"Arte et Marte"
"By Skill and by Fighting"

Historical Background

British Armourers circa 1900

In the days of bows and arrows, pikes, swords, and battle-axes every soldier was responsible for the upkeep of his own weapon and equipment.  However, with the invention of gunpowder came more complicated weapons. At the same time the increase in size and quantity of weapons, the need for a separate organization to provide and maintain them became pressing. This requirement was met by employing civilian tradesmen and by establishing government arsenals and powder factories. Eventually the civilian artificers and armourers became military tradesmen and were combined with the providers of military stores in 1896 into the British Army Ordnance Corps. The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century affected the British army and by World War One (1914-1918) it had transformed itself into a modern force with machine guns, aircraft, motor vehicles, tanks, optical range finders and radios. Responsibility for the maintenance and repair of the new equipment was assumed by the units that used them most and several separate repair organizations began to be established. 

WW1 Mobile Workshop

Many efforts were made between the two World Wars to introduce a centralized and more efficient repair system that could deal with all technical equipment. Unfortunately, most of these attempts failed either on the grounds of initial cost or a strong reluctance on the part of the various units to accept any change that might conceivably weaken their self-reliance. Rearmament and the mechanization of the British Army followed by the outbreak of the Second World War led to further increases in the quantity and complexity of technical equipment. The resulting heavy repair workloads revealed the weakness of the existing organizations, while the shortage of qualified tradesmen soon dictated a need for a system that would use the available men more effectively.  In 1941, a British Cabinet committee was set up to investigate the use of manpower in the three Services. As a result of one of its recommendations – that the repair services in the Army should be rationalized – the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) came into being on the first of October 1942.

Beach Recovery, Normandy, 1944

After much deliberation, the Canadian government followed the British by forming the Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers on 22 February 1944, with the prefix “Royal” being granted on 24 April 1944.  RCEME was created primarily from the Engineering Branch of the Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps. Ordnance Mechanical Engineers, artificers, and craftsmen from more than seventy RCOC, Royal Canadian Army Service Corps, and Royal Canadian Engineers trades were transferred to the new Corps of RCEME. In addition to keeping Canadian Army equipment in good repair, RCEME was heavily involved in waterproofing vehicles for the Normandy landings. RCEME officers and craftsmen went ashore with the assault units on D-Day, and two RCEME Beach Recovery Sections kept the beaches clear. During the war, RCEME personnel were decorated for bravery, especially for the recovery of damaged vehicles while under enemy fire. An advanced workshop detachment with the code name “Kangaroo” converted 72 self-propelled guns into the first armoured personnel carriers in less than four days. These, as well as many other projects, demonstrated the wisdom of forming the Corps.

Tank Recovery, Korea, circa 1953

By the end of the Second World War, REME had reached its maximum strength of approximately 8000 officers and 152,000 other ranks. RCEME and its sister Commonwealth EME Corps totaled another 185,000 officers and other ranks.  In the postwar reductions, many trades were discontinued, but this was partly offset by all qualified combat arms tradesmen being transferred into RCEME. The RCEME School was created on 1 October 1946 from the wartime A21 Canadian Ordnance and Electrical and Mechanical Engineering Training Centre in Kingston. The Korean War resulted in an expansion of the Canadian Army, and RCEME formed 191 Canadian Infantry Workshop and three Light Aid Detachments to support 25 Canadian Infantry Brigade in Korea. At the same time, the creation of 27 Canadian Infantry Brigade (later 4 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group) to support NATO resulted in the formation of what later became 4 Field Workshop, RCEME, in Soest, Germany.

RCEME UN Mascot – circa 1962

Since 1948, Canada has been a major contributor to UN peacekeeping operations. Some tasks involved only a few personnel, but others, such as the UNEF missions in the Middle East, resulted in the creation of complete workshops or maintenance companies. RCEME personnel have supported every Canadian mission, both with troops on the ground, and from National Defence Headquarters.  On 1 February 1968, the Canadian Armed Forces were unified into a single structure. RCEME became the Land Ordnance Engineering Branch (LORE) in 1970 and was reduced to the three trades of Vehicle Technician, Weapons Technician (Land), and Electrical and Mechanical Technician. The Royal Canadian Air Force Mobile Support Equipment trades became part of LORE, adding the light blue band to the RCEME flag. The RCEME School moved to CFB Borden and became part of the Canadian Forces School of Aerospace and Ordnance Engineering (CFSAOE). The field workshops were restructured as maintenance companies in the newly formed Service Battalions, and the unit Light Aid Detachments were embedded into the combat arms units as their maintenance platoons or troops. However, despite the turmoil, LORE support to the Army never faltered, and the equipment remained at the same high state of readiness. The 1980s began to return to the traditional organizations and doctrines. A new Materials Technician trade was introduced. LORE became the Land Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, and the school separated from CFSAOE and became the Canadian Forces School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering.

RCEME 50th Anniversary, Borden, 1994

The collapse of the Soviet Union reduced the threat of conventional war in Europe, but this was offset by new conflicts in other parts of the world. Peacekeeping became peacemaking, and the Canadian Army’s equipment was modernized, and field tested during the Balkan wars in the early 90s. The “RCEME Horse” returned to the cap badge in 1991, and LEME became the Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (Génie Électric et Méchanique in French). In 1994, the Branch celebrated its 50th anniversary across Canada and overseas. This celebration was spoiled by the closure of the Land Engineering Test Establishment six days after receiving the Chief of the Defence Staff Commendation for support to Canadian operations in Somalia and Bosnia. LETE directly descended from the Ordnance Proving Grounds during the Second World War.

Ma’Sum Ghar, Afghanistan, 2008

The early twenty-first century returned the Canadian Army to wartime operations in Afghanistan. Once again, EME was carrying out recovery under fire, repairing battle damaged equipment, and using innovation and technology to reduce casualties. In 2013, after 45 years, the trauma of unification finally came full circle by renaming EME the Corps of Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.  Today, the Army’s equipment continues to increase in complexity, and requires ever increasing levels of skill and training to maintain it in fighting order. The Corps can be justifiably proud of its heritage, and future RCEME officers and soldier-technicians will continue to build on that proud tradition. 

Arte et Marte – By Skill and By Fighting

(With the kind permission of the REME Connect website and Maj (Ret’d) Doug Knight, RCEME)