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9583 Sergeant John Johnston
Royal Engineers

Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis

This research dealing with Sergeant Johnston’s military service has been compiled primarily from his military service papers contained in File WO97/3165 at the Public Record Office, London.

Early Life and Enlistment

John Johnston was born in September of 1848 near the town of Bathgate in the county of Linlithgow, Scotland [1]. He resided in Bathgate until the time of his enlistment in the Army. As a young lad he worked as a joiner for a Mr. John Rodgers of Bathgate. John was not married at the time of his enlistment in the Army.

John Johnston enlisted in the Militia Volunteers at Dunbar, Scotland on the 18th of June 1866 [2]. At the time of his enlistment he was 18 years and 9 months old. The unit of the Scottish Volunteer Force in which he enlisted was, at that time, known as the Haddington Artillery Militia [3]. The establishment of this small unit (battery) was 69 men. The unit formed part of the 1st Corps of the Scottish Volunteer Force.

Johnston served in the Haddington Artillery Militia for a period of about a year and a half when he decided to enlist in the Regular Army. On the 18th of January 1868 he went to Glasgow and presented himself to Sergeant Thomas Brown, a Recruiting Sergeant of the 26th Regiment of Foot [4]. Sergeant Brown duly enlisted Johnston in the Royal Engineers on that date and was found fit for military service by Major George Moore, Subdivision Officer of the Recruiting Service in Glasgow. Johnston swore the Oath of Attestation on the 20th of January and his enlistment was approved the following day.

Johnston’s service record indicates that his enlistment in the Royal Engineers was fraudulent, although this was not found out until sometime later. It appears that he failed to obtain his discharge from the militia before enlisting in the Regular Army.

Physical Description [5]

When John Johnston enlisted in the Scottish Volunteer Force in 1866 he was described as being 5 feet 7-1/2 inches tall with a fair complexion, blue eyes and light brown hair. When he was examined on the 28th of January 1868 for his enlistment into the Royal Engineers he was described as being 67-1/4 inches tall, weighing 144 pounds, having a chest measurement of 36 inches, and good muscular development. His pulse was 72 beats per minute and his respiration was measured at 18 inspirations per minute. The examining surgeon noted that he had no marks indicating a previous infection of small pox. The surgeon also noted no previous evidence of a vaccination. Johnston subsequently was vaccinated on 31st of January 1868 with the result being described as "perfect."

Medical Information

During his period of service in the Royal Engineers, Johnston’s medical history indicates only one period of hospitalization. He was admitted to the military hospital at Chatham, Kent on the 28th of April 1868 with a case of scabies. His infection was treated for three days and he was released and returned to duty on the 30th of April.

Marriage Information

John Johnston married Kezia Evans at Clifton, Bristol on the 8th of May 1877, without leave [6]. The marriage was subsequently recognized by the Army on the 15th of October 1887, when he was placed on the married rolls.

Promotions, Conduct and Education

Promotions: During his period of service in the Royal Engineers, John Johnston was promoted as indicated in the following table:

Dates of Promotion



20 January 1868

Lance Corporal

1 June 1876

2nd Corporal

3 January 1878


6 August 1879


18 October 1883

Conduct: During his period of service in the Royal Engineers, Sergeant Johnston received the following Good Conduct Badges and pay [7]:

Date of Award

Badge and Pay

18 June 1871

Awarded Good Conduct Pay at the rate of 1.d.

31 March 1876

Forfeited Good Conduct Pay for fraudulent enlistment from the militia.

21 June 1876

Good Conduct Pay at the rate of 1.d. restored.

20 January 1874

Awarded Good Conduct Pay at the rate of 2.d.

20 January 1880

Awarded Good Conduct Pay at the rate of 3.d.

20 January 1884

Eligible for Good Conduct Pay at the rate of 4.d

20 January 1889

Eligible for Good Conduct Pay at the rate of 5.d.

Sergeant Johnston’s conduct and character were considered to be "exemplary" and his habits "regular and temperate" during the period of his military service [8]. His character on discharge was also rated as "exemplary" by his commanding officer. He had no record of punishment for any disciplinary offense during his service.

Sergeant Johnston was awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal by authority of General Order 83 of January 1886 [9]. This medal was awarded upon his completion of 18 years of service.

Education: Sergeant Johnston was in possession of a 2nd Class Certificate of Education when he completed his military service [10]. He did not attend any military classes of instruction during his military service.

Service Details

Sergeant Johnston served a total of 21 years and 6 days in the Royal Engineers, all of his service being at home in England. Johnston arrived at Chatham on the 27th of January 1868 to receive his training as an engineer soldier. His service papers show that following his basic training [11] at Chatham, he was assigned to two Royal Engineer companies:

35th (Depot) Company: Johnston served in this company from the time following his training at Chatham until the 19th of November 1871. This company was stationed at Chatham.

16th (Survey) Company: Johnston was transferred to this company in Bristol on the 20th of November 1871. He re-engaged at Bristol on the 9th of December 1879 to complete 21 years of service [12]. It was in Bristol that he served the remainder of his career on duties associated with the Ordnance Survey of England [13]. He was serving in this company at the time of his discharge from the Army.

Johnston’s service records show that he had no overseas or campaign service.


Johnston’s service record was reviewed on the 17th of January 1889 by the Assistant Superintendent, Royal Engineer Records, for the purpose of determining his eligibility for discharge. On that date his total service with the Colours was reckoned at 20 years and 363 days. After eight additional days of service, Sergeant Johnston was discharged at Bedford on the 25th of January 1889 in consequence of the termination of his second period of limited engagement. At the time of his discharge he had completed 21 years and 6 days of service. Because of his fraudulent enlistment, Johnston had forfeited his initial 3 years and 149 days of service towards his good conduct pay and pension. This service was restored to him, however, on the 21st of June 1876; hence, his total service requirement for pension remained at 21 years. His Statement of Services and Discharge were certified by Colonel C.W. Wilson, R.E.

Johnston’s Military History Sheet indicates that his intended place of residence following his discharge was Bolton, Lancashire.

[1]. Linlithgow is an old county in Scotland that was located between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Bathgate is located approximately 14 miles west southwest of Edinburgh.
[2]. See
Periods of Enlistment for the Corps of Royal Engineers.
[3]. Haddington is a town located approximately 17 miles due east of Edinburgh.
[4]. The Cameronians.
[5]. See
Age and Physical Requirements for Soldiers in the British Army (Victorian Period).
[6]. See
Marriage of Soldiers During the Victorian Period.
[7]. See
Good Conduct Pay.
[8]. Comments by
Captain W.S.S. Bissett, R.E. on Johnston’s W.O. Form 1143.
[9]. This medal in the author’s collection is the basis for this research work.
[10]. See
Certificates of Education.
[11]. See
Engineer Recruit Training.
[12]. See
Re-Engagement in the Regular Army.
[13]. See
Ordnance Survey, c. 1885.


1. CONNOLLY, T.W.J. Roll of Officers of the Corps of Royal Engineers from 1660 to 1898. The Royal Engineers Institute, Chatham, Kent, 1898.
2. FARWELL, B. Mr. Kipling’s Army: All the Queen’s Men. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1981.
3. GRIERSON, J.M. Scarlet Into Khaki: The British Army on the Eve of the Boer War. Greenhill Books, London, 1988.
4. GRIERSON, J.M. Records of the Scottish Volunteer Force, 1859-1908. Frederick Muller Ltd., London, 1972.
5. LETTS, C. Roadbook of Britain. Charles Letts and Company Limited, London, 1977.
6. PORTER, W. History of the Corps of Royal Engineers. Volume II. The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, Kent, 1952, p.243.
7. PUBLIC RECORD OFFICE, London. Service Papers, WO97/3165, including:

a. W.O. Form 798 C. Duplicate of Attestation for Militia Volunteers (Scotland).
b. W.O. Form 1143. Medical History.
c. Record of Services.
d. W.O. Form 39 A. Verification of Enlistment.
e. Military History Sheet.

8. SHEPHERD, W.R. Historical Atlas. Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1929.
9. 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.