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145501 Foreman of Works Staff Sergeant
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 obtained from the National Archives (formerly the Public Record Office) at Kew, Richmond, Surrey. It should be noted that Pilling’s papers were located in the so-called 'Burnt Collection' or '1914-1920 Collation' files, WO363, and therefore they were not completely legible. These records of soldiers' service survived a German bombing raid on the warehouse in Walworth where they were stored in September of 1940. Some information pertaining to his service had to be omitted because it could not be read clearly from the papers. Some place names or dates may also be in error due to the poor condition of the service papers.


a. Family Information

James Tyrer Pilling was born in January 1886 in the town of Leeds, in the County of Yorkshire. He was the second child of Albert Edward and Ellen Pilling. The following information was obtained regarding the Pilling family from the 1891 Census of England:

Registration District: Leeds Sub-registration District: Chapeltown
Civil Parish: Potter Newton Municipal Borough: Leeds Municipal Ward: North
Urban Sanitary District: Leeds Town, village or hamlet: New Leeds
Parliamentary Borough or Division: New Leeds
Ecclesiastical Parish or District: Eccles St. Clements
Address: 20 Francis Street
Source: RG12/3713, Enumeration District 7, Folio 115, Page 2[1]
Name and Occupation Relation

Marital Status




Albert Edward Pilling
Living on his own means




Preston, Lancashire
Ellen Pilling Wife




Shrewsbury, Shropshire
James T. Pilling Son




Leeds, Yorkshire
Francis T. Pilling[2] Son




Leeds, Yorkshire
Walter B. Pilling

Cigar Merchant





Preston, Lancashire
Annie Jones Servant





The Pilling family were members of the Church of England and attended St. Clement's Church on Chapeltown Road in the Sheepscar district of Leeds. This church was consecrated on the 10th of September 1868 and the ecclesiastical parish of St. Clement's was formed on the 30th of April 1869 out of the parishes of St. Peter's and St. Michael's in Buslingthorpe.[3]

Since Albert Pilling was born in 1861 and his brother Walter was born in 1855, it seemed likely that they would appear on the 1871 and 1881 census; however, no record of them or their parents could be found in either census. It is interesting to note that Albert, the younger of the two brothers, was "living on his own means" while his brother was still selling cigars. One wonders how Albert came to be independently wealth (another way of saying "living on his own means"). Was it family money left to Albert or did he somehow strike it rich on his own by the age of 30? In any case it would seem that his family was well off and that his two sons would be able to receive a good education as they progressed in life. This would certainly be the case with James, as will be shown later in this narrative.

A search also was made in the 1871 and 1881 census for the family of Mrs. Pilling. Given that both her sons had middle names beginning with the letter "T", and that James's middle name was Tyrer, as discovered from his military service papers, it seemed likely that Francis's middle name also was Tyrer. It might be assumed that Tyrer was a family name and possibly the maiden name of their mother. Going on that assumption led to discovery in the 1881 British Census. The results of that discovery are shown in the table below.

Dwelling: 37 Church Road
Census Place: Lytham, Lancashire, England
Source: Family History Library Film 1342017, Public Record Office Reference RG11, Piece 4251, Folio 74, Page 16
Name and Occupation Relation

Marital Status

Age Sex Birthplace
Ann Grimshaw
Boarding House (Keeper)





Mary A. Grimshaw
Governess (Private)(Teacher)

Step Daughter




Southport, Lancashire
Emily Grimshaw
Governess (Private)(Teacher)

Step Daughter




Margaret Quilliman
Domestic Waitress





Jane Ellerington





Blackburn, Lancashire
Elizabeth Wood





Blackburn, Lancashire
Alice E. Pilling





Ormesby, Leicester

Katherine M. Pilling





Ormesby, Leicester

Arthur W. Pilling





Lytham, Lancashire

Herbert W. Pilling





Lytham, Lancashire

Ellen Tyrer
Domestic Nurse





Wellington, Shropshire

The boarding house at 37 Church Road was rather an unusual place. The boarding house staff consisted of six women to look after two elderly women and four children. Four of the children were named Pilling, with the two eldest born in Leicestershire and the two youngest born in Lancashire. It would appear that the four Pilling children were looked after by Nurse Ellen Tyrer. In trying to make a connection between the Ellen Tyrer of the 1881 census and the Ellen Pilling of the 1891 census one must consider the following:

1. In the 1891 census, Ellen Pilling's age is given as 28 years; therefore, she would only have been 18 years old in 1881. The 1881 census shows Ellen Tyrer's age to be 20 years. Is this two-year difference in age close enough to consider them to be the same person, given the inaccuracies inherent in census taking at the time?

2. Ellen Tyrer's birthplace is shown as Wellington, Shropshire. Ellen Pilling's birthplace is shown as Shrewsbury, Shropshire. Wellington and Shrewsbury lie only 10 miles apart. Is this also a coincidence?

While it is not possible to say if the two Ellens are the same person, one can hypothesize that Nurse Ellen Tyrer, while caring for four children named Pilling in the boarding house at 37 Church Road in Lytham, Lancashire, met and subsequently married Albert Edward Pilling. Perhaps the children were offspring of one of Albert's relatives, maybe even a brother. It is not too far-fetched to believe that after having been introduced to Ellen at the boarding house, that a romantic relationship would have developed. Again, this is all supposition on the author's part and the relationship cannot be proven with any degree of certainty.

b. Life Prior to Entering the Army

James Pilling grew up in the town of Leeds and chose surveying as his career while he was still a young man. In 1903, at the age of 17, James began serving as an articled pupil (bound as an apprentice) in the offices of Bedford & Kitson, Architects at Greek Street Chambers in Leeds.[4] He worked for this firm until 1907. While employed with Bedford & Kitson, James became a Student Member of the Leeds and West Yorkshire Architectural Society.[5] In 1907 he was the Second Prize Man of the Society. While working for this architectural firm he developed an interest and a proficiency in drawing. In addition to the Second Prize of the Architectural Society he also was a Prize Winner of the Sketching Club.

From 1907 to 1913 James served as an Assistant with the firm of Connon & Chorley, Architects in Leeds.[6] During this period he became an Associate Member of the Leeds & West Yorkshire Architectural Society and continued as a member of the Sketching Club.

In 1913 Pilling began practicing surveying on his own account at Kirkgate Chambers in Leeds. He continued this practice until his enlistment in the Army in 1916. During the years 1913 to 1916 he became a Member of the Leeds & West Yorkshire Architectural Society and he remained active in the Sketching Club.[7]


The following is a description of James Tyrer Pilling at the time he enlisted in the Army in 1916:


30 years and 1 month


5 feet 6 inches


125 pounds

Chest Measurement (normal):

32 inches

Chest Measurement (expanded):

35 inches

Medical Category:

"A". Fit for general service.


Although he had a lucrative career ahead of him as a Surveyor, James Pilling could not resist answering the call to the Colours during the Great War of 1914 to 1918. He was 30 years of age when he decided to do his bit for the war effort. On the 23rd of February 1916 he went to the Central Recruiting Office in Leeds with a view to joining the Royal Flying Corps. However, the Officer in Charge of the Trade Test Party at the Central Recruiting Office was much impressed by Pilling's qualifications as a Surveyor. In a Memorandum to the Adjutant, Royal Engineers at Chatham, the Recruiting Officer wrote the following with regard to Pilling:

"I have examined James T. Pilling for enlistment into the Royal Flying Corps but as this man is a first class Surveyor, I think that perhaps he will be of more use to your Corps than to mine. He holds a very good character in this city and I have every confidence in recommending him."[8]

On the 24th of February 1916, James Pilling enlisted in the Royal Engineers at Chatham, Kent. His enlistment was for the duration of the war. At the time of his enlistment, he indicated that he was living in Leeds and that he was a Surveyor by trade. He also indicated that he was not married and that he had no prior service in His Majesty's Forces, either naval or military. He swore the Oath of Attestation on the 24th of February 1916 before the attesting officer and a witness, Sergeant D.M. Smeaton, R.E.[9] His enlistment subsequently was certified by the Approving Officer who approved him for service in the Corps of Royal Engineers.

Immediately following his attestation he was assigned Regimental Number 145501 and the rank of Sapper and was posted to "B" Depot Company at Chatham. At Chatham he began his training as an engineer recruit in 278 Party. On the 2nd of March 1916 the Chief Instructor in Construction at the School of Military Engineering qualified Sapper Pilling as an Architectural Draughtsman with a rating of "Superior." The Qualification Sheet for an Architectural Draughtsman (Army Form B. 161-5) in use at the time rated men in eleven categories with ratings of "Fair", "Proficient", "Skilled", "Superior" and "Very Superior." The eleven rated categories, as shown on Army Form B. 161-5, included:

1. Tracing.
2. Lettering, shading, and construction of scales.
3. Copying coloured drawings neatly, expeditiously, correctly, and to scale.
4. Enlarging and reducing drawings.
5. Sketching and drawing buildings and other constructive works from measurements.
6. Making working drawings from hand sketches.
7. Design of simple details, e.g., doors, chimneys, copings, gate-posts, etc.
8. Isometric drawing, simple subjects.
9. Surveying and levelling.
10. Perspective drawing, elementary.

Sapper Pilling was rated "Superior" in items 2 and 3 and "Skilled" in items 6 and 7. Pilling's instructor noted that "it was not practical to test this man under Items 1, 4, 5 and 8, but he is considered up to the average of the rated men." No mention is made on the form regarding items 8, 9 and 10; however, as Pilling was a Surveyor in civilian life and a prize winner at sketching, it may be assumed that he was probably "Superior" in these areas although not tested. The ratings that he did receive in items 2, 3, 6 and 7 were sufficient to give him an overall rating of "Superior" for the trade of Draughtsman. This qualification also provided him with extra pay in the amount of 1s/8p per day.

In addition to his skill with the technical subjects related to surveying and drawing, Pilling was also proficient as a field engineer. At the time of completion of his training he was awarded the Haynes Medal for Field Fortifications,[10] being the best in 278 Party in this area of instruction.[11] Following the successful completion of his recruit training, Sapper Pilling was posted immediately to the British Expeditionary Force in France.


Pilling arrived in France on the 4th of October 1916 and appears to have remained as at a Base Depot prior to assignment to a field unit. On the 8th of November 1916 he joined the 157th Field Company with the 16th (Irish) Division. The 157th Field Company had taken part in the large British offensive on the Somme and in November of 1916 the unit was located in the Ginchy area. Up until the time that Pilling joined the unit, the 157th Field Company had lost 12 men in France and Flanders. They were to lose many more in 1917 and 1918, but fortune intervened for Sapper Pilling and his skills as a Superior Draughtsman were brought to the attention of the Commander Royal Engineers (CRE) of the 16th Division. On the 8th of December 1916 he was transferred to Headquarters 16th Division Engineers.

The 16th Division Engineers did not become involved in any major combat operations until June of 1917 when they took part in the Battle of Messines. Pilling would also miss this show, as his skills had been brought to the attention of higher headquarters in the spring of 1917. On the 6th of March he left the 16th Division and joined the CRE Abbeville. On the 27th of April 1917 he was promoted to the rank of Foreman of Works Staff Sergeant in the Establishment for Engineer Services (EES). With his new rank in the EES he was transferred to the office of the Deputy Chief for Engineer Services under the Director of Works, France. His rapid promotion can, no doubt, be attributed to his skills as a Surveyor and Draughtsman and his appointment as a Foreman of Works within the EES.

The Establishment for Engineer Services dealt with the construction of fortifications, but by and large its greatest responsibility was in the area of the construction and maintenance of barracks. Other works undertaken by the Establishment included hospitals and Army Ordnance buildings. With regard to the latter, the work included not only the buildings themselves, but also the provision and maintenance of fixed machinery and the construction and maintenance of magazines and buildings for the storage of explosives, with special attention to precautions against fire and protection against lightning.

The EES was also involved with other buildings in support of the Army Service Corps, to include bakeries, stores, transport sheds and workshops. Many other buildings, such as churches, schools, offices, quarters for Commanding Officers and certain Staff Officers, were also provided by the EES. Other essential services of the Establishment included the charge of military cemeteries and burial grounds, the preparation of graves and the appointment and supervision of caretakers.

One of the special branches within the E.E.S. included the Electrical Branch which consisted of Defence Electric Lights, Telegraphs, Telephones, and Miscellaneous Electrical Services. Other miscellaneous electrical services included barracks lighting and protection of building against lightning.

A second special branch of the E.E.S. was the Mechanical Branch, with its responsibility for installation and maintenance of engines, boilers and machinery used with pumping and heating plant, and machinery used in Royal Engineer and Ordnance workshops. Other special branches of the Establishment were the Mechanical Transport Branch and the Railway Branch.[12]

It appears that Pilling served at Abbeville and Le Havre throughout the remainder of the war and on the 19th of January 1919 he was transferred from the office of the CRE Le Havre to the Amiens Sub-Area. He remained in France almost a full year after the Armistice was signed. Although his skills got him out of a front line unit, they kept him in France for a much longer period of time than the men who served in the front lines. It was not until the 4th of November 1919 that Pilling was transferred to the Class "Z" Army Reserve on demobilization. At the time of his demobilization it is believed that he was assigned to the 5th Provisional Company, R.E. For his service during the Great War he was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal.[13]

British War and Victory Medals earned by
Foreman of Works Staff Sergeant James T. Pilling
(Pilling did not receive a mention in despatches as shown by the oak leaf on the Victory Medal)


a. Promotions: James Pilling received the following promotions during his time in service:

Date of Promotion
or Appointment

Rank or Position

24 February 1916

Sapper upon enlistment in the Royal Engineers.

27 April 1917

Promoted Foreman of Works Staff Sergeant upon his transfer to the Establishment for Engineer Services.

NOTE: Pilling may have received some intermediate promotions between the rank of Sapper and Foreman of Works Staff Sergeant, however, his service papers do not show any other promotions. It was not unusual for skilled men assigned to the Establishment for Engineer Services to skip many ranks on the promotion scale and to be advanced to senior non-commissioned officer rank soon after entering the EES.

b. Conduct: There is no record of Pilling receiving any Good Conduct Badges during his time in service. His records do contain a Regimental Conduct Sheet (Army Form B. 120) and a Squadron, Troop, Battery and Company Conduct Sheet (Army Form B. 121). This latter sheet was maintained by the 5th Provisional Company, Royal Engineers. No entries of disciplinary action are shown on either form; therefore, it may be assumed that his conduct was "Very Good" during his time in service.


a. Education: James Pilling's records do show that he earned any Certificates of Education during his time in service. However, given his level of education in civilian life, one must assume that he would have qualified for a 1st Class Certificate, probably upon enlistment.

b. Qualifications: James Pilling earned the following qualifications during his time in service.



2 March 1916

"Superior" Architectural Draughtsman.

27 April 1917

Foreman of Works


The following medical information was taken from James Pilling's service records during his time in service:


Date of
Admission or Treatment


Period of Hospitalization
or Treatment


24 Feb 1916

Medical examination

Medical examination on enlistment. Medical Category "A"; fit for general service.


12 May 1916

Smallpox vaccination

Vaccinated TAB/1.


20 May 1916

Smallpox vaccination

Re-vaccinated TAB/2.


23 Oct 1919

Medical examination

Examination in preparation for demobilization. Made no "Statement as to Disability."


James Tyrer Pilling married Erica Scott, a spinster, on the 8th of July 1916 while he was still assigned to "B" Depot Company, Royal Engineers at Chatham. The wedding took place at St. Martin's Church in Potter Newton, Leeds, Yorkshire. The officiating minister was Mr. Hinton Knowles, and the marriage was witnessed by Ellen Pilling and P.B. Scott.

Pilling's record of service papers do not show a record of the birth of any children during his time in the Army.


Foreman of Works Staff Sergeant James T. Pilling was transferred to the Class "Z" Army Reserve on the 4th of November 1919 on demobilization following his return from France after the Great War. His total service was reckoned as shown in the tables below:


Period of Service

Chatham, Kent

24 February 1916 to 3 October 1916


4 October 1916 to 3 November 1919


Period of Service

Home Service

222 days

Service Abroad

3 years and 30 days

Total Service

3 years and 252 days


No information was uncovered during this research to indicate what James Pilling did following the war. It is reasonable to assume that he returned to Leeds and took up his practice again as a Surveyor or perhaps as an Architectural Draughtsman.



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

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

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.


1. Letter from G. Fred Bowman of G. Fred Bowman & Son, Architect, Surveyor and Valuer, 5 Greek Street, Leeds, dated 23 February 1916 to The Officer Commanding, R.E. Depot, Chatham.

2. Soldier's Service Papers.

a. Application for Special Enlistment of a Recruit (Army Form B. 203).
b. Memorandum of Recommendation, Officer in Charge, Trade Test Party, Central Recruiting Office, Leeds to Adjutant, Royal Engineers, Chatham (Army Form C. 348).
c. Short Service Attestation (Army Form B. 2505), to include:

(1) Questions put to the Recruit before Enlistment.
(2) Oath to be taken by Recruit on Attestation.
(3) Certificate of Magistrate or Attesting Officer.
(4) Certificate of Approving Officer.
(5) Description on Enlistment.
(6) Statement of Services
(7) Medical History (Army Form B. 178).

d. Qualification Sheet and Report for an Architectural Draughtsman (Army Form B. 161-5).
e. Certificate of Trade Proficiency (Army Form B. 195).
f. Particulars of Marriages, Births and Baptisms (Army Form A. 22).
g. Casualty Form - Active Service (Army Form B. 103).
h. Regimental Conduct Sheet (Army Form B. 120). Squadron, Troop, Battery and Company Conduct Sheet (Army Form B. 121).
i. Statement as to Disability (Army Form Z. 22).
j. Protection Certificate and Certificate of Identity.
k. Medal Issue Slip (Army Form B. 5112).
l. Medal Index Card.


1891 Census of England. www.ancestry.com


Battle Honours of the Royal Engineers. The Royal Engineers Journal. The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, Kent, 1925-1932.


[1] The following is the boundary of the Enumeration District in which the Pilling household was located. Commencing at the corner of Leopold Street and running northward along Chapeltown Road to Francis Street, thence eastward along the said street to Frankland Place, then along Frankland Place to Cowper Street, thence eastward to Spencer Place and thence south along Spencer Place to Roundhay Road, thence along the back of Spencer Place to Leopold Street and along said street to Chap Road, contents: Leopold Street (north), Harriet Street, Louis Street, Back and Cross Francis Street and any houses in Nassau Place and Hamilton Place crossing these streets to Spencer Place west in the North Ward Ecclesiastical Parish of St. Clements Leeds the whole in the Parliamentary Division of Leeds. In the enumeration area described above, there were only five Pillings, all of whom were members of James Pilling's household.

[2] Francis Pilling would have been 23 years old at the start of the Great War in 1914. He does not appear as a casualty in either Officers Died or Soldiers Died in the Great War.

[3] St. Clement's church is an edifice of Potter Newton stone with Weetwood stone dressings in the Early Geometric style, from the designs of Mr. George Corson, architect of Leeds.

[4] Bedford & Kitson was a prestigious architectural firm whose design was chosen for the construction of the Leeds College of Art on Vernon Street in Leeds. Today it is known as the Leeds College of Art & Design. The firm of Bedford & Kitson no longer exists.

[5] This society still exists today as the West Yorkshire Society of Architects on Woodhouse Square in Leeds.

[6] Chorley & Connon also was a prestigious architectural firm that designed the church of the Holy Name, situated at the junction of Cambridge and Servia roads in the Parish of All Souls in Leeds. The firm still exists today and is located at 16 Park Place in Leeds.

[7] Letter from G. Fred Bowman of G. Fred Bowman & Son, Architect, Surveyor and Valuer, 5 Greek Street, Leeds, dated 23 February 1916 to The Officer Commanding, R.E. Depot, Chatham. Mr. Bowman wrote this reference letter describing Pilling's career from 1903 to 1916 while Mr. Bowman was serving as the President of the Leeds & West Yorkshire Architectural Society.

[8] This character reference is the result of a letter from Mr. G. Fred Bowman, dated 23 February 1918, to the Officer Commanding, R.E. Depot, Chatham, in which Mr. Bowman praises Pilling for his efficient work while working as a Surveyor and Architect's Assistant in Leeds.

[9] 1852238 Quartermaster Sergeant D.M. Smeaton was a Regular Army non-commissioned officer in the Royal Engineers who would later be appointed as a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).

[10] This medallion is in the author's collection and is the main reason for this research into James Pilling's military service.

[11] See The Haynes Medal.

[12] BAKER BROWN, W., pp. 246-262.

[13] The whereabouts of these medals is not known to the author.