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243837 (WR/279511) Lance Corporal
Royal Engineers

Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis
2002. All Rights Reserved.


Unless otherwise noted, the details supplied in this narrative were extracted from the soldier’s service papers obtained from the Public Record Office at Kew, Richmond, Surrey. Cave’s service papers were found in the WO/363 files and were very badly damaged by fire and water; hence, much of the information contained in the documents was illegible. The author has tried to make this narrative of his service as accurate and as complete as possible; however, many details of his service may be lost forever and some of the information contained herein may be inaccurate regarding exact dates.


Percival Charles Cave was born in August of 1891 in Deptford, Kent, a town located about four miles east of the center of London at that time [1]. He was 23 years of age when the Great War of 1914-1918 began. Cave worked as a carpenter and joiner and lived with his wife Elsie at 91 Mount Pleasant Road in Lewisham, London, S.E [2] prior to his call up for service in the war. He appears to have enlisted in the Army early in the war but was not called up for service until the end of 1916. It is likely that he worked as a carpenter and joiner for a ship building firm and his civilian occupation was considered vital to the war effort during the early years. Following the tremendous losses by the British Army on the Somme in the summer of 1916 things changed. Men were needed badly and his essential civilian work had to take a back seat to the requirement for more men in uniform. His skills as a carpenter and joiner would have made him a prime candidate for enlistment in the Royal Engineers. Indeed, if he did work in the shipbuilding industry, that would explain why he was called up for service in a special branch of the Royal Engineers; namely, the Inland Water Transport.


The following is a description of Percival Charles Cave at the time he joined the Army in 1917:


25 years and 6 months.


5 feet 6 inches.


139 pounds.

Chest (expanded):

37 inches.

Chest (normal):

34 inches.

Distinctive Marks:


Vaccination Marks:

2 on the left arm.




Cave did not join the Colours immediately upon his enlistment. His entry on active service was deferred until late in 1916. On the 6th of December 1916 he received word to report to Camberwell for a medical examination prior to being called to active service. He was found fit for service, but again his call up was deferred for over two months. On the 13th of February 1917 he was finally called up for General Service with a term of service to last for the duration of the war. He received notice to report to the Officer in Charge of Inland Water Transport (I.W.T.) Recruiting in the War Office at 36, Victoria Street, London, S.W. at 10:30 a.m. on the 14th of February. For some unknown reason his reporting date was pushed back 24 hours and he reported on the 15th of February. This meeting with the Inland Water Transport Recruiting Officer apparently was a preliminary evaluation to determine if Cave was suitable for service in that branch of the Royal Engineers. He was determined to possess the necessary skills and the necessary standard of physical fitness to serve in the I.W.T. and was duly accepted by that organization. Again, however, the actual start of his military service was delayed another month and it was not until the 13th of March 1917 that 243837 Sapper P.C. Cave reported to the Depot of the Inland Waterways and Docks (I.W.& D.) at Richborough, Kent.


Cave apparently had sworn the Oath of Attestation before being called up because his service papers prepared in 1917 indicated the he was "joining" the forces and not "enlisting." He indicated on joining that he was married and that he had no prior naval or military service. On the 28th of February 1917, Captain Edgar de Normanville, Inland Water Transport, signed the Certificate of Approving Authority on Cave’s joining the forces at Sandwich, Kent, a town located approximately two miles south of the Inland Water Transport Depot at Richborough.

Richborough was the major center for Inland Water Transport units in the United Kingdom. A small coastal town on the southeast coast of Kent, Richborough was home to the following I.W.T. units:

Depot: Headquarters
Headquarters Richborough Depot Sanitary Establishment.
Depot Companies: 1 through 6
Workshop and Shipyard Companies: 11 through 17, 19 through 27, 37 through 40, and 43 through 48.
Construction Companies: HQ, 96, 97, 117, 118, 131, 132, 136, 141 and 142.
Marine Companies: HQ, 70 through 75.
Traffic Companies: HQ, 56 through 61.
Train Ferry Companies: HQ, 85 and 86.
Stores Companies: HQ, 90 and 91.
Accounts Company: 95.
Home Depot.

Cave’s service papers do not indicate to which unit of the Inland Water Transport he was assigned, but it appears that he remained at Richborough for most of 1917. In December of 1917 he was transferred to the I.W.T. Mesopotamia Reserve Unit in Glasgow, Scotland and on the 13th of December he embarked at Glasgow bound for Mesopotamia.

Cave arrived as Basra on the 18th of March 1918 where his Regimental Number was changed to WR/554399. Basra at that time was a town of 30,000 inhabitants, situated on the Shatt al Arab River 70 miles by water above the mouth of the river at Fao and 45 miles below the junction of the Tigris and Euphrates. The Inland Water Transport, R.E. in Mesopotamia, under Brigadier-General R.H.W. Hughes, C.S.I., C.M.G., D.S.O, [3] had its headquarters at Basra with sections and camps located at many places including Baghdad and all along the Persian Lines of Communication on the upper, middle and lower Euphrates River. The works carried out by the I.W.T. at Basra included the erection and staffing of a large dockyard capable of doing all the repairs necessary for river craft, the building of slipways, the excavation of a large wet basin, the construction of wharves and pipelines and the erection of oil tanks of reinforced concrete. All of this work was just a support function for the main purpose of the I.W.T., namely the transport of men and material from Basra to Baghdad and to all intermediate posts on the rivers of Mesopotamia. This mission entailed the maintenance of an ever-growing fleet of river craft and a new river conservancy, pilotage and bouyage [4].

From his service papers it appears that Cave was employed as a Ship’s Carpenter and Storekeeper in the Dockyards and Shipbuilding Section of the I.W.T. at Basra. He also appears to have worked as a General Construction Carpenter in the Dockyard. Cave’s O.C. at the time of his service in Mesopotamia was the Assistant Director (Dockyards) of the Inland Water Transport in Basra, Lieutenant Colonel H. Robertson, C.M.G., R.E.

Corporal Cave served in Mesopotamia until the 27th of November 1919 when he embarked on H.M.T. Chakdara for his passage to England. He reported to the Dispersal Unit at Purfleet, Essex on the 14th of January 1920 to process for demobilization.

For his service during the Great War of 1914-1918, Percival Charles Cave was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal [5].

Corporal Cave was not Mentioned in
Despatches as indicated by the oak leaf
emblem on the Victory Medal above.


a. Promotions: Percival Charles Cave received the following promotions during his time in service:

Date of Promotion or Appointment

Rank or Position

13 March 1917

Joined the Inland Water Transport,
Royal Engineers as a Sapper

8 December 1917

Appointed (Paid) Acting Corporal while
en route from Richborough to Glasgow [6].

13 December 1917

Reverted to substantive rank of Sapper [7].


Promoted Lance Corporal [8].


Appointed Acting Corporal [9].

b. Conduct: There is no record of Corporal Cave receiving a Good Conduct Badge during his time in service. On the 15th of November 1918 the Assistant Director, I.W.T. (Dockyard) in Basra completed Army Form W. 3225 (Particulars as to Character) for Cave. On this form the officer indicated that Cave was a "sober" and "very reliable" soldier. From this, and the fact that he served as an Acting Corporal, one may assume that his conduct was very good. Cave simply had not served long enough to merit a Good Conduct Badge.


a. Education: There is no record that Cave earned a Certificate of Education during his time in service. Cave’s commanding officer indicated on his Army Form W. 3225 that he was an "intelligent" soldier.

b. Qualifications: There is no record that Corporal Cave earned any special qualifications during his time in service except for the words of his commanding officer on his Army Form W. 3225 that indicate that Cave had a special aptitude "at carpentry work" or as "a storekeeper." Cave must also have been a competent junior non-commissioned officer. His commander also wrote that he possessed "good power of command and control" and that he was "tactful in handling men."


The following medical information was taken from Percival Charles Cave’s service records during his time in service:


Date of


Period of Hospitalization
or Treatment


6 December 1916

Medical examination

On joining the Army. Found fit for service in the I.W.T., R.E.

40th Base General Hospital, Basra [10]

25 May 1918


Discharged from hospital on 9 June 1918 to Base Convalescent Depot.

Base Convalescent Depot

9 June 1918


Discharged on 18 June 1918.

Purfleet, Essex

14 January 1920

Medical examination

On demobilization. Cave claimed no disability due to military service.


Percival Charles Cave married Elsie Lawrence on the 11th of December 1915 at St. Paul’s Church in Greenwich, London. There is no indication in his service papers that they had any children while he was serving in the Army. Mrs. Cave lived at 91 Mount Pleasant Road in Lewisham while Corporal Cave was serving in Mesopotamia.


Corporal Cave reported to the Dispersal Unit at Purfleet, Essex on the 14th of January 1920. There he was issued his Protection Certificate and Certificate of Identity and was processed for transfer to the Class "Z" Army Reserve on demobilization. Unfortunately the Protection Certificate and Certificate of Identity were completely illegible, having been badly watered damaged [11]. His total service was reckoned as shown in the tables below:


Period of Service

Richborough, Kent

13 March 1917 to 8 December 1917

Glasgow, Scotland

9 December 1917 to 13 December 1917

Basra, Mesopotamia

14 December 1917 to 14 January 1920


Period of Service

Home Service

275 days

Service Abroad

2 years and 31 days

Total Service

2 years and 306 days


No information is available concerning Percival Charles Cave after he left the Army in 1920 other than the fact that his British War Medal and Victory Medal were mailed to him at his residence at 91 Mount Pleasant Road in Lewisham on the 3rd of July 1922.



1. ADDISON, G.H. The Works of the Royal Engineers in the European War, 1914-1918. MISCELLANEOUS. The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, Kent, 1926.

2. HALL, L.J. The Inland Water Transport in Mesopotamia. Constable and Company Ltd., London, 1921.

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

4. SMITH, F. A Genealogical Gazetteer of England. Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., Baltimore, 1977.


Service Papers.

  1. War Officer letter dated 36, Victoria Street, London, S.W., 13 February 1917.
  2. Identity Certificate of Recruit (I.W.T. Form 18).
  3. Enrolment Paper (Record of Service).

1. Descriptive Report on Enrolment.
2. Statement of Service.
3. Casualty Form – Active Service.
4. Medical History.
5. Particulars as to Character.
6. Protection Certificate and Certificate of Identity.
7. Statement as to Disability.
8. Certificate of the Disposal of a Decoration.
9. Medal Index Card.


[1] Deptford was a part of the County of Kent at one time but today it is a part of the Greater London area. The town formed part of the archdiocese and diocese of Rochester and the principal religions included Baptists, Society of Friends, Independents, Wesleyan Methodists and Unitarians.

[2] The Parish of Lewisham also was part of the County of Kent before it was incorporated into the Greater London area. It formed part of the archdiocese and diocese of Rochester and the principal religions of the parish were Presbyterian, Independents and Wesleyan Methodists.

[3] Hughes was the Director of Inland Water Transport in Mesopotamia from May of 1917 until the end of the war. He was the Director while Corporal Cave was serving in Basra.

[4] For more details the reader is referred to The Inland Water Transport in Mesopotamia by Hall.

[5] Both of these medals are in the author’s collection.

[6] This acting appointment was made by authority of the Director of Inland Water Transport. Cave was probably put in charge of a draft of men being transferred from Richborough to Glasgow. Perhaps as the oldest, or most senior, or most competent, he was charged with the responsibility of getting the men to Scotland. Once they arrived at Glasgow it was no longer necessary for him to hold the rank of Corporal.

[7] He reverted to the rank of Sapper upon embarkation for Mesopotamia.

[8] This rank is shown on his Army Form W. 3225.

[9] Cave was appointed Acting Corporal again, probably while in Mesopotamia in 1918. His service papers are illegible in this area, hence no record of the date of his appointment could be found. His medals are named to him as an Acting Corporal.

[10] The British general hospital was located in the palace of the Shaikh of Mohammerah on the right bank of the Shatt al Arab River north of Ashar Creek.

[11] The water damage was caused by fire-fighting efforts during the Second World War.