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21409 (1852720) Company Sergeant Major
REGINALD GEORGE BURBIDGE
Royal Engineers

by
Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis
2003. All Rights Reserved.

1. INTRODUCTION

The details supplied in this narrative were extracted primarily from the soldier’s original Certificate of Service (Red Book), Army Form B.108, from other original documents belonging to the soldier, and from various books and periodicals shown in the Reference section at the end of this narrative. The author originally acquired company Sergeant Major Burbidge's medals in 1998. The original documents and photographs referenced in this work did not become available until 2003 by way of an Internet auction. The author was fortunate to be able to obtain the documents to reunite them with the medals.

2. EARLY LIFE AND FAMILY INFORMATION

According to his Certificate of Discharge, Reginald George Burbidge was born in 1893. This birth year does not agree with the year indicated in two other documents; namely, his death certificate [1] and the records of the 1901 British Census. According to the death certificate, when he died on the 29th of September 1964 he was 69 years old. This would put his date of birth sometime before that date in the year 1895. The 1901 census (as of the 31st of March of that year) indicates that he was 5 years old. This would indicate that he was born sometime between March and September of 1895. If the census and the death certificate are accurate, then in no case could he have been born in 1893 as shown in his military records.

The 1901 British Census indicated that Reginald George Burbidge was born in Bournemouth, Hampshire. The census record shows the following details [2]:

Civil Parish:

Bournemouth

Ecclesiastical Parish:

Holy Trinity Detached, Bournemouth

Parliamentary Borough or Division:

Christ Church [3]

Administrative County:

Hampshire

At the time of the 1901 Census, Reginald George Burbidge was living with his parents at 62 Durnford Road in Bournemouth. His father, George Burbidge, had been born in Longham, Dorsetshire and was 35 years of age at the time of the census. George Burbidge's occupation is listed as an employed "Railway Carman." Reginald's mother, Kate Burbidge, had been born in East Knoyle, Wiltshire and was 30 years old at the time of the census. In addition to Reginald, George and Kate Burbidge had two other children: Arthur, 4 years old and Leslie, 2 years old. All of the Burbidge children had been born in Bournemouth.

The Burbidge family had a lodger living with them in 1901. Her name was Ann Mary Putchard, a 38-year old dressmaker from Gloucester.

3. PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION

A physical description of Reginald George Burbidge at the time he enlisted in the Army in 1911 has not been found; however, the following is a description of him at the time he was discharged from the Army in 1932:

Height:

5 feet 11 inches.

Complexion:

Fresh.

Eyes:

Grey.

Hair:

Dark.

Marks or Scars:

Black tattoo dot on the back of the left forearm.

4. ENLISTMENT AND TRAINING

Reginald George Burbidge worked as a Mason prior to his enlistment in the Army. Perhaps tiring of the work or simply seeking more excitement in his life, he enlisted in the Royal Engineers at Gosport, Hampshire on the 18th of April 1911 [4]. It is here that the question of his year of birth becomes important. If his birth year was 1896, he would have been less than 18 years of age and therefore ineligible to serve in the ranks. He would have been enlisted at age 15 as a Boy Soldier [5]. However, if he stated that his year of birth was 1893 and was not required to show proof of age, or if he had altered his birth certificate to make him 18 year of age, then he could enlisted directly into the ranks. Given that he was 5 feet 11 inches tall when he was discharged from the Army in 1932, it is likely that he was a tall boy and could have passed for an 18-year old in 1911 [6]. It is also possible that the recruiting sergeant aided and abetted his deception by turning a blind eye to his actual age. He appears to have continued the deception all the while he served in the Army, as his Certificate of Discharge shows his year of birth as 1893. This would have been necessary to avoid being accused of having fraudulently enlisted. In later life there was no reason to continue to lie about his age; hence, his death certificate records him as 69 years old in 1964.

By whatever means he accomplished it, Burbidge was enlisted in the ranks of the Corps of Royal Engineers as a Sapper and was assigned Regimental Number 21409 [7]. His trade on enlistment was noted as "Mason" in his military records.

Following the approval of his attestation, Sapper Burbidge was immediately sent off to recruit training [8] at the School of Military Engineering at Brompton Barracks in Chatham, Kent. Upon his arrival at Chatham he was posted to 160 Party, "F" Company of the Royal Engineers Training Battalion [9].

During the period from April 1911 to November 1913 it appears that Sapper Burbidge remained at Chatham where he earned a Third Class Certificate of Education [10] and passed a class of instruction as an Electrician. In the spring of 1912 he was posted to Gosport where he passed a class of instruction in Electric Lighting [11]. This course prepared him for future assignments with Fortress Companies of the Royal Engineers where his duties would involve the use of searchlights and small power plants for harbour defences.

5. ASSIGNMENTS AND CAMPAIGN SERVICE

Mauritius (1913-1919)

On the 1st of November 1913 Sapper Burbidge departed the United Kingdom for the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, 450 miles east of Madagascar. There he was posted to the 43rd (Fortress) Company, Royal Engineers where he served throughout the period of the Great War of 1914-1918 working on the defences of the port and harbours on the island. The 43rd (Fortress) Company was stationed in the town of Vacoas and was commanded by Captain A.C.J. Stevens, R.E., with Lieutenants R.A.S. Mansel, A.G. Gill, and J.C. Bowles also assigned to the company.

During the war years all coast defence searchlights in the United Kingdom and some abroad were manned by units of the auxiliary forces (Volunteers and Militia). One exception to this was the 43rd (Fortress) Company, which spent the entire war on Mauritius and saw no active service. During the post-war reorganization of the British Army, the coast defence duties again were taken over by the twenty regular fortress companies [12].

While on Mauritius Burbidge probably was promoted to the ranks of Lance Corporal and 2nd Corporal, [13] although his service records do not provide dates for these promotions. It is likely that he also extended to complete 12 years with the Colours while on Mauritius [14].

The Great War ended while Burbidge was serving on Mauritius. As a result, he was awarded the British War Medal for service during time of war, but was not authorized the Victory Medal since he had not seen active service during the war [15].

United Kingdom (1919-1920)

Burbidge arrived home from Mauritius on the 3rd of May 1919, but his stay in the United Kingdom was a short one. It almost appears that he was sent home for a period of leave in preparation for another posting abroad. This quick turn around of assignment to another overseas station may have been the result of his being unmarried at the time and available for posting. It also may have been the Corps' way of relieving men who had seen active service of the burden of a posting abroad so soon after the end of the war. In any case, Burbidge had just enough time to receive his new Army Number, 1852720, [16] before departing for Sierra Leone on the 27th of January 1920.

Sierra Leone (1920-1921)

Burbidge arrived in Sierra Leone on the 6th of February 1920 and was posted to the 36th (Fortress) Company [17]. This company had been known as the 36th (West Africa) Field Company during the Great War, but it was reorganized as a fortress company following the armistice [18].

Burbidge served in West Africa until the 19th of February 1921 when he sailed for England, arriving there on the 9th of March. It appears that during this time frame, either while in Sierra Leone or after his return home, he was promoted to the rank of Corporal. Again, his service record provides no specific date for this promotion.

United Kingdom (1921-1926)

Corporal Burbidge served in the United Kingdom for the next five and a half years. Unfortunately his service papers do not indicate his place of assignment, although Chatham or Aldershot seem like good guesses. During this period he passed his Trade Test, Group "A", Class II as an Electrician, was awarded Second Class and First Class Certificates of Education and was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. He also appears to have re-engaged to complete 21 years of service with the Colours during this time [19].

Sierra Leone (1926-1927)

Sergeant Burbidge departed England on the 13th of October 1926 for another posting to Sierra Leone, where he arrived on the 23rd of October. He probably served again with the 36th (Fortress) Company. Because of the pestilential climate of West Africa, it appears that men were only assigned there for a year at a time. Burbidge departed Sierra Leone on the 26th of October 1927 and arrived home on the 3rd of November.

Chatham (1929-1931)

Sergeant Burbidge was posted to the School of Military Engineering at Brompton Barracks on his return from Sierra Leone. He may have been assigned to the R.E. Training Battalion or to the Depot Battalion. His service papers do not indicate his unit of assignment. He remained at Chatham until February of 1931 when he was posted to Fort Camden in Ireland.

Fort Camden (1931-1932)

Sergeant Burbidge was posted to the 33rd (Fortress) Company at Fort Camden in Queenstown (Cork) Harbour, County Cork, in the southwest of Ireland. At the time that Burbidge joined, this company commanded by Captain H.F.T. Aldous, R.E. formed part of the South Irish Coast Defences of the Western Command in the United Kingdom. Captain Aldous had been in command of the company since the 9th of December 1930. The company's headquarters were located at Fort Camden. Another officer assigned to the company headquarters at Fort Camden was Lieutenant C.F.W. Miller. The company had detachments at Bere Island and Lough Swilly. Company officers at Bere Island included Lieutenants G.W.W. Morris, H.C.O'H. Moore and F.H. Maclennan. Lieutenant M.T.L. Wilkinson was in charge of the section at Lough Swilly. The Deputy Commander Royal Engineers for the South Irish Coast Defences was Captain A.N. Lawford, T.D., R.E. Captain Lawford's headquarters were located at Spike Island in Queenstown Harbour [20].

During the year and two months that Burbidge served there he was promoted to the rank of Warrant Officer Class II and served as the Company Sergeant Major of the 33rd (Fortress) Company [21]. While Burbidge was the CSM of the company, the unit took part in annual field works training that involved the construction of a drawbridge [22]. The company also constructed new officers' quarters at Fort Camden [23].

On the 5th of January 1932 Captain E.A. Crane, M.C., R.E. assumed command of the 33rd (Fortress) Company in place of Captain Aldous. Company Sergeant Major Burbidge gave notice soon afterwards to take his discharge from the Army upon completion of 21 years of service. His Certificate of Discharge was prepared by the Royal Engineers Record Office at Chatham on the 12th of April 1932 and he was officially discharged on the 17th of April 1932.

6. PROMOTIONS AND CONDUCT

a. Promotions: Reginald George Burbidge received the promotions shown in the table below during his time in service. The exact dates of his promotions in the earlier part of his career are not shown in his records. The author has estimated the dates of these promotions as indicated in the Endnotes at the back of this narrative.

Date of Promotion or Appointment

Rank or Position

18 April 1911

Enlisted as a Sapper (underage) [24]

1916

Promoted Lance Corporal [25]

1918

Promoted 2nd Corporal [26]

1921

Promoted Corporal [27]

8 August 1925

Promoted Sergeant [28]

1928

Promoted Staff Sergeant [29]

4 October 1931

Promoted Warrant Officer Class II (CSM) [30]

NOTE: Burbidge's promotion to Warrant Officer Class II became effective on the 4th of October 1931. His Warrant in the Regular Forces, however, was not officially signed until the 30th of November 1931 [31].

b. Conduct: Company Sergeant Major Burbidge's records do not contain any information regarding his awards of Good Conduct Badges or Good Conduct Pay during his time in service, although he undoubtedly received some. He was awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal (GVR) [32] while serving at the School of Military Engineering at Chatham, Kent. The medal was presented to him on Brompton Square at the School of Military Engineering after Church Parade on the 3rd of February 1929. The presentation was made by Major General G. Walker, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O., the Commandant of the School [33].

7. EDUCATION AND QUALIFICATIONS

a. Education: Company Sergeant Major Burbidge earned the following Certificates of Education during his time in service [34]:

Date

Certificate of Education

16 June 1911

Awarded a 3rd Class Certificate of Education [35]

30 June 1925

Awarded a 2nd Class Certificate of Education

14 October 1925

Awarded a 1st Class Certificate of Education

His attainments for the award of the 3rd Class Certificate of Education included the following, exactly as shown on the certificate:

Arithmetic:- First four Rules, Money, Avoirdupois Weight and Lineal Measure, Simple Addition & Subtraction of Vulgar Fraction [36].

Writing from Dictation:- Proficiency in Writing Regimental Orders.

Composition:- Writing a simple letter.

The 3rd Class Certificate of Education was awarded to Burbidge while he was serving with the Training Battalion Royal Engineers at Chatham. It was signed by Lieutenant A.E. Hodgkins, R.E.

b. Qualifications: Company Sergeant Major Burbidge earned the following qualifications during his time in service.

Date

Qualification

18 April 1911

Qualified as a Mason based on his trade on enlistment.

11 March 1912

Passed class of instruction in Electric Lighting
at the School of Electric Lighting at Gosport, Hampshire

12 October 1912

Passed class of instruction as an
Electrician with a rating of "Proficient."

10 January 1923

Passed Trade Test, Group "A", Class II (Electrician).

8. MEDICAL INFORMATION

No medical information was available from the service records found relating to Company Sergeant Major Burbidge's military service.

9. MARRIAGE AND PERSONAL INFORMATION

From the Principal Probate Registry it is known that Reginald George Burbidge was married and that his wife's name was Lilian [37]. The author has not determined the date of their marriage and no indication of the marriage is given in Burbidge's service papers. The Burbidges are known to have had at least one daughter. She is listed on his death certificate as D.B. Paynter of 27 Bemister Road in Bournemouth. There is no record of her given names.

10. DISCHARGE

Warrant Officer Class II (Company Sergeant Major) Reginald George Burbidge was discharged from the Army at Fort Camden, County Cork, Ireland on the 17th of April 1932 on the termination of his second period of limited engagement. His total service was reckoned as shown in the tables below:

Location

Period of Service

Chatham, Kent and Gosport, Hampshire

18 April 1911 to 31 October 1913

Mauritius

1 November 1913 to 2 May 1919

Home Leave

3 May 1919 to 20 January 1920

En route to Sierra Leone

21 January 1920 to 5 February 1920

Sierra Leone

6 February 1920 to 18 February 1921

En route Home

19 February 1921 to 8 March 1921

United Kingdom

9 March 1921 to 12 October 1926

En route to Sierra Leone

13 October 1926 to 22 October 1926

Sierra Leone

23 October 1926 to 25 October 1927

En route to Home

26 October 1927 to 2 November 1927

Chatham, Kent

3 November 1927 to February 1931

Fort Camden, Ireland

February 1931 to 17 April 1932

Location

Period of Service

Home Service

13 years and 114 days

Service Abroad

7 years and 251 days

Total Service

21 years exactly

The Final Assessments of Conduct and Character on Leaving the Colours were made in Company Sergeant Major Burbidge's Soldier's Red Book by Captain E.A. Crane, M.C., R.E. on the 8th of June 1932. Captain Crane indicated that Burbidge's military conduct was "Very Good" and as a testimonial stated that Burbidge was "Hard working and conscientious. A reliable man capable of taking charge of small power stations, etc." [38]

11. POST SERVICE LIFE

After leaving the Army, Burbidge moved back to Bournemouth, the town of his birth. His Certificate of Service was posted to him shortly after his discharge. The address on the envelope containing his "Red Book" was 62 Capstone Road, Bournemouth.

Burbidge took a position as a Clerk with the Bournemouth Electricity Supply Company after his discharge. His electrical training while in the Army probably provided the qualifications he needed for this position. Upon his retirement, Burbidge received a certificate of appreciation from the company, the original of which is in the author's possession along with Burbidge's other personal papers. The certificate reads as follows:

This certificate is presented to

Reginald George Burbidge

by the Chairman and Board of

Directors in appreciation of his

loyalty and devotion to duty as a

member of the Bournemouth

Electricity Supply Co. H.G.

Robert Minnich

Chairman

THE COUNTY OF LONDON ELECTRIC SUPPLY CO. LTD. AND ASSOCIATED COMPANIES

After his retirement from the Bournemouth Electric Supply Company, Burbidge lived with his wife Lilian at 27 Bemister Road, Winton, Bournemouth. He died on the 29th of September 1964 at the age of 69 years in Christchurch Hospital, Christchurch, Hampshire. His death was certified by F.H. Foster, M.R.C.S. and was caused by 1(a) carcinomatois and (b) carcinoma of bronchus (windpipe), probably as a result of being a life-long smoker. His daughter, D.B. Paynter of 27 Bemister Road was the informant of his death. Burbidge's death was registered on the 29th of September 1964 by C.J. Chaffey, Registrar of the Sub-district of Christchurch and Ringwood, District of Christchurch, County of Hampshire.

Reginald George Burbidge died intestate, but his wife Lilian was declared the only person entitled to his estate. The Principal Probate Registry in the High Court of Justice awarded Mrs. Burbidge her husband's estate on the 6th of November 1964

REFERENCES

Books

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

INSTITUTION OF ROYAL ENGINEERS. The History of the Corps of Royal Engineers. Volume VII. The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, Kent, 1952.

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.

Documents

1901 British Census. PRO Reference RG13, Piece 1042, Folio 11, Page 18, Schedule Number 88.

Certificate of Service (Red Book), Army Form B.108, containing the following pages and sections:

  1. Final Assessments of Conduct and Character on Leaving the Colours.
  2. Service with the Colours showing Transfers, if any, to other Corps.
  3. Certificate of Transfer to the Army Reserve.
  4. Certificate of Discharge.
  5. Educational Attainments, Trade Qualifications, Medals, &c.
  6. Previous Service in H.M. Forces.

Certificate of Appreciation, Bournemouth Electricity Supply Company, undated.

Certificate of Education, Third Class, dated Chatham, Kent, 16 June 1911.

Certified Copy of an Entry of Death, General Register Office, London, DXZ 519069, dated 24 February 1998.

Letters of Administration, Principal Probate Registry, 6 November 1964.

Medal Index Card (R.E. Medal Roll 101A), Public Record Office, Kew, Richmond, Surrey.

Registered Envelope, Army Form B.107, R.E. Records Officer, Rochester, Kent, No. 2147, postmarked 12 April 1932.

Warrant Parchment, Warrant Officer Class II (Company Sergeant Major) Reginald George Burbidge, R.E. dated 30 November 1931.

Periodical

Royal Engineers Quarterly List, December 1912.

Royal Engineers Quarterly List, April 1931.

Royal Engineers Quarterly List, January 1932.

The Sapper, March 1929.

The Sapper, May 1929.

The Sapper, February 1931.

The Sapper, October 1931.

The Sapper, December 1931.

The Sapper, February 1932.

The Sapper, June 1932.

The Sapper, February 1965.

Photographs

Trestle Bridge Constructed by 160 Party, "F" Company, Royal Engineers Training Battalion.

Floating Bridge Constructed by 160 Party, "F" Company, Royal Engineers Training Battalion.

 ENDNOTES

[1] Certified Copy of an Entry of Death, DXZ 519069, General Register Office, London, 24 February 1998.

[2] PRO Reference RG13, Piece 1042, Folio 11, Page 18, Schedule Number 88.

[3] Part of the diocese and archdiocese of Winchester. Predominant religions: Independent and Roman Catholic.

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

[5] See Recruitment of Boy Soldiers.

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

[7] This number appears on his British War Medal in the author's collection.

[8] See Engineer Recruit Training.

[9] His training party and company are known from an original photograph in the author's collection that shows a group of recruits on bridging training. This photograph was procured along with other documents belonging to Sergeant Burbidge.

[10] See Certificates of Education.

[11] The Royal Engineers School of Electric Lighting was located at Gosport, Hampshire.

[12] Corps History, Volume VII, p. 202.

[13] His British War Medal is named to him as a 2nd Corporal.

[14] See Extensions of Service of the Regular Army. The assumption that he extended his service while serving on Mauritius is based on an original enlistment of 7 years with the Colours and 5 years with the Army Reserve.

[15] Burbidge's Certificate of Service shows an entry for the award of both the British War Medal and Victory Medal. The Victory Medal entry was subsequently lined out when it was determined that he was not eligible for it. When the author procured his medals in 1998, the group consisted of a named British War Medal, an unnamed (name erased) Victory Medal and a named Long Service and Good Conduct medal. The group had been listed for sale by the dealer as "mounted as worn." A previous owner of the medal group, or a dealer, or perhaps Burbidge himself added the unnamed Victory Medal to the group thinking that would make it complete. The "mounted as worn" description may indicate how Burbidge wore them. Burbidge service records, however, show that he was not entitled to the medal. It might not be too difficult to rationalize that Burbidge himself added the Victory Medal to his own group. One can imagine the embarrassment he might have felt when wearing his medals on parade and having all his mates see the single British War Medal on his chest indicating that he had not seen active service during the war. One can sympathize with his situation. One must also realize that he did nothing to shirk his duty. The Army assigned him to Mauritius from 1914 through 1919. It was not of his own choosing that he did not become involved in the fighting during the war.

[16] This is the number on his Long Service and Good Conduct Medal in the author's collection.

[17] Based on work done by Stuart Gase of West Drayton, Middlesex, this was the only company of the Royal Engineers in Sierra Leone at the time.

[18] Lieutenant Sydney Banks Keast, R.E. (later Major) is an officer who served in this company. His medals are in the authors' collection.

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

[20] R.E. Quarterly List, April 1931, p. xxii.

[21] Although his date of rank is 4 October 1931, his warrant is dated 30 November 1931. The original copy of his warrant is in the author's collection.

[22] A photograph of this drawbridge can be found on page 72 of the October 1931 edition of The Sapper.

[23] Photographs of the new officers' quarters can be found on page 126 of the December 1931 edition of The Sapper.

[24] The Sapper, February 1965, p. 224.

[25] This is an estimate of when he might have been promoted after about 2 years of serving as a Sapper.

[26] It is known that he held the rank of 2nd Corporal when he was authorized the award of the British War Medal, as this is the rank indicated on the medal.

[27] Again, this is an estimated year of promotion based on his serving at least three years as a 2nd Corporal.

[28] Seniority List, The Sapper, May 1929, p. 286.

[29] Estimated date based on serving a minimum of three years as a Sergeant.

[30] General Roster, The Sapper, December 1931, p. 138.

[31] This warrant is one of the original documents in the author's possession.

[32] This medal is in the author's collection.

[33] Major General G. Walker, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O. was the Commandant of the School of Military Engineering and the Royal Engineers Depot from 21 June 1927 to 18 February 1931. A photograph of Major General Walker during this period may be found in the February 1931 edition of The Sapper.

[34] See Certificates of Education.

[35] The original certificate is in the author's possession.

[36] The term "vulgar fraction" as used here means a fraction written in the common way with one number above another, separated by a line.

[37] Extract copy of Burbidge's will.

[38] This last comment is a hint to the type of work that Burbidge did while assigned to the various Fortress Companies during his career.