One of the key functions of the Royal Engineers on the battlefield is to build structures that allow frontline troops to maintain lines of communications and supply with the rear echelon. Whilst men can be ferried across rivers in boats or indeed wade or swim across in order to make an attack, bridges are essential to allow supplies to be brought forward and the momentum of operations to be maintained. Ideally you want to capture existing bridges as these are ready made and require nothing further than a check for enemy booby traps, realistically however these might have been destroyed or not even exist in the first place and in that case bridges need to be built by the engineers. These structures need to be quick to manufacture, reasonably strong and to use materials that can either be found locally or be brought forward with little trouble. In the Edwardian era the obvious material to use was wood and engineers trained to enable them to quickly and efficiently construct such structures. This required regular practice on exercise and today we have a postcard of one of these temporary bridges constructed over a shallow river believed to be the River Usk in Brecon:
The bridge is mostly constructed from thick wooden poles, lashed together with rope, with a set of planks to make up the walkway itself. The men who built the bridge can be seen posing on the structure, including one soldier who has taken off his boots and rolled up his trouser legs, presumably because he has been into the river to help with the setting of the vertical piles:
A senior NCO is overseeing the operations from one end of the bridge, his rank insignia being worn on the white working dress overalls:
In a scene that has been true throughout history, the activity has proved irresistible to a pair of local boys who have come down to watch the activity, indeed one has even managed to find a hatchet to pose with!
The designs of these bridges were set out in the various Army publications of the time, with suggested ways of positioning the spars to make a strong structure, however there was always a degree of customisation needed to meet the requirements of the location. No site was ever perfect or matched what the artist had drawn in the manual so the design needed to be adapted, luckily the NCOs and officers in charge of the working party would all have had many years of experience in building such structures so knew how best to adapt or change the basic plan to suit local conditions.