30 August 2011

Royal Engineers 1881-1914

This post will look at numbering in the Corps of Engineers, regular enlistments only, between 1881 and 1914. With such a huge corps, any study of numbering such as this can only provide a brief snapshot. Nevertheless, this may prove of some assistance in helping to narrow down enlistment dates for numbers covered within this vast range.

The Corps of Royal Engineers was formed in 1856 from the Royal Engineers and the Royal Sappers and Miners. Typical terms of enlistment for the regiment changed over the years.

The information on this post has been compiled as a result of examining service records in WO 97 (online with Findmypast) and WO 363 and WO 364 (online with Ancestry). Note that Findmypast has also indexed WO 363/4 (and uncovered an additional half a million names).
Establishment information from Scarlet into Khaki by Lt-Col James Moncrieff Grierson (Greenhill Books 1988).

16995 joined on 2nd May 1881
17483 joined on 13th June 1882
17625 joined on 4th October 1883
18971 joined on 27th May 1884
19753 joined on 9th April 1885
20829 joined on 3rd March 1886
22091 joined on 19th September 1887
23152 joined on 25th September 1888
23596 joined on 1st February 1889
24832 joined on 12th May 1890
26081 joined on 12th September 1891
26307 joined on 22nd January 1892
27354 joined on 7th February 1893
28032 joined on 23rd February 1894
28773 joined on 1st January 1895
29999 joined on 25th February 1896

A new number series commences:
1 joined on 31st March 1896
3 joined on 7th April 1896
4 joined on 8th April 1896
601 joined on 8th January 1897
800 joined on 6th May 1897
1007 joined on 30th June 1897
1641 joined on 17th February 1898

Peace-time Establishment in 1899

1. One Pontoon or Bridging battalion consisting of two companies comprised of a total of 199 officers and men and 64 saddlehorses and draught horses.
2. One Telegraph battalion consisting of two sections: one at Aldershot traiuned exclusivley for service in the field, the other in the south of England employed for telegraphic service in the country.
3. One Mounted Detachment Field Depot quartered at Aldershot to train drivers for the field companies. Comprised of 115 officers and men and 33 horses.
4. Two Field Parks comprised in total of 33 NCOs and men and 21 horses.
5. One Balloon section at Aldershot comprised of two officers and 40 NCOs and men.
6. Eight Field Companies (Nos, 7, 11, 12, 17, 23, 26, 37, 38. Four Field Companies were on the higher Establishment and four on the lower. Of the higher companies, two were at Aldershot, one at Chatham and one at the Curragh Camp in Ireland. Of the lower companies, two were at Aldershot, and one each at Shornecliffe and the Curragh. Higher establishment companies each consisted of three officers, 182 NCOs and men and 26 horses. Lower establishment companies each consisted of three officers, 95 men and 21 horses.
7. Eighteen Fortress Companies (Nos 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 9, 15, 18, 20, 24, 25, 29, 31, 32, 36, 41, 42 and 43). Each company consisted of three officers and 92 or 93 NCOs and men.
8. Two Railway Companies: one at the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, one near Chatham, each consisting of two officers and 65 men.
9. Twelve Submarine Mining Companies (Nos 4, 21, 22, 27, 28, 30, 33, 34, 35, 39, 40 and M). Companies 4, 30 and M were stationed at Portsmouth, Plymouth and Chatham respectively and comprised 510 NCOs and men in total. These three companies were known as the "central companies", training recruits for the submarine mining companies and operating electric search lights in the naval ports. The other nine companies were stationed at different fortified naval ports and comprised between 44 and 65 men. Each submarine company was commanded by three officers.
10. One Coast battalion organised into 11 sections and comprised of 14 officers and 190 men stationed at those ports which only had militia or volunteer submarine mining sections.
11. Four Survey Companies (Nos 13, 14, 16 and 19) comprised of 24 officers and 454 NCOs and men.
12. Eight Depot Companies (A, B, C, D, E, F, G and N) garrisoned at Chatham and comprising 20 officers and 818 NCOs and men.

War-time establishment in 1899

In times of war, a field company of engineers (197 officers and men) was added to every Division of infantry. A mounted detachment (116 officers and men) was added to every cavalry division. In addition, to every army corps, as Corps Engineers, was added a field company (197 officers and men), a pontoon company (200 officers and men), a staff and four sections of the telegraph battalion (226 officers and men), a field park (43 officers and men), a railway company (147 officers and men) and a balloon section (48 officers and men).

2631 joined on 2nd January 1899
4319 joined on 6th February 1900
7679 joined on 6th February 1901
9788 joined on 3rd January 1902
12142 joined on 8th January 1903
13806 joined on 17th May 1904
15623 joined on 22nd March 1906
16173 joined on 16th February 1907
17948 joined on 24th September 1908
18313 joined on 12th January 1909
19801 joined on 25th January 1910
21130 joined on 2nd February 1911
22616 joined on 2nd March 1912
24416 joined on 12th April 1913
25895 joined on 15th January 1914

For a good summary of the Royal Engineers during the First World War, see The Royal Engineers on The Long, Long Trail website.

Also see my post on a range of Royal Engineers numbers: Royal Engineers 108**.

I also offer a comprehensive, fast and cost-effective military history research service. Follow the link for more information.


Roger Blinko said...

Wondering about this man
British Army WWI Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920
Name: Thomas Blenco
Rank: Sapper
Regiment or Corps: Royal Engineers
Regimental Number: 44138
How does he fit into this or the 108 numbering scheme


Paul Nixon said...

Helo Roger, late August or early September 1914 would be my guess.


Roger Blinko said...

You refer often to a database of numbering schemes as that been publised online?

Paul Nixon said...

No Roger, it's my own database, compiled over many years.


Bryan Pready said...

Thanks for this Paul, very helpful. My grandfather, Jason Pready, joined RE some time before WW1. His service no. was 16622, so I guess he joined up some time between February 1907 and September 1908.

Simon Fielding said...

Great blog Paul - a real resource.

Any suggestions on an RE number of

Paul Nixon said...


Francis H Gleed? Looks like Feb 1916 to me.


Markk said...

Hi All
My great grandfather is listed on Seaford war memorial as sapper 69 David Street Earl. I cannot find any service record and the service number 69 appears too short. Does anyone have any ideas? Thanks Mark

Paul Nixon said...

David Earl died at home in 1915. It is a valid number and I could tell you more about him but please note that this would be a research project. See the RESEARCH tab on this blog. There is no service record for this man.

Anonymous said...

Markk - I will post details of your great-grandfather on the Seaford Museum Facebook page on the 100th anniversary of his death.
Kevin Gordon
Seaford Museum

Lyndsey Oneill said...

I'm looking to find the burial site of my great grandfather James Gibney, he died we think in 1940. He served as a royal engineer 53538 and was injured his medal card said he was an army pensioner and we are told he received a full military burial, he was from Liverpool. My grandad is dying and wishes to be placed with him but as he was 10 when he died he doesn't know the location of the grave. Please help x

Paul Nixon said...

Can you please drop me a line to paulcanixon@yahoo.co.uk

Bryan Pready said...

I'm trying to determine if the Sapper J H Cave s/n 471182 who died 1/7/1916 is the same man who had the medal card Spr John H Cave s/n (T)1747.

Unable to find a medal card for 471182 who was in 1st Durham Fortress Coy. Might he have had a previous Territorial No.? He was only 17 when he died so was unlikely to have enlisted pre-war.

I have found census records for the family, from which I know that 471182's first names were "John Henry".

I'd be grateful for any help you can provide on this.

Paul Nixon said...

Please see the research tab, Bryan.

Unknown said...

hi im trying to find some information on a trunk i bought , it really dosnt tell me much , would love to know the history behind it , the name is E.KING.R.E , rms/hms trent , passenger to Perth via Southampton , would be really grateful thank you

Paul Nixon said...

Sorry I cannot help with this. There is simply not enough information to be able to provide any further identification. My guess would be he was an officer. Perhaps try the RE regimental museum at Chatham.

Pat Atkins said...

Hi Paul, I was hoping you could give me an idea of enlistment date for 30445 Spr Percy Atkins. I note an Aug/Sept 1914 date suggested for a man with the number 44138, but have got no further than "earlier than this, probably".

Many thanks, this blog is a great undertaking.

Cheers, Pat

Paul Nixon said...

It could be deduced, Pat, but I'd need to research this. Please drop me a line if interested: paulcanixon@yahoo.co.uk


Steven Grainger said...

Dear Paul,

I wondered if you could (approx) date an RE service no 48964. My great uncle , Lance Corporal William Lucas, died 14.10.17 with 102 Field Company. Main service not in the burnt records.

Many Thanks,

Steve Grainger

Paul Nixon said...

RE L/Cpl Lucas
Please have a look at the RESEARCH tab, Steve, and drop me a line.

Vic French said...

Hi Paul, Thanks for some very interesting information. I am researching No. 23349 CQMS French, Arthur David, RE, seems to have enlisted abt Jan 1889 (age 19) & discharged 20/01/1910. According to UK, Royal Hospital Chelsea Pensioner Admissions and Discharges, 1715-1925 he was in 4 Coy, RE which I see from your info was a Submarine Mining Company based at Portsmouth. However, in about 1893 he married a girl born in Co. Cork, Ireland and some of his children were born in Co. Cork between 1893 and 1907. Twins born in 1896 were born in Dartford, Kent and their youngest child was born in Gosport in 1909 which I suppose matches the Portsmouth posting of 4 Coy, but presumably while in Ireland he was in a different company based at the Curragh, or were there any military camps in or near Cork (which being on the coast might be relevant for Submarine Mining (I assume this means explosive mines rather than underwater tunnelling!)?

On a separate issue I have found Medal Rolls (1915 Star) for No 21562 Spr Arthur D French and (VM & BWM) No 21562 Pnr Arthur D French who served in the RE in France from 16/4/15 to 20/03/19. I am trying to establish whether these records relate to the same Arthur David French, ex CQMS. Bearing in mind he would have been 45 years old at the start of 1915, would his previous service and rank count for anything when recalled from the reserves or on voluntary re-enlistment, i.e. downgraded from CQMS rank to Sapper? Or is it more likely that these medal rolls relate to a different much younger man with the same name (no service records found)?
Regards, Vic

Paul Nixon said...

I can't help you with the first query, Vic, but maybe someone on the Great War Forum would know the answer. Rewgarding your second question, I think it unlikely that a CQMS would re-surface as a sapper. My bet would be that these men are not your man.

Bryan Pready said...

Vic, There's a SWB record for Spr/Pnr 21562 Arthur D French that shows he enlisted 19 May 1911 and was discharged because of sickness 20 March 1919. So agree that it's about 100% certain that he's not the same soldier as CQMS Arthur D French.

Best of luck with your research,

Paul Nixon said...

Thanks for jumoping in, Bryan.

Michael Sweetmore said...

I have in my possession a 1914-15 Star 86936 Sapper Richard P.Hughes Royal Engineers.

Also in the Labour Corps 702288. I have been trying for some time to get the medal returned to his family as this medal has been in my family for many years and don't know how we obtained it? I've known it since I was a boy, i am now 69?

Paul Nixon said...

As noble as your intentions are, Michael, I'm afraid the task is probably a hopeless one: a common name and no surviving service record which would help you identify who he is and who his next of kin would be. My advice: enjoy the medal.