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7946 Sapper
Royal Engineers

Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis
2004. All Rights Reserved.


Unless otherwise noted, the details supplied in this narrative were extracted from the soldier’s service papers found in War Office files WO97/4509 obtained from original documents housed in the National Archives at Kew, Richmond, Surrey.


Ernest William Chainey was born in May 1877 in the Parish of Wantage, in the Town of Wantage, in the County of Berkshire.[1] He was the fifth child of George Chainey, a farm labourer, and his wife Eliza Chainey. The Chainey's were members of the Church of England.

The Chaineys lived on a farm in Charlton, Berkshire.[2] Based on the 1881 British Census it appears that George Chainey worked on a farm on the estate of Henry Devilre, a gentlemen, whose family lived in Charlton House.[3] It also appears that George worked under the direct supervision of George Bayliss, the farm bailiff, who resided with his family at the Farm House on the Devilre estate.[4]

Ernest lived with his family until he enlisted in the Army in 1901. Prior to his enlistment he worked as a Moulder. Although no details of this trade are provided in his service papers, it is believed that he probably worked in a foundry preparing moulds or patterns for pieces to be cast from iron or steel.


The following is a description of Ernest William Chainey at the time he enlisted in the Army in March of 1901:


23 years and 10 months.


5 feet 6 inches.


137 pounds.

Chest Measurement (minimum):

34 inches.

Chest Measurement (maximum):

36 inches.







Distinctive Marks:



a. Enlistment

Chainey was recruited for service by Company Sergeant Major J. Day, a member of the Recruiting Staff for the Royal Engineers in the County of Hampshire. After his recruitment, Chainey reported to Southampton on the 20th of March 1901 where he was given a medical examination. He was found fit to serve in the Army and his Certificate of Medical Examination was issued at Southampton on that date.[5]

On the 21st of March 1901 Chainey returned to Southampton and attested for service with the Colours. His was a Short Service Attestation for 7 years with the Colours and 5 years in the Army Reserve.[6] Prior to swearing the oath of attestation, Chainey was asked the usual question put to a recruit at the time of his enlistment. He indicated that he was residing in his parent's home, that he was not an apprentice and that he was not married. Chainey claimed that he had never been imprisoned by civil power, that he had no prior naval or military service and that he had never previously been rejected as unfit for service. He indicated a desire to serve in the Corps of Royal Engineers, and as a Moulder his trade in civil life would have made him a good candidate for that Corps.

Chainey's attestation was witnessed by Company Sergeant Major Day and was certified by Captain W.H. Trethewy, the Adjutant of the 2nd Volunteer Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment at Southampton.[7] Chainey's Certificate of Primary Military Examination also was issued by Captain Trethewy at Southampton on the 21st of March. This certificate pronounced him fit for service in the Royal Engineers.

On the 22nd of March 1901, Captain Trethewy signed the Certificate of Approving Officer for Chainey's enlistment. Chainey was ordered to immediately proceed to Chatham, Kent for recruit training in the Royal Engineers with the rank of Sapper and Regimental Number 7946.

b. Recruit Training

Sapper Chainey reported to the School of Military Engineering at Brompton Barracks in Chatham where he underwent about a year of basic recruit training for the engineer soldier.[8] On the 12th of November 1901 he sustained an injury to his thumb, most likely during a training exercise. A Court of Enquiry was held to determine if the injury had been sustained in the line of duty. Although there is no notation in his service papers as to the findings of the court, it may be assumed that Chainey's injury was found not to be due to misconduct on his part. Following the successful completion of his recruit training, Sapper Chainey was ordered to proceed to South Africa on the 9th of April 1902 where the war against the Boers was in its final stages.


a. Promotions

Ernest William Chainey did not receive any promotions during his time in service. He served as a Sapper from the time of his enlistment in 1901 until the time of his discharge in 1913. This situation is rather unusual given his conduct and efficiency as recorded in his service papers. His lack of promotion does not appear to have been the result of bad conduct on his part, as his service papers do not contain any record of disciplinary actions against him and he was awarded two Good Conduct badges at the normally prescribed time in service. His level of education should not have been the cause for his not advancing in rank since he did earn a 3rd Class Certificate of Education, the minimum requirement for promotion at least to the rank of Corporal. His effectiveness as a soldier and his proficiency in his trade could not have prevented his advancement, as he was twice allowed to extend his service and was twice granted Service Pay for his trade efficiency at the highest rate allowable. His lack of advancement in the ranks is inexplicable given the data contained in his service record.

b. Conduct

(1) Disciplinary Actions

There is no indication of any disciplinary actions being charged against Sapper Chainey during his time in the Army. There is no record of his name appearing in the Regimental Defaulters' Book nor is there any record of him being tried by court martial.

(2) Good Conduct Badges

Sapper Chainey received the following Good Conduct Badges during his time in service:[9]

Good Conduct Badge

Date of Award

Total Time in Service

Granted Good Conduct Pay at 1d. per day.

21 March 1903

2 years

Granted Good Conduct Pay at 2d. per day.

21 March 1906

5 years

It should be noted that under the 1885 rules for award of Good Conduct Badges that Chainey's service was governed by, he would probably have received a third badge had he served beyond 12 years. At no time during his service did he forfeit his Good Conduct Pay due to misconduct.


a. Education

Sapper Chainey earned a Third Class Certificate of Education on the 19th of June 1907.[10]

b. Qualifications

Ernest William Chainey earned the following qualifications during his time in service.



21 March 1901

Rank of Sapper upon enlistment in the Corps of Royal Engineers.

1 April 1904

Elected Service Pay under Army Order 66 of 1902. Granted Service Pay, Class I at 6d. per day.(*)

21 March 1906

Granted Service Pay, Class I at 7d. per day.

26 March 1912

Elected new conditions of Engineer Service Pay in accordance with Special Order dated 21 December 1911.

NOTE: (*) Service Pay, in addition to their regular pay, was granted to men in the Royal Engineers who demonstrated proficiency in their military trades. Service Pay was awarded in seven classes, with Class I being the highest. As indicated above, Chainey's conduct and efficiency should have enabled him to be promoted above the rank of Sapper during his 12 years in service.


a. Summary of Home and Overseas Service:

The table below provides a summary of the service of Sapper Chainey at home and abroad during his 12 years of service.

Home or Overseas



Years Days

Home (Chatham)

21 March 1901

8 April 1902

1 year & 18 days

South Africa (Cape Colony)

9 April 1902

19 November 1906

4 years & 224 days

Home (Longmoor)

20 November 1906

8 February 1910

3 years & 111 days

South Africa
(Cape Town)

9 February 1910

9 March 1913

3 years

Home (Chatham)

10 March 1913

20 March 1913

11 days

Total Service at Home:

4 years & 140 days

Total Service Abroad:

7 years & 225 days

Total Service:

12 years

b. Narrative of Service

(1) South Africa (1902-1906)

Sapper Chainey proceeded to South Africa for active service in the Boer War of 1899 to 1902 on the 9th of April 1902. On his arrival in the Cape Colony he was initially posted to the 11th Field Company, Royal Engineers. On the 12th of August 1902 he was transferred to the 9th Field Company, Royal Engineers. By the time of his arrival in the theatre of the war the major campaigns against the Boers had been completed and the British Army was involved in counter guerilla operations against small Boer forces. The primary mission of the 9th Field Company involved the construction of blockhouses to protect railway lines and other critical British logistical areas and bases.

For his service during the latter part of the war Chainey was awarded the Queen's South Africa Medal. His arrival in South Africa in early April of 1902 did qualify him for the clasp [CAPE COLONY] for this medal, as the clasp was issued to all troops in Cape Colony at any time between the 11th of October 1899 and the 31st of May 1902.[11] He also was granted the [SOUTH AFRICA 1902] clasp for his service, as this was granted to all who were serving in South Africa on or after the 1st of January 1902.[12]

Sapper Chainey continued serving with the 9th Company after the end of hostilities in South Africa and according to his service papers he was with that company until at least the 21st of March 1903. An entry in his service papers dated the 1st of April 1904 shows that he was then serving with the 10th (Railway) Company, Royal Engineers, although the exact date of his transfer to this new unit is unknown. On the 11th of April 1904, Sapper Chainey extended his service to complete eight years with the Colours.[13] His original enlistment was for a period of seven years with the Colours, but for some reason Chainey decided to extend for one year. It may be that the extra Service Pay he began to receive on the 1st of April may have enticed him to extend. It is also possible that life in South Africa appealed to him and after the 10th Company was alerted to return to England, Chainey may have decided to extend his service so that he could transfer to another unit.

The 10th Company returned to England in 1905 and was sent to the Railway Training Centre at Longmoor in Hampshire.[14] Prior to the company's departure for England, Sapper Chainey was transferred to the newly formed 53rd (Railway) Company, Royal Engineers. Chainey was serving with the 53rd Company in South Africa when the Officer Commanding the 11th Field Company at Shorncliffe prepared the company's Queen's South Africa medal roll.[15] Chainey is listed on this roll as having earned the medal with the two clasps previously mentioned.

(2) Longmoor (1906-1910)

Sapper Chainey returned home from South Africa with the 53rd Company on the 20th of November 1906 and proceeded with the unit to the Railway Training Centre at Longmoor. Apparently content with life in the Army, Chainey again extended his service, this time to complete 12 years with the Colours.

(3) South Africa (1910-1913)

After a little more than three years at home, Sapper Chainey was again posted to South Africa where he was assigned to the 47th (Fortress) Company, Royal Engineers. The 47th Company was stationed in the Cape Peninsula District of the Cape Colony with its headquarters at The Castle in Cape Town. Elements of the company were located at Simons Town and Middelburg. The company officers at this time were Captain C.S.A. Akerman, Lieutenant J. Day, Lieutenant M.E. Morgan and Lieutenant W.H.A. Hunt.

At some point after Chainey's arrival in South Africa, the 53rd (Railway) Company also was deployed there. Chainey's service papers show that in March of 1912 he was again serving with the 53rd Company. Whether his transfer from the 47th Company to the 53rd Company was at his own request or whether he was reassigned because of his previous experience with railway work is not known. His assignment to this new company was short-lived when the 53rd Company was suddenly disbanded in 1912[16] and Sapper Chainey was ordered home. The disbanding of the 53rd Company was the result of little importance being attached to the need for railway troops in the years immediately preceding the Great War of 1914 to 1918. This lack of foresight on the part of the British War Office was to give cause for regret in the years that followed when Longmoor and its railwaymen were called upon to play a major part in a war in which railways were to be of great significance.[17]

(4) Chatham (1913)

Upon his return to England on the 10th of March 1913, Sapper Chainey was posted to "G" (Depot) Company, Royal Engineers at Chatham in preparations for his discharge from the Army. Apparently Chainey had no further desire to extend his service to complete 21 years thereby obtaining a pension for himself. He was discharged at Chatham on the 20th of March 1913 upon completing his 12 years of service. He was 35 years and 10 months old at the time of his discharge.


The following information was taken from Ernest William Chainey's medical records during his time in service:


Date of

Ailment or Medical

Period of Hospitalization
or Treatment

Southampton, Hampshire

20 Mar 1901

Medical examination on enlistment. Found fit for service in the Army.

Chatham, Kent

12 Nov 1901

Sustained an injury to his thumb while in training. Court of Enquiry determined the accident was in the line of duty.


a. Spouse and Children

No evidence was found in Ernest William Chainey's military records to indicate that he was married during his time in the Army.

b. Census Information

(1) 1881 British Census

The following information was obtained from the census return regarding the Chainey family in 1881.

The Household of George Chainey

Census Place: Charlton, Berkshire.
Source: Family History Library Film 1341314, Public Record Office Reference RG11, Piece 1291, Folio 42, Page 2.

Name and Occupation



Sex Birthplace
George Chainey, farmer




Wantage, Berkshire
Eliza Chainey




Charlton, Berkshire
George Cox Chainey, farm servant




Charlton, Berkshire
Louisa Chainey, scholar




Wantage, Berkshire
Charles Henry Chainey, scholar




Wantage, Berkshire
Edith Ellen Chainey, scholar




Wantage, Berkshire
Ernest William Chainey, scholar




Wantage, Berkshire
Herbert Edward Chainey




Grove, Berkshire

(2) 1901 British Census

In the 1901 British Census, Sapper Ernest William Chainey is shown as present at the School of Military Engineering, Brompton Barracks, Chatham, Kent.

c. Parents

Sapper Chainey's service papers indicate that at the time of his enlistment in 1901 his next of kin was his mother, Eliza Haines. It appears that his father must have died and his mother remarried. His mother's residence was listed as East Challow, Berkshire, a town located about one mile due west of Wantage.


Sapper Ernest William Chainey was discharged from the Army at Chatham, Kent on the 20th of March 1913 on the termination of his first period of limited engagement (including two voluntary extensions of service). With his two extensions of service, Chainey effectively completed the obligation of his original enlistment for 12 years.


No information is provided in Chainey's service papers regarding his intended place of residence after his discharge from the Army. He was not quite 36 years old when he was discharged, and as the start of the Great War of 1914-1918 was less than 17 months following his discharge, it my that he volunteered his services or that he was called backed into service under emergency circumstances. As mentioned previously, by virtue of his two extensions of service he completed his 12-year obligation and therefore was not required to serve in the Army Reserve after his discharge. There is no record, however, of him being entitled to any Great War medals,[18] so he may not have returned to the Colours even for home service.

All of Ernest's brothers, except for Herbert, were older than 36 years of age when the Great War began. A check of Soldiers Died in the Great War did not reveal any casualty in any regiment or corps by the name of Chainey that corresponded to Ernest or any of his brothers, including Herbert. George and Charles Chainey would have been old enough to have married and had children of military age by 1914; however, none of the Chaineys listed in Soldiers Died could be linked to them.



1. BAKER BROWN, W. The History of the Corps of Royal Engineers. Volume IV. The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, Kent, 1952.

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. INSTITUTION OF ROYAL ENGINEERS. The Medal Roll of the Corps of Royal Engineers. Volume V. Queen's and King's South Africa Medals, 1899-1902. The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, Kent, 2003.

5. LETTS, C. Roadbook of Britain. Charles Letts and Company Limited, London, 1977.

6. MERRIAM WEBSTER. Geographical Dictionary, Springfield, MA, 1997.

7. RONALD, D.W. & CARTER, R.J. The Longmoor Military Railway. David & Charles, Newton Abbot, 1974.

8. 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.


1. Service papers of 7946 Sapper Ernest William Chainey, consisting of the following documents:

a. Short Service Attestation (Army Form B. 265).

b. Description on Enlistment.

c. Military History Sheet.

d. Statement of Services.

2. Queen's South Africa Medal Roll of the 11th Company, Royal Engineers (WO100/156).


1. Monthly Army List, March 1898.

2. Royal Engineers List, February 1910.

Computer Software

1. 1881 British Census and National Index. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, 1999.

2. Soldiers Died in the Great War. The Naval & Military Press Ltd., Heathfield, East Sussex, 1998.

3. Vital Records Index - British Isles. Family History Resource File, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, 1998.

Internet Sources

1901 British Census. Public Record Office, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, 2003.

Personal Communications

GASE, S. Movements of Royal Engineers Companies. West Drayton, Middlesex, 2001.


[1] Wantage is located about 15 miles south southeast of Oxford in the Vale of the White Horse. Today the town is located in the county of Oxfordshire. Wantage was the birthplace of King Alfred the Great in 849 A.D.

[2] At the time of the 1881 British Census, it appears that the town of Charlton was located in Berkshire. It now appears that it lies in the county of Wiltshire following some changes made in county boundaries.

[3] 1881 British Census. Family History Library Film 1341314, Public Record Office Reference RG11, Piece 1291, Folio 42, Page 2. Charlton House may still exist today and may be in use as an hotel.

[4] Ibid.

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

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

[7] The Monthly Army List, March 1898, p. 833.

[8] See Engineer Recruit Training.

[9] See Good Conduct Pay.

[10] See Certificates of Education.

[11] GORDON, p. 270.

[12] Ibid., p. 287.

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

[14] BAKER BROWN, P. 268.

[15] WO156/67.

[16] BAKER BROWN, p. 269.

[17] RONALD & CARTER, p. 44.

[18] This information is based on a check of Medal Index cards at the National Archives by Mr. Stuart Gase of West Drayton, Middlesex