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New Zealand Engineers, Middle East

18 Army Troops Company

18 Army Troops Company

Eighteenth Army Troops Company (Major L. A. Lincoln), with its job in Fiji under its military belt, left New Zealand page 67 with 21 Mechanical Equipment Company and endured stoically the Forget-all-you-learnt-in-New-Zealand-this-is-the-way-you-do-it of the Maadi instructors on account of the exciting new surroundings.

Their sphere of operations had already been defined as the care and operation of the Western Desert water-supply system. As has already been outlined, the provision of water into bulk storage in the Western Desert was partly:


From wells or aqueducts,


By pipeline,


By railway tank car,


By sea.

A number of different authorities overlapped in this organisation and steps were being taken to simplify the administration so that the Royal Engineers would be responsible for the bulk supply of water to the Western Desert. The RE would be responsible for the quantity moved and for supervising the equipment so that pumps, hoses, water barges, lighters, water ships, and tankage on shore could be interconnected as necessary.

Formations and detachments, including the RAF, were to place their demands for bulk supply on the local RE representative. This officer, if he could not supply from local resources or by pipeline, was to place his demand, in tons, on GHQ, having obtained the agreement of the local commander. If any special type of container was required this was to be stated in the demand.

Those arrangements were, substantially, unaltered at the conclusion of the campaign in North Africa.

After a month's training and the procuring of G1098 stores the Company spread, section by section, over the Western Desert, until by the end of April their locations and duties were:

In Alexandria E and M Section and Company Headquarters were located at Mex Camp. An idle Italian-owned workshop equipped with the lathes and machinery necessary for the repair of water pumping plants had been taken over and put into operation.

No. 2 Section (Lieutenant Goodsir12) worked from Amiriya with a detachment at Burg el Arab. They operated and maintained the pipeline and stations from Gabbary (inclusive) to Hammam (exclusive) and from Nubariya filtration plant to Abd page 68 el Qadir. There were 19 miles of line to patrol on account of the Bedouin practice of driving spikes into the lead joints whenever they wanted water. The Burg el Arab detachment found consolation for its isolation through the fact that trains were often diverted to a siding there and it was possible to ‘liberate’ quantities of Naafi beer. When the survivors of 19 Army Troops Company returned from Crete some really satisfying reunions were staged through this circumstance.

No. 1 Section (Lieutenant Mackersey13) detrained at Daba, met up with 16 Railway Operating Company, who gave them a hot meal and some buckets of the precious water they had come to control, and to whom they passed on the latest news from home before moving into three army huts that were to be home for them for the next fourteen months. Their main jobs were the pipeline from Hammam to Daba, the pumping station at El Alamein and the water point at Fuka, which was supplied by railborne water. Their lack of transport was eased by smart repair work. An Australian truck left unattended after an accident was quickly got into running order, its distinguishing signs obliterated with a new coat of paint suitably embellished with fern leaves. It was recovered through a mischance by its rightful owners many months afterwards.

From the Burbeita oasis No. 3 Section (Lieutenant Concher14) maintained the aqueducts between there and Baggush, likewise the pipeline from there to Sidi Haneish. They also carried the water supply westward from Fuka to Matruh.

No. 4 Section (Lieutenant Wallace15) detrained at Matruh where No. 4 Section, 21 Mechanical Equipment Company, met them with hot bully beef stew before ferrying them in its only truck to their camp about two miles away. They operated the water supply in the area and maintained the pipeline from Matruh to Charing Cross.

In addition to these pipeline jobs a number of 18 Army Troops Company men, like the 19th, had taken to the sea and were operating water barges about the same time as some of the 19th were driving a railway train in Greece over a line without a signal system, in the dark without lights, and with an engine whose brakes were not so good; but that is another story.

page 69

Major Lincoln was directed to take over two water barges, including the provision of crews and maintenance. They were lying in Alexandria harbour, stank exceedingly of Egyptian crew and had engines that would not go. Sufficient sappers were found in the Company who had marine diesel experience to operate the fleet and recondition the engines. The seagoing sappers were then given a short training course in compass work, coastal navigation and signalling, whereupon they fulfilled the same functions as 19 Army Troops Company had done earlier in the year.