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27061 Mechanist Quartermaster Sergeant

Royal Engineers

1. Early Life (1860 – 1892)

George Baldwin was born in January of 1860 at Chatham, Kent, the location of Brompton Barracks and the Headquarters of the Corps of Royal Engineers. [1]   It appears that he spent the early years of his life living in London working on tugboats on the River Thames or the River Medway where he eventually became the Master of one such boat. [2]

George Baldwin married Rachel Eliza Bloom at St. Thomas’s Church in Stepney, London on the 14th of February 1881.  Over the next 14 years the Baldwins had three sons and two daughters: George Arthur (born 16 November 1885), James Alexander (born 28 April 1889) Frederick Thomas (born 12 March 1891), Francis Alice May (born 5 July 1893) and Rachel Elizabeth (born 30 October 1895). [3]  

2. Enlistment and First Period of Service (1892 – 1899)

In the autumn of 1892 George Baldwin decided that he wanted to join the Army.  He was recruited by a Quartermaster Sergeant Lewis of the Army Staff in London and on the 30th of September 1892 he was given a physical examination that found him fit for military service.  The following is a description of George Baldwin at the time of his enlistment:


5 feet 5¾ inches


170 pounds

Apparent age:

33 years

Chest Measurement (normal):

38 inches

Chest Measurement (expanded):

40 inches







Distinctive Marks:

Scar on left forehead

             A Certificate of Final Medical Examination was issued for Baldwin on the date of his examination, thereby concluding the first step towards his enlistment.  Baldwin was almost 33 years of age when he enlisted and one wonders why he was allowed to join the Army when the upper age limit for recruits at that time was 25 years. [4]   The answer probably lies in the fact that as a Tug Master, Baldwin was a trained coxswain, a skill much in demand at that time by the Submarine Miners of the Royal Engineers.

Following his medical examination, Baldwin was given about two weeks to get his personal affairs in order before reporting to St. George’s Barracks in London.  He attested for service in the Royal Engineers on the 12th of October 1892.  His was a long service enlistment of 12 years with the Colours. [5]   His attestation was witnessed by Corporal A.S. Milne of the 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards.

Baldwin was required to answer the usual questions put to recruits on enlistment.  He indicated to the Recruiting Officer that his age was 32 years and 10 months and that his civilian trade was Tug Master.  He stated that he was not an apprentice, that he was married, and that his religion was Church of England.  He further indicated that he had never been imprisoned by civil power and that he had no prior naval or military service.

All of the administration associated with Baldwin’s attestation was completed on the 12th of October.  His Certificate of Primary Military Examination was issued at St. George’s Barracks and he was declared fit for service in the Royal Engineers.  The certification of the Approving Field Officer also was issued on this date and Baldwin was assigned Regimental Number 27061 and the rank of Sapper.  It is interesting to note that he was promoted on the same day to the rank of Company Sergeant Major (Mechanist), [6] undoubtedly due to his age, experience and civilian skill as Master of a tugboat.

Company Sergeant Major Baldwin reported for duty to Sheerness, Kent on the 17th of October 1892.  Upon his arrival at Sheerness he reported to the 39th (Submarine Mining) Company, Royal Engineers commanded by Captain D.A. Mills.  This company was under the control of the Commander Royal Engineers (CRE) of the Sheerness sub-district, Thames District, Eastern Command of the Royal Engineers.  The headquarters of the 39th Company was at High Street, Blue Town in Sheerness.

George Baldwin spent the next 7 years at Sheerness as the Company Sergeant Major of the 39th (Submarine Mining) Company, R.E.  During this period he saw many company commanders arrive and depart.  The following is a list of the officers who commanded the 39th Company while Baldwin was serving with the unit:  

Commanding Officer

Dates in Command

Captain D.A. Mills

April 1889 – November 1893

Lieutenant F.P. Rundle

November 1893 – May 1894

Captain G. Le Breton Simmons

May 1894 – January 1897

Captain R.F. Edwards

January 1897 – October 1897

Captain E.G. Young

October 1897 – October 1899

             Company Sergeant Major Baldwin pursued his studies while he performed his duties with the company.  On the 19th of November 1894 he was awarded a 2nd Class Certificate of Education. [7]  

            His wife and family were with him at Sheerness and his wife was most certainly on the married establishment due to the fact that he was married when he enlisted and was serving in the grade  Warrant Officer Class 2 from the beginning of his enlistment. [8]

            CSM Baldwin’s records do not contain his Medical History and the only medical information available on him is the fact that he was hospitalized on the 2nd of September 1896 with a sprained right ankle, probably the result of an accident during training.  A court of inquiry was held on the 6th of October 1896, the results of which are not stated in his service papers.  It may be concluded, however, that the court found the injury to be in the line of duty and not due to any misdeed on his part. [9]  

            Baldwin continued his duties with the 39th Company and was promoted to the rank of Quartermaster Sergeant (Military Mechanist) [10] on the 12th of October 1898.  It is very likely that he spent a good deal of time at Shornmead Fort on the south bank of the River Thames, only a short distance from Sheerness.  Shornmead became the home of the Submarine Mining Establishment in the 1890’s.  A complex of test rooms and control rooms was attached to the eastern end of the casemates of the fort and was manned by the Submarine Miners.  The complex allowed the detonation of a system of submarine mines anchored to the riverbed adjacent to the fort by an observer on top of the fort.  Shornmead served as a training establishment for the Thames and Medway Submarine Miners and made use of ten tug boats that were hired from Gravesend to practice mine laying in the rivers.
            In rank of Quartermaster Sergeant (Military Mechanist), Baldwin performed the duties of Coxswain on one of the many boats operated by the Submarine Miners of the Royal Engineers.  The following excerpt from Lieutenant Colonel W. Baker Brown’s book History of Submarine Mining of the British Army provides details concerning the vessels and boats on which Baldwin worked during the period: [11]

“The vessels and boats used for submarine mining service may be classified as laying-out vessels, launches, lighters, junction-box boats, and small boats.  The last comprised cutters, gigs, and dinghies of usual types; junction-box boats were usually fitted with sails.  The lighters first used were old mortar boats of Crimean days, but a good type of iron lighter about 70’ long and 25’ wide was afterwards supplied.  It had two large derricks for lifting mines, two good hand crabs, [12] and capacious holds in which mines or sinkers could be stowed.  Some were also used for storing main cables, in which case the cables were laid out direct from the lighter.

 The launches were at first old 42’ naval pinnaces fitted with a boiler in the well and small twin propellers.  They were fairly handy for laying E.C. mines, [13] but their weak point was in raising mines, as they had only a small hand crab.  They were only half-decked and were not very seaworthy.  They were replaced by a good type of working launch about 50’ on the water line, with steam crab, bow derrick, and fully decked.  Such a launch could carry on deck, sling, and lay out a group of E.C. mines, but was best employed for junction-box moorings and group cables, also in picking up and laying dormant buoys, towing junction-box boats, and similar duties.  There were also some smaller fast launches for towing, transport of officers, etc.

The first laying-out vessels were lent by the Navy; they were tugs of all descriptions, generally paddle wheel, and were mostly very little adapted for the work.  The first specially designed boat was built in 1875 by Messrs. J. & W. Dudgeon, of Millwall, to designs based on recommendations of the Torpedo Committee.  This was the beginning of the well-known Miner class, some of which survived for 30 years.  These were 65’ long, 15’ beam, draught of water 4’6”, tonnage 67 tons, and H.P. 30 nominal.  They had a good steam winch and small chart house on deck, and were subsequently fitted with a bow derrick.  They were all thoroughly overhauled in 1894 or thereabouts, and fitted with a bridge and two side davits.  Thus equipped, they were especially fitted for laying E.C. mines, of which they could carry four groups.

The larger laying-out vessels were first introduced in 1885, when the vessels of the Gordon class were started by Colonel Malcom. [14]   These were 80’ long on the water line, with 18’ beam and a tonnage of 100 to 120 tons, and were fitted with single screws and turn-about rudders.  The first two built were called Medina and Solent, but the former was re-named Gordon.  Most of the subsequent vessels were also named after distinguished R.E. officers, especially those who had been interested in the Submarine Mining Service.

Of the Gordon class there were the Solent, Lord Heathfield, Burgoyne, Victor, Empress, and Dundas.  Then there followed a rather smaller class, Sir John Jones, Sir Richard Fletcher, Sir William Reid, Sir Francis Head, Sir William Green, and General Elliott, General Skinner, and Napier of Magdala.  Then a rather larger group with numerous variations in detail, the Sir Charles Pasley, Sir Howard Elphinstone, Sir Frederick Chapman, Sir Henry Harness, Sir Lothian Nicholson, Sir William Jervois, General Stotherd, and Armstrong.  Finally ending with two named Pennar and Haslar, after the neighbourhood of the submarine mining establishments at Pembroke and Gosport.  All the above survived to the end of the service.

The larger boats had two masts fitted with mast derricks, in addition to a bow derrick.  There was also a large steam crab with horizontal and vertical drums, a big bow joggle or fairlead over which the cable was led when picking up, cleats at suitable intervals down the side, and a slinging rail under the gunwale for attaching flakes of chain or cable.  The engines were compounded with twin screws.  There was generally an officer’s cabin at one end used by the coxswain if no officers were on board, and living accommodation at the other for the crew.

 The usual crew was a coxswain, two or three deck hands according to size, two engine drivers and two stokers for the engine room, and a cook who gave a hand on deck on heavy days.  A third engine driver was sometimes put on board for the day to attend the steam crab.  The larger vessels could carry six or eight groups of E.C. mines, or an equivalent of observations mines, and were capable of working in fairly rough weather.”

As the Coxswain of one of these vessels, Quartermaster Sergeant Baldwin was the senior non-commissioned officer aboard and was also responsible for steering the boat during submarine mining operations.  There was a considerable amount of responsibility associated with this position, not only with handling a large and expensive vessel, but also with the handling of the highly explosive mines carried on board.  On the 10th of May 1899, QMS Baldwin committed one of the gravest offences that a senior non-commissioned officer could commit; he was discovered to be drunk on duty.  On the 6th of June 1899 he was convicted by court martial of being drunk on duty and was reduced to the rank of Sapper.  That his drunkenness was considered a very serious offence is evident by the fact that he was not simply reduced to the rank of Staff Sergeant, Sergeant or even Corporal.  He was reduced all the way down to the rank of Sapper, the lowest enlisted rank in the Corps of Royal Engineers.  At the same time he forfeited 1d of the 2d Good Conduct Pay that he was earning. [15] , [16]  

            George Baldwin returned to duty as a Sapper on the day after his court martial.  On the 21st of July 1899 he transferred to the First Class Army Reserve at his own request as a result of his reduction to the ranks.  He was issued deferred pay amounting to £15-10s-6d before leaving active service with the Submarine Miners.

3. Recalled to the Colours (1900 – 1901)

On the 26th of December 1900, during one of the darkest periods of the British Army’s operations against the Boers in South Africa, George Baldwin was called up from the Army Reserve and rejoined the Colours as a Sapper in the Royal Engineers.  He was recalled under the Special Army Order dated 20 December 1899.  He reported for duty at Brompton Barracks where he was assigned to “M” Company (Submarine Mining) under Major A.H. Van Straubenzee, R.E.  On the 10th of November 1900, Sapper Baldwin had his Good Conduct Pay restored to 2d per day.

            On the 1st of April 1901, “M” Company became the cadre for the Brennan Torpedo School.  On the introduction of the Brennan Torpedo, a special course of instruction was arranged for handling the mechanism and looking after the gear, while selected engine drivers were taught to use the special apparatus fitted in the Brennan engine room.  This work was especially confidential, and every officer and man had to sign a declaration of secrecy.

            Sapper Baldwin was discharged from the Army on the 20th of June 1901, only two and a half months after the formation of the Brennan Torpedo School.  He was discharged free of further military obligation with a total of only 8 years and 252 days of service.  Perhaps his previous bad habit of excessive drinking had not been completely conquered and he was considered to be unreliable for further service in the sensitive area of the Brennan Torpedo.  Without any field engineering skills and perhaps due to his age (he was then 40 and a half years old), a place could not be found for him to serve.  These may have been the reasons for his early discharge, free of any further service requirement under his 12-year enlistment. 

No further information is known about George Baldwin following his discharge from the Army.  It is likely that he returned to his previous trade as a crewmember of a tugboat on the Thames or the Medway.  His drinking problem, if it was a serious one, may have precluded him from returning to his former occupation as a Tug Master.  He appears to have been much affected by his problem with drink and was so shamed by his reduction in rank as a result of his drinking that he turned his life around and remained sober for the rest of his days. [17]   George Baldwin made it very clear to his three sons that they would be wise not to follow his example in that regard and in fact insisted that they did.  All three heeded their father’s warning and went on to become sober, successful senior non-commissioned officers in the Royal Engineers, with one of the sons, James Alexander, receiving a commission as a Lieutenant during the Second World War.     


[1] The fact that George Baldwin was born at Chatham and enlisted in the Royal Engineers could indicate that his father was also a Sapper.  Unfortunately, a check of the 1881 British Census and National Index did not turn up any information on his parents, so this assumption could not be verified.

[2] Baldwin listed his occupation on his military attestation papers as Tug Master when he enlisted in the Royal Engineers in 1892.

[3] It is of interest to note that the 1881 British Census recorded a George Baldwin (age 21) and Rachel Baldwin (age 19) living at 63 Kerbey Street in Poplar, London, Middlesex at the time of the census.  George Baldwin’s occupation was listed as “Seaman.”  The census indicates that the Baldwin’s had an infant son, Henry R., who was two weeks old when the census was taken.  It is believed that this is the same George Baldwin, the subject of this narrative.  Since no Henry R. Baldwin appears in George Baldwin’s military service record, it may be assumed that Henry died at a young age before George enlisted in the Royal Engineers.  This assumption is further borne out by a story told to Ronald Baldwin by his father.  James Baldwin told his son Ronald that he (James) had had a younger brother who died as a child when he fell out of a tree.  Although Ronald Baldwin was never told, or cannot remember, the name of this other uncle, it seems likely that his father was referring to his brother Henry who is listed in the household in the 1881 Census.  

[4] See Age and Physical Requirements for Soldiers in the British Army (Victorian Period).

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

[6] See Royal Engineers Ranks.

[7] See Certificates of Education.

[8] See Marriage of Soldiers During the Victorian Period.

[9] Courts of inquiry were common during the Victorian period whenever a soldier was injured and lost time away from his duties.  The courts apparently deliberated on the cause of any accidental injury to determine whether it was the result of misconduct on the part of the soldier.  Being drunk on duty or brawling were two common reasons for a soldier’s injury to be considered not in the line of duty.

[10] See Royal Engineer Ranks.

[11] Baker Brown, p. 233-234.

[12] Winches.

[13] Electrical cable command detonated mines.

[14] Colonel E.D. Malcolm, CB.  Joined the Submarine Miners in 1870.  Served in the Indian Mutiny, 1857-1858, Instructor in Telegraphy, 1876, and Inspector of Submarine Defences, War Office, 1881-1884.   

[15] See Good Conduct Pay.

[16] Baldwin’s record does not indicate when he received his first or his second Good Conduct Badge.  What is also curious is the fact that he received good conduct pay at all, since he was a senior non-commissioned officer from the day he enlisted, and good conduct pay was not normally awarded to soldiers after promotion to the rank of Sergeant.

[17] Personal correspondence from Ronald J. Baldwin, 29 May 2002.