Transport Workers Battalions

Working the Waterways: NarrowBoat, Summer 2014

Mike Clarke

Mike Clarke looks at how the military helped out on the canals during World War One

The June 1919 issue of Canals & Waterways reported: “At the time of going to press comes the news that all soldiers working on canals are being withdrawn.” These soldiers had been introduced in 1917 because too many canal men had gone into the army. “To meet the labour deficiency, arrangements were made for the employment of men from the Transport Workers Battalion for the purpose of loading and unloading boats and barges, dredging etc, as well as for keeping the canals free from ice in times of frost.” Although carriers and others were sceptical at first, “so well have the majority of the soldiers performed their work on canals, that traders who have utilised this class of labour are now parting with the men very reluctantly”. To reveal the story of the ‘khaki boatmen’, we need first to consider the role of the Transport Workers Battalions (TWBs). During the First World War, the British army fighting in France and Belgium relied upo…

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