Home Page

Royal Engineers

Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis 2008

Not much is known about the service of Corporal James, as the author was not able to locate any living relatives to obtain access to his service records at the Ministry of Defence. It appears that James enlisted in the Royal Engineers as a Sapper in 1921. This enlistment date is based on the fact that he re-engaged to complete 21 years of service with the Colours in 1933. He was still serving with the rank of Sapper when his re-engagement took place [1]. This act of re-engagement normally took place in the soldier’s 12th year of service; hence, his enlistment year is assumed to be 1921 [2].

Sapper James was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal sometime during late 1933 or early 1934. This is based on the fact that when he was assigned to the 1st Anti-Aircraft Battalion at Blackdown [3] in early 1934, he was a Lance Corporal [4].

The 1st Anti-Aircraft Battalion was the only Regular Army anti-aircraft searchlight unit on the Royal Engineer establishment at that time. The details of James’s service with this unit are not known; however, the reader can get a good idea of the work of this unit by reading Searchlights in the Corps of Royal Engineers by Brigadier B. Chichester-Cooke, CBE, TD, DL [5].

At the time of James’s assignment to the battalion the unit formed part of the Aldershot Command. The key officers of the battalion were [6]:

Lieutenant Colonel M.F. Grove-White, DSO, OBE, p.s.c. (Commanding)

Lieutenant Colonel G. le Q. Martel, DSO, MC, p.s.c. (Additional)

Captain T. Kimber (Adjutant)

Captain R.P.A.D. Lithgow (Headquarters Wing)

Major K.D. Yearsley, MC ("A" Company)

Major K.I. Gourlay, DSO, MC ("B" Company)

Captain A.J. de Pury ("C" Company)

Based on published information it is known that the 1st Anti-Aircraft Searchlight Battalion took part in an air defence exercise of London while in camp in Essex in mid-1934 [7]. These types of exercises were held frequently and in conjunction with the Territorial Army units in the anti-aircraft defence establishment.

James was promoted to the rank of Corporal sometime between 1934 and 1939. This assumption is based on the fact that his Long Service and Good Conduct Medal (GVIR) with bar [REGULAR ARMY] was most likely awarded to him in 1939 after completing 18 years with the Colours [8]. The medal is named to him as a Corporal.

Corporal James would have completed 21 years of service in 1942 if his assumed year of enlistment of 1921 is correct. In all probability he was not discharged at this time, as World War 2 was at its peak for the British in North Africa. He probably served during the war years and is entitled to other medals. However, without access to his service record, this cannot be confirmed.


[1] The Sapper, May 1933, p. 285.

[2] See Re-engagements in the Regular Army.

[3] Blackdown refers to Blackdown Barracks located near Pirbright in Surrey, southwest of London and northeast of Aldershot.

[4] The Sapper, May 1934, p. 277.

[5] The Royal Engineers Journal. The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, Kent, March 1985, p. 2.

[6] The Royal Engineers Quarterly List, July 1934, p. xx.

[7] The Sapper, September 1934, p. 378.

[8] This medal is in the author’s collection and was the basis for this research work.



  1. The Sapper, May 1933.
  2. The Sapper, May 1934.
  3. The Sapper, September 1934.
  4. GRIERSON, J.M. Scarlet Into Khaki: The British Army on the Eve of the Boer War. Greenhill Books, London, 1988.
  5. Merriam Webster’s Geographical Dictionary. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated, Springfield, Massachusetts, 1997.
  6. CHICHESTER-COOKE, B. Searchlights in the Corps of Royal Engineers. The Royal Engineers Journal. The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, Kent, March 1985.
  7. The Royal Engineers Quarterly List, July 1934.
  8. History of the Corps of Royal Engineers. Volume VII. The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, Kent, 1952.