10 Corps Troops Workshop, 22 and 23 Armoured Brigade Workshops, assisted by practically every welder in the corps, proceeded to manufacture and fit air chutes, completing the task in four days.

Moving on to North West Europe, we have a photograph album which depicts the history of 22 Advanced Base Workshop, in Lot, Belgium, 1945, which includes photographs of their blacksmith, welding and sheet metal working shops.

Black and white photograph of metalsmiths working inside a workshop. Furnaces with chimneys and smoke line the wall in the background.

22 Advanced Base Workshop, Blacksmiths’ Shop. A:1960.0249.18.

Black and white photograph of metalsmiths working inside a workshop. They wear welding masks and smoke is visible from their work stations. One metalsmith works on the floor in the foreground.

22 Advanced Base Workshop, Welding Shop. A:1960.0249.19.

Black and white photograph of metalsmiths working inside a workshop. They stand in lines either side of two long tables.

22 Advanced Base Workshop, Sheet Metal Working Shop. A:1960.0249.22.

Unit group photographs in our archives include members of the metalworking trades. This one of a 'Stick' from 16 Airborne Workshop, BAOR (British Army of the Rhine), 1949, includes a welder, blacksmith, gun fitter, vehicle mechanics and armourers.

Black and white group photograph of men wearing parachute harnesses. One sits in front, four kneel behind and five stand behind them.

16 Airborne Workshop. A:1977.1514.218.

Other representations of the REME metalworking trades in the field and on exercise show: a blacksmith with a portable forge, 13 Infantry Workshops, Ipoh, Malaya (now Malaysia), c.1950s; a welder from 29 Infantry Brigade LAD, Korea, c.1952-1953 at work cutting steel plate and 13th/18th Royal Hussars LAD, at work on Exercise INITIAL KANTER, December 1985.

Black and white photograph of a man standing with one leg up on a forge, which is shaped like a table. He holds a bellow in one hand. Another man stands in the background, a vehicle is further behind.

Blacksmith with portable forge, 13 Infantry Workshops. E:06.0387.02.

Black and white photograph of a man, topless, leaning over a bench cutting material, a sign in the background reads " welder " .

Welder cutting steel plate, Korea. E:07.0416.06.

A man in overalls and goggles standing next to machinery, welding a piece of metal with a torch.

Welding on Exercise INITIAL KANTER. E:07.0598.07.

Our photograph collections also depict REME in support of more recent operations as can be seen in the images below showing REME Equipment Support, UN forces, Bosnia 1994, as well as Op TELIC 2006-2007.

A welder in a workshop leaning onto a bench, wearing a large welding helmet, sparks are flying out from the metal.

REME in Bosnia, welding in the workshop. E:07.0413.09.

View from above of a metalsmith in a workshop. A person in blue overalls works on some piping and sparks are flying out from where they are cutting metal. Two more people work in the background.

REME in Bosnia, the workshop at Koncar. E:07.0413.14.

The next three photographs show a metalsmith from 15 Equipment Support Company Op TELIC 9, Oct 2006 - May 2007 at work.

A metalsmith kneels in front of a tracked armoured vehicle, there is a bright light where they are working.

Metalsmith working on a Bulldog Armoured Personnel Carrier. E:08.0014.056.

A metalsmith wearing a mask leans over a piece of metal and welds it in a workshop. A bright light can be seen.

Close up of metalsmith working on a repair. E:08.0014.061.

A metalsmith in overalls and a mask stands on a box inside a metal container and cuts metal. Sparks fly out from the point of contact.

Metalsmith working on ISO Container repair. E:08.0014.062.

The metalworking trades in static workshops, at home and abroad are also reflected in our archives.

The following image shows a welder arc welding on the side of a Churchill turret, No 1 Workshop Group REME Chilwell, 1944,

Black and white photograph showing a metalsmith in overalls and welding mask kneeling on an armoured vehicle welding. Sparks are flying.

Welder, arc welding, Churchill Turret. A:2007.4868.13.

A photograph of a sheet metal workshop at 22 Heavy Workshops, REME, British Army of the Rhine (BAOR), shows civilian employees working in the workshop March 1949. The work was almost exclusively fourth echelon repairs, covering vehicles, arms, instruments and telecommunications equipment. The image indicates the scale of operations.

Black and white photo of an aerial view of a large workshop with external car parts all over.

22 Heavy Workshops, REME, BAOR. A:1960.0248.021.

A composite photograph album, with the theme of ‘REME in the UK’ includes a photograph of a Ferret Scout Car on a cradle designed by draughtsmen to enable welders to operate down hand on a flat surface in safety, 38 Central Workshop REME.

Black and white photograph of a metalsmith working on a large suspended vehicle that has been rotated on a cradle.

Ferret on a cradle, 38 Central Workshop, REME. A:1975.1316.324.

43 Command Workshop 1967, Aldershot (later 43 District Workshop, later ABRO (Army Base Repair Organisation) Workshop, Aldershot, shows staff from the Blacksmith/Welder Section at work, 1967 and in a later image, the Welders Section showing Land Rover chassis repair.

Two men in green overalls lean over a bench with tools and piping on top in a workshop. Gas canisters, more tools and machinery are visible around them.

43 Command Workshop, Aldershot, welders, 1967. E:09.0429.004.

A welder in blue overalls with a mask leans over the frame of a car. More vehicles in background inside workshop.

Land Rover Chassis Repair. E:09.0424.43.

Our archives includes a wealth of material, both documentary and photographic, that represent other aspects of the trade, such as welding vehicles and equipment; training and technical manuals. The image below is of a booklet entitled Notes on Welding Technique for the use of Welders, Part II. The Repair of Armour Plate in the Field. The booklet was published by the War Office on 16 October 1943, issued by the Directorate of Mechanical Engineering, with the instruction that “this publication is to be held by each welder”.

Brown notebook cover which is titled "The Repair of Armour Plate in the Field"

Notes on welding technique. E:02.0248.14.

The Museum holds many objects that represent the trades, such as: a blacksmiths’ quenching tank and tongs, welder’s gloves, goggles and welding sets and specially manufactured pieces which include the REME 75 Scotland Relay Torch. The Trades Gallery includes the metalsmith trade, where you can see oxcy-acetylene welding equipment and trade test pieces made by metalsmith apprentices. Also on display in the Remembrance Gallery is a Vigil Cross, which were created by REME metalsmiths to commemorate those soldiers who died on active service during operations in Afghanistan.

We have not forgotten the shipwrights, so we’ll see you later on in the series.

Celia Cassingham, Museum Archivist

This article was published in The Craftsman on 1 July 2022.