Pioneer Sergeants have existed since the 1700s. The tradition began when every British infantry company had one ‘pioneer’ who would march in front of the regiment.
He would wear a ‘stout’ apron, which protected his uniform whilst he was performing his duties, and carry an axe to clear the path for anyone following behind.
It was also the Pioneer Sergeant’s duty to kill horses that had been wounded in battle. He would often have to cut off one of the stricken horse’s legs so that its rider could receive a new animal – each had a number branded onto its hoof to prevent false claims, such as if a cavalryman had sold his mount.
Pioneers in those times would also carry a sawback sword, pickaxe, billhooks, shovels, and axes. They were traditionally the largest, strongest and most imposing members of the company.