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20941 Company Sergeant Major
Royal Engineers

Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis
2002. All Rights Reserved.


Unless otherwise noted, the details supplied in this narrative were extracted from the soldier’s service papers (WO97/6236) obtained from the Public Record Office at Kew, Richmond, Surrey [1].


Robert Sydney Wiffen was born in the Parish of Romford in the County of Essex in May of 1867 [2]. Robert was the son of Robert Arthur and Arabella Diana Wiffen. He was christened in the Chapel Royal at Brighton, Sussex on the 12th of January 1870, almost three years after his birth [3]. Robert had an older brother named Frederick and two sisters named Minnie and Kate. The members of the Wiffen family belonged to the Church of England.

Frederick immigrated to Australia as a young man and sisters Minnie and Kate moved to London where they took up residence at 4 Holly Street, Cavendish Square. Young Robert remained in his parents’ house and became a carpenter, serving an apprenticeship for five years under a Mr. Dennis Southend. He may have worked at this trade for a short time after finishing his apprenticeship and before enlisting in the Royal Engineers in 1886.


The following is a description of Robert Sydney Wiffen at the time he enlisted in the Army in 1886 [4]:


19 years and 2 months.


5 feet 10 inches [5].


139 pounds.

Chest Measurement:

35 inches.







Distinctive Marks:


The following is a description of Company Sergeant Major Robert Wiffen at the time he was discharged from the Army in 1907:


40 years and 2 months.


5 feet 10 inches.

Chest Measurement:

41 inches.





Distinctive Marks:



Robert Wiffen was recruited for service in the Army by Orderly Room Sergeant W. Thorpe of the 4th Battalion, Essex Regiment (West Essex Militia). This battalion had its headquarters at the Essex Regiment depot in Warley, Essex [6]. His enlistment was for a period of 7 years with the Colours and 5 years in the First Class of the Army Reserve [7].

Wiffen was asked the usual questions put to a recruit on enlistment, to which he answered that he was not married, that he had no prior naval or military service, and that he had never been previously rejected for military service. He swore the Oath of Attestation on the 4th of May 1886 at Warley where he had also been given a medical examination to determine his fitness to serve in the Army. The examination was performed by a civilian surgeon, as there were no medical officers assigned to the Regimental Depot at the time of his enlistment. He was issued a Certificate of Final Medical Examination and the Attesting Officer certified his enlistment, all on the 4th of May 1886. On the 5th of May the Certificate of Primary Military Examination was issued for Wiffen’s enlistment by the Adjutant of the 4th Battalion, Essex Regiment. He was determined to be fit for service in the Royal Engineers. Lieutenant Colonel J.S. Hand, Officer Commanding the 44th Regimental District, signed the Certificate of Approving Field Officer on the 5th of May 1886.

Following these preliminaries, Robert Wiffen was sent to the School of Military Engineering at Brompton Barracks in Chatham, Kent where he was to receive his training as an engineer soldier [8]. He was now 20941 Sapper Robert Wiffen, Royal Engineers.


Chatham and Aldershot (1886 – 1889)

In addition to the training normally given a new recruit at the School of Military Engineering, Sapper Wiffen completed a class of instruction in Ballooning at Aldershot. This was a newly developing field of military engineering at the time that he was being trained. The Military School of Ballooning was responsible for the theory and practice of military aeronautics in the British Army. At Aldershot, every type of balloon destined to be used by the Army was constructed and tested. In addition to fabricating the skins of the balloons from the membranes of bullocks, the Balloon Section Royal Engineers constructed all the appliances employed in aerial navigation. The balloons were inflated with hydrogen [9]. This new field of military endeavor must certainly have proved fascinating to a young carpenter from Essex.

India and Burma (1889 – 1890)

Sapper Wiffen appears to have served at Chatham and at Aldershot from 1886 to 1889 when he was posted to India. He embarked for India on the 26th of February 1889 and upon arrival there he was assigned to No. 2 Company, Bengal Sappers and Miners at Roorkee. It is interesting to note that soon after his arrival in India, Wiffen served under Lieutenant G.M. Heath, R.E. while assigned to the Bengal Sappers and Miners. As a Major in the South African War of 1899-1902, Heath was to gain some recognition as the Officer Commanding the Balloon Section Royal Engineers during the siege of Ladysmith [10].

For some time prior to Wiffen’s arrival in India, the Chin and Lushai tribes in Burma had been causing significant problems for the British forces by ambushing convoys, cutting telegraph lines and firing into British posts. The government finally lost patience and decided to undertake combined operations against the tribes from Burma and Chittagong. A Chittagong Field Force of more than 3,000 Bengal and Bombay troops under Brigadier General V.W. Tregear was mobilized. This force included only one engineer unit – the 2nd Company, Bengal Sappers and Miners under Captain R.D. Petrie, R.E. Other officers included Lieutenants H.J. Sherwood, E.H. de V. Atkinson and 2nd Lieutenant W.A. Harrison, R.E. [11]. The 2nd Company left Roorkee on the 16th of November 1889 and arrived at Chittagong on the 24th of November and at Lungleh on the 28th of November. The Chittagong Field Force then marched eastwards from Lungleh over a succession of ridges to Haka to join the Southern Column of the Burma Field Force.

Apart from punitive measures against the Lushais, the engineers of the Chittagong Field Force were tasked with improving the mule road between Demagiri and Lungleh. They also were given the mission to extend the road to Haka to connect with a road constructed by the engineers of the Southern Column of the Burma Field Force. These roads were to eventually provide a permanent highway from the Chittagong hill tracts to Burma. Road construction in the Lushai country was extremely difficult. The jungle limited visibility to only a few yards and great masses of rock had to be excavated by blasting. Huge trees had to be cut or blown down and their tangled roots and branches created significant obstacles. The forests of the area were extensive and consisted of trees, creepers and thorny scrub or extremely dense bamboo or tall elephant grass. The hillsides were so steep that some mule paths had to be constructed at grades of 1 vertical to 5 horizontal, a gradient of 20 percent. Visibility was also obscured by clouds that shrouded the bottoms of the valleys and deep gorges [12].

At the time of the Lushai expedition Wiffen held the local rank of Corporal in the Bengal Sappers and Miners [13]. He served with the 2nd Company throughout the Chin Lushai Expedition of 1889 to 1890 under the harsh conditions described above. The company was engaged chiefly in taking the mule road through to Haka, bridging many streams and building Fort Tregear and two smaller posts on the Kaladan River and its tributary, the Mat. The company was assisted in this work by Indian Pioneers and Gurkhas [14]. Work on the mule road was started on the 12th of December 1889 and the company finished four miles of difficult alignment by the middle of January 1890. At that time Captain Petrie and Lieutenant Atkinson moved off with half the company to join the Northern Column from Burma, leaving Lieutenants Sherwood and Harrison with the other half-company to continue the road construction. After the selected site for Fort Tregear had been reached at a height of 5,000 feet above sea level, 30 Sappers were employed until the 20th of March 1890 in building the defences for the fort. Upon completion of the fort these Sappers went with Lieutenant Harrison to build the posts on the Kaladan and Mat Rivers while Lieutenant Sherwood and the remainder of the half-company continued constructing the road towards Haka, which they reached on the 13th of April. As the 2nd Company was split into two half-companies for operational purposes and a party of Sappers from one half-company was on detached duties, it is not possible to know with which part of the company Corporal Wiffen was serving throughout the campaign [15].

The enemy had erected elaborate stockades in the Chittagong area – notably at Falam to the north of the company’s position – but they did not attempt to hold them. Consequently, the company was not engaged in any significant fighting. There was much engineering, however, particularly by the half-company under Captain Petrie. They built a number of large trestle bridges and suspension bridges, constructed many rafts for transporting stores and improved the channel of the river. This half-company was back in Roorkee on the 7th of April 1890, but the other half-company under Lieutenant Sherwood did not reach headquarters until the end of May 1890. Weakened by fever, soaked by torrential rains and bitten by leeches and mosquitoes, Corporal Wiffen and the men of the 2nd Company, Bengal Sappers and Miners were glad to see the last of the Chin-Lushai jungles by the time they finally returned to Roorkee [16].

The Chin-Lushai Expedition officially ended on the 30th of April 1890, although half of the 2nd Company had not yet returned to Roorkee by that date. The official dates of the campaign were the 15th of November 1889 to the 30th of April 1890 [17]. For his service in the campaign Corporal Wiffen was awarded the India General Service Medal 1854 with clasp [CHIN LUSHAI 1889-90].

Wiffen continued serving with the 2nd Company, Bengal Sappers and Miners at Roorkee after his return from the Chin-Lushai Expedition. His service papers show that in November of 1890 he was serving under Captain W.A. Cairnes, R.E. On the 20th of August 1892, when he extended his service to complete 12 years with the Colours, Wiffen was serving under Major W.G. Bowyer, R.E. at Simla [18]. Two years later he would again see action, this time in Waziristan.

Waziristan (1894 – 1895)

The Waziristan campaign of 1894 to 1895 was begun as a result of a violent assault on the camp of the British Delimitation Commission and its escort near Wana by Mahsud Waziris on the 3rd of November 1894. The assault was made before dawn by 3,000 tribesmen under the Mulla Powindah. The 2nd Company, Bengal Sappers and Miners, commanded by Captain A.G. Hunter-Weston, R.E., formed part of the British Delimitation Commission escort [19]. Other company officers included Lieutenants L.H. Close, W.E.R. Dickson and W.S. Traill, R.E. The company had come from Rawalpindi after working during the summer on the pipeline of the Murree Water Supply scheme.

The campsite of the Commission lay below the Inzar Kotal on open ground intersected by nullahs. Its location was a great source of concern to Brigadier General A.H. Turner, the escort commander, who could do little to strengthen the defences of the camp except to establish a cordon of picquets to watch any concealed approaches. The Mahsuds were quick to seize the opportunity to attack the ill-sited camp. At about 5:30 a.m. on the 3rd of November 1894 the camp was roused by a few shots followed by wild yells and the beating of drums. At the same time, a thousand Mahsuds made a desperate rush from the west on the left flank and left rear of the camp area held by the 1st Gurkhas. So rapid was this rush that they were into the camp before the Gurkhas could turn out of their tents. The tribesmen had crept up two nullahs and after overwhelming a couple of picquets were able to charge right in. Another large body of Mahsuds continued down one of the nullahs and splitting into two groups joined in the main assault on the left flank or broke against the rear guard further on. Some made their way into the camp behind the hospitals and wrought havoc among the transport animals or freed the cavalry horses in the hope of causing a stampede. The situation was quite confused until the Gurkhas formed a rallying square and fought the Mahsuds hand to hand. Reinforced by other troops, the Gurkhas stemmed the tide of the on rushing tribesmen and within half an hour the enemy were in full retreat pursued by the cavalry who charged with great effect. The British lost 45 killed including Lieutenant P.J.F. Macaulay, R.E. (a Survey Officer), and in addition, 75 wounded. The Mahsuds left 350 dead on the field. Wiffen’s company escaped with view casualties for they occupied ground near the eastern side of the camp between the Sikhs and the Mountain Battery and consequently did not bear the brunt of the first assault from the west [20].

The unprovoked outrage near Wana necessitated the despatch of a punitive expedition and accordingly the Waziristan Field Force of three mixed brigades was formed early in December 1894 under Lieutenant General Sir William Lockhart, K.C.B., C.S.I. General Lockhart’s plan was to invade Mahsud territory simultaneously from three directions. The engineer order of battle for this campaign consisted of No. 2 Company, Bengal Sappers and Miners with the 1st Brigade under Brigadier General A.H. Turner at Wana and No. 5 Company, Bengal Sappers and Miners with the 2nd Brigade under Brigadier General W. Penn Symons at Jandola [21]. The 3rd Brigade under Lieutenant Colonel C.C. Egerton near Bannu had no engineer units. Captain Hunter-Weston, O.C. of the 2nd Company, was in command of all Sappers and Miners as the Commander Royal Engineers (CRE) [22].

The Waziristan Field Force began operations on the 18th of December 1894 with Sergeant Wiffen’s column moving on Kaniguram. Little opposition was encountered and by the 21st of December the 2nd Company reached its destination. The Sappers were engaged in accompanying the infantry over the surrounding countryside, destroying villages and Mahsud towers. Snow lay thick on the ground during these operations and the cold was intense, so much so that the troops withdrew from higher regions and concentrated at Jandola. The Mahsuds remained defiant even after some 90 towers had been demolished, so the infantry and the Sappers resumed their work of scouring the country and seizing cattle. The Mahsuds finally submitted to the British on the 21st of January 1895. The brief campaign of 1894 in Waziristan was notable as the first in which the Lee-Metford rifle and cordite ammunition were used in frontier warfare.

Sergeant Wiffen’s company constructed some exceptionally difficult roads during the campaign in addition to blowing up towers and building fortified posts for the field force. Both the 2nd and the 5th Companies, Bengal Sappers and Miners were attached to the 2nd Brigade at Jandola for road making. The companies left Jandola on the 11th of January 1895 for Haidari Kach. Much blasting was needed in the cleft of the Shahur Tangi near Jandola and twenty miles beyond it the road in the bed of the stream narrowed almost to nothing in a gorge where vertical cliffs rose hundreds of feet on either side. An immense rock, firmly jammed between the cliffs, prevented the passage of loaded camels. Many of the boulders in the bed of the stream were as big as cottages. The Sappers were obliged to leave the bed and make a diversion up to and across wind-swept heights by which at last they opened a way to Kundiwam. The submission of the Mahsud chiefs was received at Kundiwam on the 21st of January 1895. By that time the Sappers had extended the road another 13 miles to Wana.

Both Wana and Kundiwam began to expand into flourishing military stations, but serious trouble in Chitral drew some of the troops away from the area. In February 1895 the 2nd Company, Bengal Sappers and Miners marched to Bannu for work at Datta Khel in the Tochi Valley. In April of 1895 the right-half company moved to Laram Peak north of Miramshah and afterwards build fortified posts at Miramshah, Idak and other places in the Tochi Valley. They finally left the Tochi Valley in May of 1896 and proceeded to Rawalpindi. Meanwhile, the left half of the 2nd Company proceeded to Abbottabad to join a column for the Chitral Relief Expedition and was then sent to Murree.

Sergeant Wiffen took part in the operations in Waziristan in 1894 and 1895, although it is not known specifically in which half-company he served. For his service during the campaign he was awarded the clasp [WAZIRISTAN 1894-5] to his India General Service 1854 Medal.

India (1895 – 1901)

Wiffen continued to serve in India with the 2nd Company, Bengal Sappers and Miners after the Waziristan campaign. On the 2nd of July 1896 he re-engaged to complete a total of 21 years of service with the Royal Engineers [23]. In March of 1899 he became the Company Sergeant Major (local rank) of No. 2 Company, Bengal Sappers and Miners and on the 2nd of January 1901 he returned to England after almost 12 years in India.

Chatham (1901 – 1903)

On the date of his return to England Wiffen reverted to his rank of Sergeant in the Royal Engineers. He was assigned to the School of Military Engineering at Chatham where he served as an Instructor in Field Works. Sergeant Wiffen served at the School of Military Engineering for almost three years until the 12th of December 1903 when he was reassigned as the Company Sergeant Major of the 2nd Field Company, Royal Engineers in Egypt.

Egypt (1903 – 1906)

The 2nd Field Company had been in Egypt for some time and had taken part in the Sudan Campaign from July 1896 to September 1898. By 1905 the company had been redesignated the 2nd Fortress Company and was headquartered in Cairo. The officers of the company during Company Sergeant Major Wiffen’s time in Egypt included Captain G.O. Bigge, R.E. and Lieutenants E.A.H. James and H.O. Clogstoun, R.E. The company had detachments in Cairo and Abbasiyeh with the mission of supporting the shore defences at both these locations [24].

Company Sergeant Major Wiffen’s time in Egypt was relatively peaceful. He returned home to England on the 31st of December 1906 at the end of his tour of duty with the then 2nd Fortress Company, Royal Engineers. Wiffen’s service papers do not indicate whether his family accompanied him to Egypt or remained home in England during his time there.

Chatham (1906 – 1907)

Company Sergeant Major Wiffen was posted to "G" Depot Company at Chatham on his return to England. While serving at Chatham he applied for discharge from the Army upon completing 21 years of service. He was discharged there on the 3rd of May 1907.


a. Promotions: Robert Sydney Wiffen received the following promotions during his time in service:

Date of Promotion or Appointment

Rank or Position
(NOTE: The promotions in the Bengal Sappers and Miners were all local ranks while he served with that Corps)

5 May 1886

Sapper (upon enlistment)

26 February 1889

Appointed Lance Corporal, Royal Engineers

5 April 1889

Promoted 2nd Corporal, Bengal Sappers and Miners

1 July 1889

Promoted Corporal, Bengal Sappers and Miners

11 November 1890

Promoted 2nd Corporal, Royal Engineers

1 July 1892

Promoted Sergeant, Bengal Sappers and Miners

1 June 1893

Promoted Corporal, Royal Engineers

1 March 1898

Promoted Sergeant, Royal Engineers

19 March 1899

Promoted Company Sergeant Major, Bengal Sappers and Miners

2 January 1901

Reverted to the rank of Sergeant, Royal Engineers
on return from India

8 January 1904

Promoted Company Sergeant Major

b. Conduct: Robert Wiffen received a Good Conduct Badge on the 4th of May 1888 and was authorized 1.d per day Good Conduct Pay. Because of his rapid promotion through the non-commissioned officer ranks, both in the Royal Engineers and Bengal Sappers and Miners, although eligible, he did not received further Good Conduct Badges [25].

Wiffen was awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal on the 1st of April 1905 after completing 18 years of service with the Colours [26]. At the time of his discharge Wiffen’s conduct was rated as "Exemplary." His service record indicates that he had committed no offences in the last twelve years of his service and there had been no instances of drunkenness in his service. Presumably his name had never appeared in the Regimental Defaulters’ Book and he had never been tried by court martial for any offence.


a. Education: Company Sergeant Major Robert Wiffen earned the following Certificates of Education during his time in service [27]:


Certificate of Education

18 June 1886

Fourth Class Certificate of Education

15 March 1887

Third Class Certificate of Education

10 February 1892

Second Class Certificate of Education

b. Qualifications: CSM Robert Wiffen earned the following qualifications during his time in service.



May 1886

"Good" Carpenter (upon enlistment)


Passed a Class of Instruction in Ballooning at the School of Military Engineering with a rating of "Superior"

November 1903

Qualified as an Instructor of Field Works
at the School of Military Engineering

1 April 1904

Granted Service Pay, Class I

3 May 1907

Rated as a "Superior" Carpenter (upon discharge)


The following medical information was taken from Company Sergeant Major Robert Wiffen’s service records during his time in service:


Date of


Period of Hospitalization
or Treatment

Warley, Essex

4 May 1886

Medical Examination

Examination upon enlistment in the Army. Found fit for service.

Chatham, Kent

27 Oct 1887

Accidental injury: cut on the left thumb.

Court of Enquiry convened on 2 November 1887 to investigate the cause of the injury [28].

Chatham, Kent

3 May 1907

Medical Examination

Examination upon discharge.


On the 1st of April 1902 Sergeant Wiffen elected to come under the regulations governing the issue of messing allowance in Army Order dated the 2nd of April 1898, no doubt in anticipation of his pending marriage. On the 5th of July 1902, at the age of 35, Sergeant Wiffen married Clara Hughes at New Brompton, Kent with leave [29]. He and his wife were placed on the married rolls on this same date. The Wiffens subsequently had three children: Kate Elizabeth, born 28 May 1903; Jennie Alice, born 15 August 1904; and Robert George Edward, born 31 May 1907 [30]. Both daughters appear in Wiffen’s service papers. His son does not, as he was born 28 days after Wiffen was discharged from the Army. Jennie Alice was born during the time that Sergeant Wiffen was serving in Egypt. Since she was born 8 months after his embarkation for Egypt, it is not possible to know if she was born in England or in Egypt and Wiffen’s service papers do not indicate where she was born.


Early in April of 1907 Company Sergeant Major Wiffen declared his intention to take his discharge after completing 21 years of service. On the 16th of April 1907 his Soldier’s Book was examined and certified as correct by his commanding officer. On the 23rd of April the Officer Commanding the Depot Battalion, R.E. at Chatham certified Wiffen’s service record as correct. He was discharged from the Army at Chatham on the 3rd of May 1907 on the termination of his second period of limited engagement. His total service was reckoned as shown in the tables below:


Period of Service

Chatham, Kent

4 May 1886 to 25 February 1889

Roorkee, India

26 February 1889 to 14 November 1889


15 November 1889 to 30 April 1890

Roorkee, Simla and Rawalpindi, India

1 May 1890 to 2 November 1894


3 November 1894 to 13 March 1895

Rawalpindi and Murree, India

14 March 1895 to 2 January 1901

Chatham, Kent

3 January 1901 to 11 December 1903


12 December 1903 to 30 December 1906

Chatham, Kent

31 December 1906 to 3 May 1907


Period of Service

Home Service

6 years and 35 days

Service Abroad

14 years and 330 days

Total Service

21 years exactly

Company Sergeant Major Wiffen’s military trade was listed as a "Superior" Carpenter at the time of his discharge. His discharge papers indicate that his special qualifications for employment in civil life were as a "Carpenter."

At the time of his discharge, Robert Wiffen indicated that his intended place of residence would be 71, James Street, Gillingham, Kent, a town contiguous with Chatham where he had spent so much of his time while serving at Home. This is the place of birth listed on the birth certificate of his son Robert George Edward who later also served as a Warrant Officer in the Royal Engineers.


No details of Robert Wiffen’s life are available after his discharge from the Army. He did, in fact, take up residence at 71, James Street in Gillingham. It appears that he resided in Kent for the remainder of his life and may have practiced his trade as a carpenter. He died at Milton Regis Hospital, Milton Regis, Sittingbourne, Kent on the 15th of December 1955 at the age of 88. The causes of his death were listed as 1a) exhaustion, 1b) failing cardiac compensation and 1c) myocardial degeneration [31].


The following pages from the 1881 British Census provide information regarding the possible whereabouts of Robert, Minnie and Kate Wiffen in 1881. Since no record could be found of their parents, Robert Arthur and Arabella Diana Wiffen in 1881, it may be assumed that they were either deceased or not living in the United Kingdom at the time. If the three children were orphans, then they may have been living with other people at the time of the census. The closest entry in the census for Robert was a young man of 18 years of age working as a labourer and living as a boarder in the home of Benjamin and Sarah Bacon of 85 New Street, Mile End Old Town in London. Although this may be Robert Sydney Wiffen, there are a number of discrepancies between the known data from his military records and the data from the census. First of all the age shown in the census entry would make his date of birth 1863 and not 1867. Even in Victorian times a four-year discrepancy for the birth year was rather unusual. Secondly, the census entry shows the place of birth for Robert Wiffen as Gestingthorpe, Essex. While the County is correct, the towns are rather far apart. Thirdly, Robert Sydney Wiffen may have been a Carpenter’s Apprentice in 1881 and not a Labourer as shown on the census return. It is possible, however, that he could have been a Labourer at the time the census was taken. The probability that the Robert Wiffen living with the Bacons in London in 1881 is Robert Sydney Wiffen, the subject of this research, is only fair.

The 1881 Census shows a Minnie Wiffen working as an Assistant Draper for John Hawcroft of High Street, South Weald, Essex. Minnie is 19 years of age and is shown as having been born in Romford, Essex. South Weald is located only four miles northeast of Romford. The probability of the Minnie Wiffen shown in the 1881 Census being the sister of Robert Sydney Wiffen is excellent.

The Kate Wiffen shown in the 1881 Census as an 11 year old Dressmaker’s Apprentice is most likely the younger sister of Robert Sydney Wiffen. Her birthplace is shown as Romford, Essex and she is working for her uncle-in-law or aunt-in-law in Brighton, Sussex. The Wiffen family connection to Brighton is through the christening of young Robert in 1870. Robert’s parents may have lived in Brighton at once time and Thomas and Lydia Saunders with whom Kate was living, are in some way related to the Wiffens.

Frederick Wiffen was the older brother of Robert and no trace was found of him in the 1881 British Census. From Robert’s service papers it is known that Frederick immigrated to Australia. A check of the Australian Vital Records Index from 1788 to 1905 produced no record of the whereabouts of Frederick Wiffen.


The following letter was written by ex-CSM R. Wiffen to the editor of The Sapper magazine. The letter was published in the December 1942 issue (page 70).

Dear Sir,

The short article on Balloons in your November issue by Cpl. R.C. Lawrenson has brought back memories of the original Balloon Detachment, as comprised in 1887, of which I was a member. Our training was carried out during the winter months at St. Mary’s Barracks, and in the summer, at Lidsing, and at Lydd, where we were employed on the ranges spotting from captive balloons for the Garrison Artillery, who were then firing "Lyddite" shells for the first time. I append a nominal roll of the detachment at that time, which may be of interest to some of the older readers of your paper:-


R. Wiffen
Ex-CSM., R.E., No. 20941

The following is the nominal roll appended to the letter by CSM Wiffen:

Major J.B. Templar, Instructor

Major H. Elsdale, O.C. Detachment

Lieutenant C.F. Close

Lieutenant H.B. Jones

Sergeant J. Smith

Corporal S. Bryant

Second Corporal G. Fitzpatrick

Second Corporal T. Greener

Lance Corporal J. Champion

Sapper G. Allan

Sapper J. Allen

Sapper T. Beswarik

Sapper __ Price

Sapper __ Sneyd

Sapper W. Sykes

Sapper A. Roff

Sapper H. Walker

Sapper C. Wedge

Sapper R. Wiffen

Sapper H. Wookey

Sapper H. Worley



1. FARWELL, B. Mr. Kipling’s Army: All the Queen’s Men. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1981.

2. GORDON, L.L. British Battles and Medals. Spink & Son, Ltd., London, 1971.

3. GRIERSON, J.M. Scarlet Into Khaki: The British Army on the Eve of the Boer War. Greenhill Books, London, 1988.

4. SANDES, E.W.C. The Indian Sappers and Miners. The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, Kent, 1948.

5. SKELLEY, A.R. The Victorian Army at Home: The Recruitment and Terms and Conditions of the British Regular, 1859-1899. McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal, 1977.


Soldier’s Service Papers Consisting of the Following Documents:

  1. Short Service Attestation (Army Form B. 265).
  2. Description on Enlistment.
  3. Statement of Services.
  4. Military History Sheet.
  5. Proceedings on Discharge.
  6. Death Certificate of Pensioner.


1. Monthly Army List, September 1885.

2. REGIMENT Magazine. Issue Thirteen, The Corps of Royal Engineers, 1066-1996. Nexus House, Hemel Hempstead, 1996.

3. The Royal Engineers Monthly List, January 1905.


[1]. The papers were kindly obtained for the author by Mr. Stuart Gase of West Drayton, Middlesex, himself an ex-Sapper.

[2]. Robert Sydney Wiffen’s christening is registered in the Vital Records Index for the British Isles, FHL Number 1067104. The only place where he used his middle initial "S" is on his Statement of Service in his military papers where he signed his name RS Wiffen when he elected to come under the regulation governing messing allowance on the 1st of April 1902.

[3]. Vital Records Index for the British Isles, FHL Number 1067104. No record of the Wiffen family could be found in Sussex in the 1881 Census.

[4]. See Age and Physical Requirements for Soldiers in the British Army and the Corps of Royal Engineers (Victorian Period).

[5]. Wiffen was tall for men of this period. In 1886 the minimum height requirement for enlistment in the Army was 5 feet 3 inches. The maximum height was 5 feet 10 inches. Wiffen just made it under the limit.

[6]. Monthly Army List, September 1885, p. 441.

[7]. See Periods of Enlistment for the Corps of Royal Engineers.

[8]. See Engineer Recruit Training.

[9]. Regiment Magazine, p. 21.

[10]. It is not known for certain if Wiffen served with Captain Heath in some capacity dealing with ballooning. It seems a strange coincidence that a Sapper trained at the Balloon School in Aldershot would find himself serving with one of the preeminent balloonists of the Royal Engineers shortly after his arrival in India.

[11]. SANDES, p. 414-415.

[12]. SANDES, p. 416.

[13]. It will be noted from the table in Section 6 of this narrative that Wiffen received alternate promotions in the Bengal Sappers and Miners and the Royal Engineers during the time he served in India. The local promotions always preceded the Regimental promotions. Presumably he received the higher pay of the local rank after his promotions.

[14]. The Indian Pioneer Regiments were trained to work as engineer troops and to fight as infantry when required. On the other hand, the Gurkhas were pure infantry and probably not too well suited for the work at hand. The officers of the Gurkha units may have been resentful that their men were being used in a labour roll. The equanimity of the Gurkha soldiers, however, probably made them very adaptable to the work.

[15]. SANDES, p. 416.

[16]. Ibid.

[17]. GORDON, p. 224.

[18]. See Extensions of Service of the Regular Army.

[19]. The escort commanded by Brigadier General A.H. Turner consisted of the following units:

A squadron of the 1st Punjab Cavalry
3rd Mountain Battery
3rd Sikhs
20th Punjab Infantry
1st Gurkhas
2nd Company, Bengal Sappers and Miners

[20]. SANDES, p. 371.

[21]. Ibid., p. 229.

[22]. Ibid., p. 372.

[23]. See Re-Engagement in the Regular Army

[24]. The Royal Engineers Monthly List, January 1905, p. xxviii.

[25]. See Good Conduct Pay.

[26]. He actually completed 18 years of service in May of 1904, but the order authorizing the award of the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal was not published until almost a year later.

[27]. See Certificates of Education.

[28]. Courts of Enquiry were convened for accidental injuries of all types, even for those of a relatively minor nature. Since some soldiers attempted to obtain discharges by self-inflicted wounds or self-mutilation, it appears that the Army was suspicious of all types of injuries and deemed it necessary to investigate them all.

[29]. See Marriage of Soldiers During the Victorian Period.

[30]. The medals of 1862329 Warrant Officer Robert George Wiffen, R.E. in the author’s collection are what sparked this research work.

[31]. Death Certificate of a Pensioner, Whitchurch, Hants, dated 6 January 1956.