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23509 (1855396) Lance Sergeant Ernest Downes
Royal Engineers
Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis, 2000.

Ernest Downes was born on the 26th of March 1893 at 2, Dunkerd Cottages, Nelson Road, in Gillingham, Kent. He was the son of Henry Downes, a Gunner in the Royal Artillery, and Elizabethan Downes (nee Trussell).[1]

Ernest enlisted as a Pioneer in the Royal Engineers in 1913. At the time of his enlistment, he was assigned Regimental Number 23509. He received his basic training as an engineer soldier at the School of Military Engineering (S.M.E.), Brompton Barracks, Chatham, Kent. While at the S.M.E., Downes was awarded the Haynes Medallion for Field Fortifications.[2]

Downes served in the Great War of 1914-1918 with the 23rd Field Company, Royal Engineers, one of the divisional field companies of the 1st Division. He was one of the "Old Contemptibles", a member of the first British Expeditionary Force to fight in France and Flanders. His unit deployed to France on the 15th of August 1914 and by the 24th of August he was engaged in the retreat from Mons in front of the advancing German forces.

The 23rd Field Company took part in many major actions of the war, from the retreat from Mons to the Hindenburg Line. Downes was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal during the war and was awarded the 1914 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal for his service.

Downes continued to serve in the Royal Engineers following the war. In 1920 he was issued Army Number 1855396. He was promoted to the rank of Corporal on the 24th of July 1928.

Corporal Downes completed 18 years of service in 1931 and would have been eligible for the award of the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal at that time. On the 29th of January 1933 he was promoted to the rank of Lance Sergeant and was discharged from the Army in 1934 with 21 years of service and a pension.

Following his discharge, Ernest Downes took a position as a Coast Defence Plant Attendant (Electrical Engineer) in the Dover, Kent area. His address at the time was "Truenfels," Singledge Lane, Whitfield, near Dover. Downes resided at this address with his with Maria Anna. The Downes had a stepdaughter named Anna Hans. Ernest Downes also counted among his family a sister-in-law named Frieda Sattler who resided in Germany at Bieber b. Offenbach, a/n 41 Wald Strasse.

Ernest Downes died of cancer of the liver on the 6th of September 1935 at his home near Dover. He was 42 years of age.[3]


[1] Ernest Downes birth was registered on the 8th of May 1893 in the Registration District of Medway, Sub-District of Gillingham, in the County of Kent, by J. Whitehead, Registrar.

[2] The Haynes Medallion is in the author’s collection and is the basis for this research work.

[3] Ernest Downes death was registered on the 9th of September 1935 in the Registration District of Dover, Sub-District of St. Margaret’s Cliff, in the County of Kent by E.E.C. Ratcliffe, Registrar. His wife, Maria Anna Downes, was the informant of his death.


1. Certified Copy of an Entry of Birth, General Register Office, BXBY 754386, dated 10 November 1999.
2. The Last Will of Ernest Downes dated 21 August 1935.
3. Certified Copy of an Entry of Death, General Register Office, DXZ 651927, dated 9 November 1999.
4. The Sapper, October 1932.
5. The Sapper, March 1933.
6. The Sapper, June 1934.
7. The Sapper, October 1935.
8. Medal Index Card. Public Record Office, London.