Article from Stand To! Number 30, 1990
IWM photograph Q86622 shows men of the Labour Corps taking barbed wire reels from an RE dump near Arras on 3 April 1918.
The Labour Corps was formed in April 1917 from the various ASC, RE and infantry labour units which had come into existence from the early days of the war to meet the need for unskilled labour in large numbers for handling stores, constructing back lines of defence, making and repairing road, etc. The consolidated strength recorded for June of that year was 110,815.
At the same time a Directorate of Labour was formed at GHQ, BEF to take over the control, administration and allotment of all labour. Companies belonging to the Chinese or similar Labour Corps were included but not RE technical units.
The Labour Corps had its own Records Office at Nottingham and there were several depots in various parts of the UK. On the Western Front the corps had a base depot in France and was organised on a company basis, grouped under 'labour group HQs' which were attached to the five armies and to the Lines of Communication. The companies were about 500 strong and were of various types, ie, 'labour', 'divisional employment' (see page 8), 'area employment', 'area employment (artizan)' and 'agricultural'. By November 1918 the strength of the Labour Corps had risen to 389,895. There were then nearly 400 com-panies in the BEF, including the Canadians but not the Non-Combatant Corps (conscientious objectors) or the Chinese or other 'native' companies. There were about eighty labour group HQs.
The Labour Corps cap badge was the coat of arms. Other ranks wore 'LC' in brass as shoulder titles. The personnel were, of course, subject to military law and other regulations governing the army. They were men not fit for front line service and included those who had been rendered unfit by wounds or illness while serving in other corps or regiments. Decorations gained by members of the Labour Corps included twenty-four DCMs; 5000 men died while serving in the Corps.