663 Artisan Works Coy.


I'm not sure it's right for me to intrude in your web space but I'm desperate for knowledge!

I'm researching my family history and one rellie was in the '663 Artisan Works Coy. Royal Engineers' in WWII. From what I've discovered so far, is that many of them died (my rellie included) in the sinking of the Cunard cruise liner Lancastria when 'She was sunk off St Nazire on the 17th June 1940 whilst evacuatating troops from France.'

What I haven't been able to make sense of is 'Artisian Works Coy'! What did they do? Any info / pointers would be much appreciated.



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I found the quote below on google.

Also try the military history forum. This chaps are a font of knowledge


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At the beginning of February 1940 the company was sent to France and the historic French city of Nantes which during medieval times had been the centre of the European slave trade. When 663 Artisan Works Company arrived in the city, hungry and tired after a 3 day train journey from Le Harve some of the sappers joked that the locals must have thought it was a return to the good old days when they clapped eyes on the weary soldiers.Hundreds of miles away from the frontline 663’s role was to build a variety of construction works, mostly centred on the main airport for Nantes at Bougenais. These support troops, like the hundreds of thousands of others in the region were in place to provide logistical support for the front line army far to the north.Everything went smoothly in those early months and the men quickly bonded. However by June rumours were running rife that the “real army” was in trouble. On the 14th of June, almost 2 weeks after the last troops of the British Expeditionary Force, the BEF, had been evacuated from the beaches at Dunkirk, Walter, Charlie and a group of other men from the company were sitting around a radio in their billets listening into the BBC World Service and heard Churchill say that the BEF had “completely and successfully evacuated France.” The men looked at each other in disbelief and wondered if they had been left behind. Shortly after Major Morgan, Vingt Cinq as he was known affectionately known by his men, called the company to parade and told them they were to depart immediately to the French port town of Saint Nazaire, 65 km to the West and onward evacuation to the UK.
as best as I can understand it, the RE Artisan Works units seem to have been a type of general labour pool, non-specialist trades used for large scale construction works as distinct from say combat engineers. This link, 706 Artisan has some background that may explain it better.
There are lots of references to them in WW1, an extract from The British Armies of 1914-1918
"Miscellaneous units for manual work and guard duties
1 Garrison Battalion
3 Garrison Companies
1 Anti-aircraft Company, infantry
7 Labour Group HQs, consisting of 39 Labour Companies, 10 Area Employment Companies, 2 Area Employment (Artisan) Companies, 1 Agricultural Company, and 17 Chinese Labour Companies."
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