Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers

History of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME)

“The Navy is machine minded … The Navy sets engineers to catch, test, train and use engineers. Until the Army gives to mechanical and electrical engineers, as distinct from civil engineers, their appropriate place and influence in the Army system, such engineers are not likely to be caught, tested and trained so well…”

Beveridge Committee report, 1942, as quoted in Kennett, Craftsmen of the Army (REME, 1970)

Engineers were a valuable resource in the Army, but this resource was scattered, and during the Second World War it became increasingly difficult to recruit and retain trained personnel. Many engineers deployed in the Army were limited to specialist, ‘non-combatant’ roles, which also made it difficult to recruit officers as there was less chance of promotion. 

In 1942, the ‘Committee on Skilled Men in the Services’, under Sir William Beveridge, recommended the formation of a Corps of mechanical engineers. Beveridge pointed out that the Navy was adept at recruiting in this area, partly because it had an established engineering branch and a system for training engineers in different specialisms. The Army promptly set up a Council to advise on the formation of the new Corps, and the IMechE and IEE were approached for advice on how best to recruit their members.

W. K. Brasher, Secretary of the IEE, expressed his views in a letter to Sir William Beveridge, a copy of which is in The IET Archives. He emphasised the need for this new body to be equivalent to the more established Corps, such as the Royal Engineers and the Royal Corps of Signals. This was to ensure that engineers, including those already serving in the armed forces, saw it as a good career choice with plenty of opportunities for advancement. He also advised that the name should not include ‘maintenance’, as the aim was to attract professional engineers to the new Corps, and that members should not be classed as ‘non-combatants’.

Correspondence outlining the IEE’s opinion on the creation of a new engineering corps,
March 1942 [IET Archive]

After a brisk discussion on whether ‘mechanical’ should come before ‘electrical’ as the more established profession, it was agreed that the new Corps should be called the Royal Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, or REME. In September 1942, the Institutions promoted the new Corps to their members – this example is taken from the IMechE Journal:

The IMechE’s promotion of the new REME corps

R. B. Maxwell, Assistant Adjutant-General of REME, wrote to colleges and universities urging them to encourage their students to join, and impressing on them the need to cover engineering in the curriculum:

Letter promoting the new corps to colleges and universities, November 1942 [IET Archive]

Maxwell also recognised the importance of recruiting women into the Corps. He set out the case for recruiting women at all levels, and many in the auxiliary units were attached to the work of the Corps during the war.

Correspondence recognising the importance of recruiting women to the new corps,
March 1943. [IET Archive]

The establishment of REME was only the first phase: after the war, further centralisation of engineering and maintenance would take place to strengthen the new Corps.