Home Page

THE ONN FAMILY, A FAMILY OF SAPPERS[1]

951 Colour Sergeant Edmund Thompson Onn, R.E.,
the father of
9855 Quartermaster Sergeant Henry John Onn, R.E.,
10834 Quartermaster Sergeant Instructor Edmund T. Onn, R.E.,
and 11188 Sergeant John Charles Onn, R.E.

by

Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis
2005. All Rights Reserved.

PREFACE

This research effort was prompted by the author's acquisition of the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal of 10834 Quartermaster Sergeant Instructor Edmund T. Onn, R.E. The author is very much indebted to Mr. Stuart Gase of West Drayton, Middlesex who, by his perseverance at the National Archives (Public Record Office), was able to make the family connection between the four men listed above. This connection was made by Stuart while researching the medals of 9855 Quartermaster Sergeant Henry John Onn, R.E., medals which just happen to be in Stuart's collection. Ironically, more information was available for all the other members of the Onn family than was available for Quartermaster Sergeant Instructor E.T. Onn, the author's individual of primary interest. However, through Stuart Gase's diligent efforts the story of the military service of the entire Onn family could be written. Each one of the men's stories will be treated in a separate section of this work.


951 Colour Sergeant
EDMUND THOMPSON ONN
Royal Engineers

1. EARLY LIFE AND FAMILY INFORMATION

Edmund Thompson Onn was born in 1813 in the Parish of St. Mary, in the Town of Woolwich, in the County of Kent.[2] Although no record was found to verify this, the fact that he was born in Woolwich is a good indication that his father may also have been a soldier. E.T. Onn married at some point in his military career that was not disclosed in his discharge papers, the only available service record found for him in the National Archives. His wife gave birth to three sons during the period from 1852 to 1857 while Onn was posted to the Woolwich and Brompton areas. It is not known whether the Onns had any other children, male or female.

2. PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION

Since E.T. Onn's service papers in the National Archives did not include his attestation documents, a description of him at the time of his enlistment is not available. The following is a description of Colour Sergeant Onn at the time of his discharge from the Army in 1858:

Age:

45 years and 6 months.

Height:

5 feet 7 inches.

Complexion:

Dark.

Eyes:

Hazel.

Hair:

Grey.

Distinctive Marks:

Mole on the left cheek.

3. ENLISTMENT AND TRAINING

Edmund Thompson Onn enlisted in the Royal Sappers and Miners as a Boy Soldier on the 24th of April 1827. He attested at Woolwich, Kent on the following day.

Boy enlistment was a traditional method of augmenting recruitment. Regiments consisting entirely of boys had been formed at an earlier date, but the last had disappeared in 1802. Between 1859 and 1899 regulations specified that the number was not to exceed 2 per cent of the establishment. Boys were taken on from the age of fifteen and served an apprenticeship until they reached the normal age of enlistment. During this time they were taught one of two or three trades. Nearly three-quarters of the boys recruited underwent training as musicians (i.e. drummers and buglers), the remainder as tailors and shoemakers. On reaching the minimum age for enlistment, boys formally joined the regiment to which they were attached.[3]

Onn reached the age for service in the ranks on the 1st of November 1830 and was appointed a Private in the Royal Sappers and Miners, Regimental Number 951. Upon joining the ranks he was posted to the 9th Company, Royal Sappers and Miners at Devonport.

4. ASSIGNMENTS AND CAMPAIGN SERVICE

Sapper Onn's service with the 9th Company was rather uneventful until the 14th of May 1832 when he was reported absent from his place of duty. Upon his return to his unit he was brought up on charges and on the 17th of May he was tried by court-martial for his offence. His discharge papers provide the following description of the action by the court-martial board, quoted verbatim as published by his discharge board in 1858. He was tried by "a Garrison Court Martial at Devonport on the 17th May 1832 for leaving his post and being found in the Guard Room about 1/2 past 2 o'clock on the morning of the 14th instant - Finding - The Court Martial having maturely weighed and considered the evidence in support of the Prosecution together with what the Prisoner has said in his defence, is of the opinion that the Prisoner Private Edmund Onn of the Royal Sappers and Miners is guilty of the crime laid to his charge, the same being in breach of the Articles of War in such cases made and provided do in virtue thereof sentence him the Prisoner, Private Edmund Onn of the 9th Company Royal Sappers and Miners to undergo imprisonment with hard labour for the space of three calendar months in such place and manner within the Garrison of Plymouth as the Major General Commanding may be pleased to appoint - which was inflicted."

Onn was released from imprisonment on the 8th of August 1832 and was returned to his unit to resume his duties as a Sapper. Exactly one month later he was again brought up on charges, this time for breaking out of barracks. On the 17th of September he was tried for being absent without leave. The court-martial proceedings described in his discharge papers indicate that he was again tried "by a Garrison Court Martial at Devonport on the 17th of September 1832 for breaking out of Barracks between nine and twelve o'clock on the night of the 8th instant and not returning until about 4 o'clock on the morning of the 9th instant, and breaking out a second time between six and eight o'clock on the morning of the 9th instant and not returning until 1/2 past eight o'clock on the morning of the 12th instant. Finding - The Court Martial having considered the evidence in support of the Prosecution is of opinion that the Prisoner Edmund Onn is guilty of the charge preferred against him, it being in breach of the Articles of War. Sentence - The Court Martial having found the Prisoner guilty as recorded in breach of Articles of War do sentence him, Private Edmund T. Onn of the 9th Company Royal Sappers and Miners to six week solitary confinement at such place within the Garrison of Plymouth as the Commanding Officer may deem proper to direct - which was inflicted." Onn was released from imprisonment on the 28th of October 1832 and returned to his unit for duty as a Private.

Unfortunately his service papers give no indication of why he absented himself from his place of duty on these two occasions. His first offence seems rather odd. He apparently was serving on guard duty and left his assigned post prematurely to return to the guardroom where he was subsequently found. What is odd is that he did not leave the unit area, but rather he went to the guardroom where he was certain to be found. No information is presented in his discharge papers to indicate whether there were any extenuating circumstances behind his leaving his post. Apparently the court did not find any, as he was sentenced to hard labour for three months.

His second offence seems to indicate that there was something or someone outside the barracks that he could not resist visiting. Perhaps there was a young lady in Devonport who Onn could not resist seeing even if it meant serving six weeks of solitary confinement once he was caught. Again, his records give no details regarding the reason for his absence.

The 9th Company, Royal Sappers and Miners sailed for Corfu[4] in 1840. Private Onn served with the 9th Company until February of 1842 when he was transferred to the newly arrived 7th Company, Royal Sappers and Miners.[5]

Onn served with the 7th Company on Corfu until the 19th of February 1848. On that date, then Corporal Onn, and his company sailed on the freight ship General Palmer bound for England. The 7th Company arrived at Woolwich, Kent in March of 1848. Onn received a promotion to Sergeant and served with the 7th Company at Woolwich until his transfer to Chatham sometime between 1854 and 1857. His service in England during this period caused him to miss active service during the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny.

At some point, probably after he returned England, he was married. His first son, Edmund T. was born at Woolwich in 1852. His second son, Henry John, also was born at Woolwich in 1854 and his third son, John Charles, was born at Brompton, Kent in 1857.

On the 1st of October 1856 the gallant services of the Corps of Royal Sappers and Miners were rewarded at the close of the Crimean War by the grant of the title Royal Engineers. In the London Gazette of the 17th of October 1856 the change was thus announced--

"The Queen has been graciously pleased to direct that the Corps of Royal Sappers and Miners shall henceforth be denominated the Corps of Royal Engineers."

This reorganization put the non-commissioned officers and other ranks in the same Corps as the officers. As a consequence of this royal grant the rank and file were no longer known as Privates, but Sappers and Sergeant Onn was now a non-commissioned officer in the Royal Engineers.

In July of 1858 Onn was promoted to the rank of Colour Sergeant and shortly thereafter he was transferred to the newly formed 36th (Service) Company, Royal Engineers.[6] This transfer was in preparation for his discharge from the Army, which took place on the 26th of October 1858.

5. PROMOTIONS AND CONDUCT

a. Promotions: Edmund Thompson Onn received the following promotions during his time in service:

Date of Promotion or Appointment

Rank or Position

25 April 1827

Attested as a Boy Soldier

1 November 1830

Appointed Private

1 April 1846

Promoted 2nd Corporal

14 October 1846

Promoted Corporal

1 March 1849

Promoted Sergeant

1 July 1858

Promoted Colour Sergeant

b. Conduct: As previously indicated, Colour Sergeant Onn was twice court-martialed during his time in service. His discharge papers indicate, however, that "he never relinquished his right to additional pay, was in possession of one Distinguishing Mark for Good Conduct when promoted to the rank of Sergeant and that his conduct has been Very Good." He also received the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal prior to his discharge. It appears that except for the two absences without leave as a young Private in 1832, Onn's conduct was in fact "very good" for the remainder of his service and his earlier misconduct did not hinder his promotion through the ranks to Colour Sergeant.

6. EDUCATION AND QUALIFICATIONS

a. Education: There is nothing in the discharge documents of Colour Sergeant Onn to indicate that he received any Certificates of Education during his time in service.

b. Qualifications: Colour Sergeant Onn earned no special qualifications during his time in service. His military trade is listed as "Mason" on his discharge papers.

7. MEDICAL INFORMATION

No medical information for Colour Sergeant Onn was included with his discharge papers.

8. MARRIAGE AND PERSONAL INFORMATION

As previously indicated, Colour Sergeant Onn married at some point in his military career. His wife's given names were Sarah Ann. The Onn's are known to have had three sons. Each of these sons subsequently served in the Royal Engineers. Details concerning their service are presented in the following sections of this work.

9. DISCHARGE

A Regimental Discharge Board convened at Chatham, Kent on the 13th of October 1858 to consider the discharge of Colour Sergeant Edmund T. Onn. The board consisted of Major C.H. Sedley, R.E.[7] who served as president and Lieutenants R.N. Buckle, R.E.[8] and R. Athorpe, R.E.[9] who served as members on the board. The board summarized Onn's service and provided details regarding his two court-martials, his trade and his conduct on discharge. Onn's discharge was approved on the 14th of October 1858, but he was not discharged until the 26th of October. His total service was reckoned as shown in the tables below.

Location

Period of Service

Woolwich

24 April 1827 to 31 October 1830

Devonport

1 November 1830 to 1840

Corfu

1840 to March 1848

Woolwich

March 1848 to (1854 to 1857?)

Chatham

(1854 to 1857? to 26 October 1858

Location

Period of Service

Home Service

18 years and 43 days

Service Abroad

9 years and 30 days

Total Service

27 years and 73 days

10. POST SERVICE LIFE

Colour Sergeant Onn and his family resided at 8 Creed Place in Greenwich, Kent after his discharge from the Army. The three sons of Edmund T. and Sarah Ann Onn were admitted to the Royal Military Asylum, a boy's school for sons of soldiers, particularly where one parent was dead.[10] The school was located on the Kings Road in Chelsea and was later renamed the Duke of Yorks Headquarters.[11]

The names of all three of Colour Sergeant Onn's sons appear in the register of the Royal Military Asylum in War Office files WO143. Colour Sergeant Onn was deceased before the 2nd of January 1868 when the register shows that his youngest son, John Charles was admitted to the school.


9855 Quartermaster Sergeant
HENRY JOHN ONN
[12]
Royal Engineers

1. EARLY LIFE AND FAMILY INFORMATION

Henry John Onn was born on the 26th of April 1854 at Woolwich, Kent. He was the son of Colour Sergeant Edmund T. and Sarah Ann Onn. He had no trade at the time of his enlistment in the Army and probably was a student up to the time of his eligibility to enlist as a Boy Soldier.

2. PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION

The following is a description of Henry John Onn at the time he enlisted in the Army in 1868:

Age:

14 years and 5 months.

Height:

5 feet 1 inches.

Weight:

98 pounds.

Chest Measurement:

26 inches.

Complexion:

Fresh.

Eyes:

Grey.

Hair:

Black.

Vaccination Marks:

Twice as a child.

3. ENLISTMENT AND TRAINING

Henry John Onn enlisted at Dover, Kent as a Boy Soldier in the Royal Engineers on the 25th of September 1868. Upon his enlistment he was issued Regimental Number 9855. Although he was younger than his brother Edmund, Henry was the first of the sons of Colour Sergeant H.T. Onn to enlist in the Army.

4. ASSIGNMENTS AND CAMPAIGN SERVICE

First Enlistment (1868-1898)

Henry reported for duty at Chatham on the 28th of September 1868 and was appointed a Bugler on the 1st of February 1869.[13] He remained as a Bugler at Chatham until the 14th of July 1871 when he was posted to a unit in Dover. As the 10th Company, Royal Engineers was serving at Dover at this time, this is probably the unit to which he was assigned.

On the 1st of August 1871 Henry was posted to the ranks as a Sapper upon attaining the age of 18 years. He continued serving at Dover until the 30th of September 1872 when he was posted to Malta. The company that Sapper Onn was to join in Malta, the 21st Company, Royal Engineers, departed from Aldershot for Malta on the 3rd of October 1872. Sapper Onn arrived on the island on the 13th of October and joined the 21st Company at St. Francis barracks upon its arrival.

Onn departed the island of Malta with the 21st Company on the 16th of October 1877 and arrived in Bermuda on the 10th of November. He was promoted to Sergeant while at Bermuda and on the 7th of October 1880 he re-engaged to complete 21 years of service with the Colours.[15]

The 21st Company sailed for Gibraltar aboard HMS Crocodile on the 28th of November 1880, arriving on "The Rock" on the 12th of December. The 21st Company remained at Gibraltar until the 31st of July 1882 when it sailed for Egypt on active service. The company landed at Alexandria on the 8th of August. Acting Quartermaster Sergeant Onn was "specially commended by His Royal Highness, the Commander in Chief, Egypt" for his service during the campaign. In addition, he was appointed Acting Company Sergeant Major "for Meritorious Service in the Egypt Campaign" and was awarded the Egypt 1882 Medal without clasp[15] and the Khedive's Bronze Star.[16]

The 21st Company sailed from Egypt on the 31st of March 1883 bound for England. Onn served in England for more than 10 years after his return from Egypt, probably at Chatham for most of that time. In 1889 he was awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal after completing 18 years of service in the ranks.[17] In April of 1893 he was again posted back to Gibraltar.

Quartermaster Sergeant Onn served at Gibraltar until the 24th of November 1895 when he sailed aboard HMS Malabar bound for home. He arrived at Chatham on the 29th of November and remained there until he was discharged from "E" Depot Company on the 31st of May 1898.

Second Enlistment (1915-1916)

With the outbreak of the Great War of 1914-1918 Henry John Onn began thinking about ways to serve King and Country once again. He had started a photographic business after leaving the Army in 1901 and photography was found to be a useful tool for an Army in the field. Undoubtedly the Army believed that his services would be most useful to the Corps of Royal Engineers, so on the 6th of April 1915 he was allowed to re-enlist as a Sapper at the age of 60. Upon his re-enlistment he was issued Regimental Number 89414.

On the day after his enlistment he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant Major. This rapid promotion was undoubtedly due to his prior service and to his skill as a photographer. He was posted to the 138th Fortress Company as a photographic instructor. When this company was alerted for active service in France on the 9th of August 1915, Sergeant Major Onn was transferred to the 145th Army Troops Company as he was too old for deployment to the theatre of war. In addition, his photographic skills were much needed in the U.K. On the 27th of September 1915 the 145th Army Troops Company also embarked for France. Sergeant Major Onn was again reassigned to keep him at home, this time to the 215th Army Troops Company. He remained with this unit until just prior to his discharge when he was transferred to "G" Depot Company, R.E. at Chatham. He was finally discharged from the Army on the 5th of July 1916.

5. PROMOTIONS AND CONDUCT

a. Promotions: Henry John Onn received the following promotions during his time in service:

Date of Promotion or Appointment

Rank or Position

First Enlistment

25 September 1868

Attested as a Boy Soldier

1 February 1869

Appointed Bugler

1 August 1871

Appointed Sapper

1 December 1872

Promoted 2nd Corporal

1 June 1876

Promoted Corporal

1 December 1879

Promoted Sergeant

May 1882

Appointed Orderly Sergeant

15 December 1882

Appointed Acting Quartermaster Sergeant

28 December 1882

Appointed Unpaid Company Sergeant Major, then reverted to Sergeant

7 May 1885

Promoted Quartermaster Sergeant

1 April 1893

Appointed Warrant Officer(i)

Second Enlistment

6 April 1915

Sapper upon enlistment

7 April 1915

Promoted Sergeant Major(ii)

NOTES:

  1. His warrant was signed by Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Secretary to the War Office, who later became Prime Minister.
  2. This rapid promotion from Sapper to Sergeant Major in one day was undoubtedly due to his prior military service and his expertise as a photographer.

b. Conduct: Quartermaster Sergeant Henry John Onn received the following Good Conduct Badges during his time in service:[18]

Date of Award

Good Conduct Badge

26 April 1873

Awarded Good Conduct Pay at 1d.

26 April 1877

Awarded Good Conduct Pay at 2d.

7 May 1885

Eligible for Good Conduct Pay at 5d.(*)

Note: Onn obviously received or was eligible for Good Conduct Pay at 3d. and 4d., but the dates that he was authorized this pay along with the third and fourth Good Conduct Badges are not known.

At the time of his discharge from his first enlistment, Henry Onn's conduct was noted to be "Exemplary." He had a spotless record with no evidence of misconduct listed in his service papers. He certainly did not follow in his father's footsteps with regard to conduct while in the Army.

6. EDUCATION AND QUALIFICATIONS

a. Education: Quartermaster Sergeant Henry John Onn was in possession of a Second Class Certificate of Education at the time of his discharge in 1898.[19]

b. Qualifications: Henry Onn's military trade during his first enlistment in the Army was listed as "Clerk." He had also served as an Acting Orderly Sergeant with the 21st Company at Gibraltar in 1882.

7. MEDICAL INFORMATION

The following medical information was taken from Quartermaster Sergeant Henry John Onn's service records during his time in the Army:

Location

Date of Admission

Ailment

Period of Hospitalization
or Treatment

Malta

11 Aug 1875

Jaundice

Released from hospital on 17 August 1875.

Bermuda

21 May 1878

Bronchial catarrh

Released from hospital on 24 May 1875.

Bermuda

21 Sep 1880

Dyspepsia

Released from hospital on 20 October 1880.

Gibraltar

29 Nov 1894

Rheumatism

Released from hospital on 2 December 1894.

8. MARRIAGE AND PERSONAL INFORMATION

Henry John Onn married Emily Osborn on the island of Bermuda on the 2nd of December 1878. Emily was born in the town of Hundon, Suffolk near Bury St. Edmonds, on the border between Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. She was older than Henry and appears to have been a servant in the household of a local landowner in England and in Bermuda. Henry was a Corporal at the time of their marriage. He was not placed on the married roll until the 12th of September 1879, about 2 months before his promotion to Sergeant.[20]

9. DISCHARGE

First Enlistment (1868-1898)

Quartermaster Sergeant Henry John Onn was discharged from his first enlistment at Chatham on the 31st of May 1898 with 29 years and 248 days of total service. His total service was reckoned as shown in the tables below:

Location

Period of Service

Dover

25 to 27 September 1868

Chatham

28 September 1868 to 13 July 1871

Dover

14 July 1871 to 29 September 1872

Malta

30 September 1872 to 15 October 1877

Bermuda

16 October 1877 to 27 November 1880

Gibraltar

28 November 1880 to 30 July 1882

Egypt

31 July 1882 to 30 March 1883

Chatham

31 March 1883 to April 1893

Gibraltar

April 1893 to 28 November 1895

Chatham

29 November 1895 to 31 May 1898

Location

Period of Service

Home Service

17 years and 143 days

Service Abroad

12 years and 105 days

Total Service

29 years and 248 days

Henry John Onn was 44 years old at the time of his first discharge.

Second Enlistment (1915-1916)

Sergeant Major Onn served at home from the 6th of April 1915 until he was discharged again on the 5th of July 1916, a total of 1 year and 91 days.

10. POST SERVICE LIFE

After his discharge from the Army in 1901 Henry and Emily resided at 10 Adelaide Road in Gillingham, Kent. The couple did not have any children.

Henry became a self-employed photographer after his discharge. He worked at this occupation until April of 1915 when he re-enlisted in the Royal Engineers for service in the Great War of 1914-1918. After being discharged from the Army a second time in 1916, presumably he returned to his photography business.


10834 Quartermaster Sergeant Instructor
EDMUND T. ONN
Royal Engineers

1. EARLY LIFE AND FAMILY INFORMATION

Edmund T. Onn[21] was born in 1852[22] at Woolwich, Kent. He was the eldest son of Colour Sergeant Edmund T. and Sarah Ann Onn. Unlike his brothers, Edmund waited until he was 18 years of age before enlisting in the Army. His trade prior to enlistment is not known.

2. PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION

Since no service papers could be located in the National Archives for Edmund T. Onn, no physical description of him is available.[23]

3. ENLISTMENT AND TRAINING

Edmund enlisted as a Sapper in the Royal Engineers in October of 1870[24] and proceeded to the School of Military Engineering at Chatham for his basic training as an engineer soldier.[25]

4. ASSIGNMENTS AND CAMPAIGN SERVICE

Because his service papers could not be found, little is known about Edmund Onn's assignments or campaign service, if any. The 1881 Census of England shows that he was a Quartermaster Sergeant serving at the School of Military Engineering at Brompton Barracks, Chatham, Kent. The census return also shows that he was married at the time.

On the 1st of October 1888 Quartermaster Sergeant Onn became eligible for the award of the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal.[26] At the time that he received the medal he was serving as an Assistant Instructor at the School of Musketry at Hythe, Kent. In fact his Long Service and Good Conduct Medal is named to him as a "Quartermaster Sergeant Instructor."

Assuming that he was discharged after completing 21 years of service with the Colours, Quartermaster Sergeant Onn left the Army in 1891.

5. PROMOTIONS AND CONDUCT

a. Promotions: The details of Edmund T. Onn's promotions from Sapper to Quartermaster Sergeant Instructor are not known due to the non-availability of his service papers.

b. Conduct: The details of Quartermaster Sergeant Onn's conduct are not known due to the non-availability of his service papers. One may assume that he probably did not have the blemishes on his record that his father had on his.

6. EDUCATION AND QUALIFICATIONS

a. Education: No information is available regarding QMS Onn's military education.

b. Qualifications: QMS Onn qualified as an Instructor at the School of Musketry. This is

the only one of his qualifications that is known.

7. MEDICAL INFORMATION

None of Quartermaster Sergeant Onn's medical information is available.

8. MARRIAGE AND PERSONAL INFORMATION

Edmund T. Onn married Rosena Overton of Chatham, Kent. There is no information available regarding any children that they may have had.

10. POST SERVICE LIFE

Following his discharge Edmund T. Onn lived at 53 Paget Street in Gillingham, Kent. The 1891 Census of England shows this address as being in the Civil Parish of Gillingham, Ecclesiastical Parish of St. Mark, in the Town of New Brompton in the County of Kent. Onn is shown on the census return as a Sergeant Major, so it is possible that he was promoted one more time between 1888 (the year he received the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal) and 1891 (his assumed year of discharge).

The other members of the Onn family at the time of the 1891 census were:

Rosena Onn, 32 years of age, his wife

Ada C. Overton, 36 years of age, his sister-in-law

David Solomon, 50 years of age, his brother-in-law

Ester K. Overton, 5 years of age, his niece

Clara Harris, 23 years of age, a servant


11188 Sergeant
JOHN CHARLES ONN
Royal Engineers

1. EARLY LIFE AND FAMILY INFORMATION

John Charles Onn was born in 1857 at Brompton, Kent. He was the youngest son of Colour Sergeant Edmund T. and Sarah Ann Onn. Like his father and his brother Henry John, he enlisted in the Royal Engineers as a Boy Soldier. John went on to have a rather interesting military career. He would be discharged from his first enlistment after rising to the rank of Sergeant and would enlist a second, third, fourth and fifth time. The details of these various enlistments are presented below.

2. PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION

No description of John Charles Onn was available from his service papers.

3. ENLISTMENT AND TRAINING

John Charles Onn enlisted the first time in the Royal Engineers as a Boy Soldier at St. Georges Barracks in London on the 19th of April 1871. At the time of his enlistment he was issued Regimental Number 11188. His rose from the rank of Sapper to Sergeant during this first enlistment and was discharged in 1886.

4. ASSIGNMENTS AND CAMPAIGN SERVICE

Upon attaining the age for appointment to the ranks as a Sapper in 1875, Onn was posted to the School of Military Engineering at Chatham for training as an engineer soldier.[27] Following his training at Chatham he was posted to a unit in the United Kingdom, although it is not known to which unit he was assigned. On the 24th of January 1876 he proceeded to Bermuda with the 10th Company, Royal Engineers. Onn and the 10th Company remained on the island of Bermuda until the 18th of November 1878 when the company was posted to Gibraltar.

Onn served at Gibraltar until the 20th of June 1882 when he was posted to Halifax, Nova Scotia. He re-engaged[28] for a second term of enlistment at Halifax on the 2nd of April 1883 and on the 30th of October 1884 he arrived home from Canada.

On the 14th of March 1885 Onn embarked with the 10th Company, Royal Engineers for service in the Egyptian Campaign of 1885. There he served until the 8th of July 1885 when he was posted home. For his service in Egypt he was awarded the Egypt Medal with clasp [SUAKIN 1885]. He was discharged with the rank of Sergeant on the 31st of May 1886.

John Charles Onn had been working in civil life for almost 14 years when the Boer War broke out in South Africa. On the 31st of March 1900, at the age of 43, he reenlisted at Aldershot for service in the South African War. At the time he reenlisted he was given the rank of Corporal and Regimental Number 4443. He was posted for duty at Colchester in Essex and remained there until the 26th of March 1901 when he was discharged.

It is rather odd that Onn re-enlisted at Colchester for a period of four years on the day following his discharge. It is odd because instead of re-engaging or extending his enlistment, he chose to take his discharge and then be re-enlisted. This may have had something to do with his age or some benefit that he accrued from this procedure. His service records do not indicate why he chose to continue his service in this manner.

On the 23rd of December 1904 Corporal Onn was posted to South Africa with the 55th Field Company. This posting came with him having only nine months remaining to serve on his enlistment. He was discharged at Pretoria, South Africa on the 26th of March 1905 and re-enlisted on the following day in the 55th Field Company at Pretoria. Again, the reason for following this procedure rather than re-engaging and extending his enlistment is not known.

On the 9th of February 1906 Onn departed South Africa for home. He was discharged at Gosport on the termination of his last period of engagement. After his discharge he returned to Colchester where he resided with his family at 48 Lisle Road.

John Charles Onn could not resist returning to military service once again after the start of the Great War in August of 1914. He enlisted in the 6th Battalion of The Essex Regiment. It is uncertain whether he enlisted in the 1/6th Battalion or the 2/6th Battalion. The 1/6th was raised in West Ham on 4 August 1914 and became part of the Essex Brigade of the East Anglian Division. The 2/6th was formed at West Ham in November of 1914. Since both battalions were in existence on the 3rd of December of 1914 when Onn died, he could have been serving in either one of them. The cause of his death is not known, but as he died at home, it may be assumed he died of disease or possibly injury from an accident.

5. PROMOTIONS AND CONDUCT

a. Promotions: Edmund Thompson Onn received the following promotions during his time in service:

Date of Promotion or Appointment

Rank or Position

First Enlistment in the Royal Engineers

1 June 1872

Appointed Bugler

1 May 1874

Posted to the ranks as a Sapper

24 May 1876

Promoted Lance Corporal

15 May 1879

Promoted 2nd Corporal

1 December 1881

Promoted Corporal

1 September 1884

Promoted Sergeant

Second Enlistment in the Royal Engineers

31 March 1900

Re-enlisted as a Corporal

Third Enlistment in the Royal Engineers

27 March 1901

Re-enlisted as a Corporal

Fourth Enlistment in the Royal Engineers

27 March 1905

Re-enlisted as a Corporal

Fifth Enlistment in The Essex Regiment

August 1914?

Enlisted as a Sergeant

b. Conduct: John Charles Onn received the following Good Conduct Badges during his time in service:[29]

Date of Award

Good Conduct Badge

30 April 1877

Awarded Good Conduct Pay at 1d.

24 July 1885

Loss of 1d. Good Conduct Pay

John Charles Onn displayed many of the same disciplinary problems as his father early in his military service. On the 3rd of November 1880 he was tried by court martial for being absent without leave. He was convicted but his sentence was remitted for reasons unknown. On the 24th of July 1885 he was again tried by court martial for an unknown offence. He was found guilty and reduced from Sergeant to Corporal with the loss of 1d. Good Conduct Pay.

6. EDUCATION AND QUALIFICATIONS

There were no records of education or special qualifications found in the service papers of John Charles Onn.

7. MEDICAL INFORMATION

There was no medical information found in the service papers of John Charles Onn.

8. MARRIAGE AND PERSONAL INFORMATION

John Charles Onn married a widow by the name of Alice Pearce at Farnham, Surrey (near Aldershot) in February of 1899. At the time of their marriage, Alice had a son named Arthur from her previous marriage. Arthur had been born in Limerick, Ireland in July of 1893.

John and Alice Onn may have had a child of their own at Colchester while John was serving there on his second enlistment in the Army. The 1901 Census of England shows that a child named John C. Onn was born to a Sapper in the Royal Engineers at Colchester in 1901; however, there is no mention of a marriage or children in the service papers of John Charles Onn. The child's name, date of birth and place of birth seem to be more than just coincidence and it appears to be a strong probability that this boy was the son of John and Alice Onn.

9. DISCHARGE

As indicated above, John Charles Onn served four enlistments in the Army during the following periods:

First Enlistment :

19 April 1871 to 31 May 1886 (15 years and 45 days)

Second Enlistment :

31 March 1900 to 26 March 1901 (360 days)

Third Enlistment :

27 March 1901 to 26 March 1905 (4 years)

Fourth Enlistment :

27 March 1905 to 6 March 1906 (344 days)

Fifth enlistment:

Probably August of 1914 (about 150 days)

Total Service:

21 years and about 169 days

His total service is reckoned by location as shown in the tables below:

Location

Period of Service

Home

19 April 1871 to 23 January 1876

Bermuda

27 January 1876 to 17 November 1878

Gibraltar

18 November 1878 to 19 June 1882

Canada

20 June 1882 to 29 October 1884

Home

30 October 1884 to 13 March 1885

Egypt

14 March 1885 to 7 July 1885

Home

8 July 1885 to 31 May 1886

Home

31 March 1900 to 26 March 1901

Home

27 March 1901 to 22 December 1904

South Africa

23 December 1904 to 8 February 1906

Home

9 February 1906 to 6 March 1906

Home

August 1914 to 3 December 1914

Location

Period of Service

Home Service

About 11 years and 86 days

Service Abroad

10 years and 83 days

Total Service

21 years and about 169 days

With total service reckoned at more than 21 years it would appear that Onn may have been eligible for a pension. This eligibility would have accrued to him even without his short time in the Army during his fifth enlistment. Whether he received a pension after his fourth enlistment is not known.

10. POST SERVICE LIFE

No information has been uncovered regarding the post service life of John Charles Onn between his discharge in 1906 and his reenlistment as an infantryman in 1914. What is known is that he enlisted in The Essex Regiment for service in the Great War of 1914 to 1918. His regimental number in The Essex Regiment was 2512. It appears that he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant soon after his enlistment by virtue of his previous service in the Royal Engineers. At the time of this enlistment he was residing with his wife Ann at 48 Lisle Road in Colchester. He died at Colchester, Essex on the 3rd of December 1914 while serving as a Sergeant in the regiment. He is buried in Colchester Cemetery.[30]


Other Men with the Surname of Onn who Served
in the Great War of 1914-1918

The surname Onn is not a particularly common name in the United Kingdom. In fact, only two men with the surname of Onn were reported as casualties during the Great War. Below are listed a number of soldiers by the name of Onn who served in the Great War of 1914-1918.[31]

  • 64694 Alfred Onn, East Yorkshire Regiment, from Wakefield, West Yorkshire, aged 39 years in 1917.
  • 203761 George Frederick Onn, West Yorkshire Regiment, from Bradford, West Yorkshire, aged 21 years in 1916.
  • 3506 Frederick Onn, Army Pay Corps, from Leytonstone, London, aged 48 years in 1914.
  • 526505 Leonard Onn, 2nd London Regiment, from Woodford Green, London, born 3 February 1902 (underage for military service in 1914 through 1918!).
  • 46354 & 217581 John Harold Onn, Royal Engineers, from Grimsby, Lincolnshire, aged 32 years in 1916. John Harold and Daisy Onn had five children; Violet born in 1910, Harold born in 1908, Wilfred Rupert born in 1910, Frank Norman born in 1915 and Alice Daisy born in 1917. Formerly 46354 Private, The Yorkshire Regiment; later 217581 Sapper, 2nd Siege Company, Royal Engineers.[32] Sapper John Harold Onn died of wounds in France on 1 October 1918, aged 33 years. He was the son of Henry and Jane Onn. While he was in France his wife Daisy lived 20 Joseph Street in Grimsby, Lincolnshire. Sapper Marc is remembered with honour at the Sunken Road Cemetery, Boisleux-St. Marc, France.

No relationship has been found between these men and the Onn family of Royal Engineers.

ADDENDUM NO. 1.

Source: James R.A. Richards, Ph.D., a distant relative of the Onns, provided the information in this addendum. Dr. Richards is the great-great grandson of Sarah Hanson (nee Onn).

Robert Onn, the brother of 951 Colour Sergeant Edmund Thompson Onn, R.E., served for three years with the 80th Regiment of Foot before deserting in 1842 after shooting at a Lance Corporal. He was transported to Tasmania aboard the Gilmore in 1843. He eventually made good in Australia and gained positions in Hobart society as a policeman.

Apparently there also was a Henry Onn, most likely the brother of Robert and Edmund. Henry was born in Gateshead in 1820. Henry is thought to have been a Major (or possibly a Sergeant Major) in the Army.

Edmund, Robert and Henry were the sons of Henry On(?) who appears to have been born in Cowbit, Lincolnshire around 1768. He is said to have been a Staff Sergeant in Her Majesty's Royal Horse Artillery. He died at age 75 and was buried at Moulton, Lincolnshire in 1844.

REFERENCES

Books

1. COCKERILL, A.W. Sons of the Brave: The Story of Boy Soldiers. Leo Cooper, London, 1984.

2. CONNOLLY, T.W.J. Roll of Officers of the Corps of Royal Engineers From 1660 to 1898. The Royal Engineers Institute, Chatham, Kent, 1898.

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

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

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

6. JAMES, E.A. Historical Records of British Infantry Regiments in the Great War, 1914-1918. Henry Mills, Ltd., Birmingham, 1975.

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

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.

Census Data

1. 1881 British Census, School of Military Engineering, Brompton Barracks, Gillingham, Kent, England. Family History Library Film 1341213, Public Record Office Reference RG11, Piece 0897, Folio 27, Page 32.

2. 1891 Census of England, Medway, Gillingham. Public Record Office Reference RG12/660, Enumeration District 11, Folio 93, Page 6.

Computer Software

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

Internet Web Sites

Commonwealth War Graves Commission (www.cwgc.org).

National Archives (Public Records)

1. Medal Roll, Long Service and Good Conduct Medal, War Office Files WO102-7 dated 1 October 1888.

2. Register of the Royal Military Asylum (WO143).

Periodicals

EDMONDS, B. Extracts from Late 19th Century and Early 20th Century Newspapers: Royal Military Asylum - {Duke of York's School} Chelsea. Extracts taken from "The Graphic" dated May 26, 1888.

Personal Communications

GASE, S. West Drayton, Middlesex, England. Emails dated 2 January 2002, 21 January 2002 and 8 August 2005.

Research Papers

1. GASE, S. The Life and Military Career of Henry John Onn.

2. LARIMORE, F.B. Long Service and Good Conduct Chevrons (Badges) and their Periods of Qualification. Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, 1998.

Soldiers Service Papers

Discharge documents of 951 Colour Sergeant Edmund T. Onn, R.E., War Office Files WO 97 1363.

ENDNOTES

[1] Although no definitive links between these soldiers have been found, the dates and places of enlistment, ages and places of birth, not to mention the uniqueness of the name all point to a family relationship of a father and three sons. Edmund T. (Sr.) was born and enlisted in Woolwich. Henry was born in Woolwich and enlisted at Dover. There are few details available with regard to Edmund T. (Jr.), but he too was born at Woolwich and has the same middle initial as Edmund, Sr. John Charles was born in Brompton and enlisted in London where Edmund, Sr. had planned to reside after his discharge.

[2] WO 97 1363.

[3] SKELLEY, A.R., 1977, p. 262.

[4] Corfu is one of the Ionian Islands in the Ionian Sea off the coast of southwest Albania and northwest Greece. The island was under British administration from 1815 to 1864 when it became part of Greece.

[5] The 7th Company arrived on Corfu in January of 1842.

[6] The 36th Company had just been formed at Chatham in October of 1858 as a service company.

[7] Charles Herbert Sedley. Regimental Ranks: 2nd Lieutenant, 17 Dec 1846; Lieutenant, 16 Apr 1847; 2nd Captain, 16 Apr 1855; Captain, 13 Dec 1859. Army Rank: Major, 2 Nov 1855. War Service: Crimea, 1855. Died at Jamaica on 19 Dec 1866.

[8] Richard Nicholls Buckle. Regimental Ranks: Lieutenant, 22 Jun 1858; 2nd Captain, 14 Dec 1871; Captain, 5 Jul 1872. War Service: Ashanti, 1874. Killed at the battle of Amoaful, near Coomassie, 31 Jan 1874.

[9] Robert Athorpe. Regimental Ranks: Lieutenant, 22 Jun 1858; 2nd Captain, 17 Jan 1872; Captain, 5 Jul 1872; Major, 11 Jun 1879; Lieutenant Colonel, 2 Jul 1885. Army Rank: Colonel, 2 Jul 1885. Retired, 19 May 1896.

[10] EDMONDS, B. "The Graphic", May 26, 1888.

[11] The buildings of the Duke of Yorks Headquarters still stand today but are now luxury flats.

[12] The information provided here regarding Henry John Onn was taken from research produced by Mr. Stuart Gase of West Drayton, Middlesex who is in possession of QMS Onn's medals.

[13] See Duties of a Royal Engineers Bugler.

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

[15] According to Gordon, only 56 men of the 21st Company, R.E. were awarded this medal with no clasp.

[16] Both of these medals are in the Stuart Gase collection.

[17] This medal is in the Stuart Gase collection.

[18] See Good Conduct Pay.

[19] See Certificates of Education.

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

[21] The naming on his Long Service and Good Conduct Medal reads "Edmund T. Onn." Since he was the first born son of Colour Sergeant Edmund Thompson Onn it may be assumed that he was named after his father.

[22] His year of birth is based on the fact that he was 29 years old at the time of the 1881 Census of England.

[23] A search was made of War Office files WO97 1855/3592/1369 with negative results.

[24] His enlistment date is based on his regimental number and the fact that he was awarded the LSGC medal in 1888 after 18 years of service. His regimental number indicates that he enlisted in the last quarter of the year.

[25] See Engineer Recruit Training.

[26] Medal Roll WO102-7. This medal is in the author's collection.

[27] See Engineer Recruit Training.

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

[29] See Good Conduct Pay.

[30] Details regarding this cemetery may be found on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site at www.cwgc.org.

[31] This information was provided by Stuart Gase from research performed by him at the National Archives.

[32] There is a discrepancy between the entry for John Harold Onn in Soldiers Died in the Great War and in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Internet web site. In the first reference he is shown as serving in the 2nd Siege Company, R.E. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has him listed as serving in the 2nd Signal Company, R.E.