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49523 (WR-27595) 2nd Corporal
Royal Engineers

© Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis, 2003

Except where otherwise noted, the data contained in this research were obtained from the military service papers of Robinson Adams, copies of which were obtained from the Public Record Office in Kew, Richmond, Surrey [1].

Early Life and Family Information

Robinson Adams was born in October 1885 in the Parish of Chester-le-Street, near the town of Chester-le-Street in the County of Durham [2]. Robinson was an engine fireman by trade and a member of the Church of England. At the time of his enlistment in the Army to serve in the Great War of 1914-1918, Robinson Adams’s father William was living in Lumley, New Winning [3]. He also had a brother, Robert, living at Victoria Place in Chester-le-Street.

There is no information regarding the Adams family contained either in the 1881 Census Records or in the Vital Records of the United Kingdom for the period 1538 to 1888.

Physical Description

At the time of his enlistment, Robinson Adams was 28 years and 11 months of age. He was described as being 5 feet 7-1/4 inches tall and weighed 140 pounds. He had a fresh complexion, blue eyes, dark brown hair, and no distinctive marks or scars.

Enlistment and Training

Robinson Adams was recruited in August of 1914 by Colour Sergeant J. Clarke of the Durham Light Infantry for a Short Service Enlistment of 3 years with the Colours. On the 4th of September he enlisted for General Service at Chester-le-Street. He took the Oath of Attestation on this date. The oath was certified by the Attesting Officer on the same date.

At the time of his enlistment, Adams indicated that he had never been imprisoned by civil power, that he had no former naval or military service, and that he had never previously been rejected as unfit for military service.

The Certificate of Medical Examination and the Certificate of Primary Military Examination were both issued for Adams at Chester-le-Street on the 4th of September. In the Certificate of Medical Examination he was found fit for service in the Army by W. Anderson Mc Kellar, M.B., Ch.B [4]. Adam’s Recruiting Officer (a Lieutenant, Royal Engineers whose name is not legible on the document) issued the Certificate of Primary Military Examination and pronounced him fit for service in the Royal Engineers.

On the 5th of September 1914, Robinson Adams’ attestation for service in the Royal Engineers was certified by the Approving Officer (a Colonel whose name is not legible on the document). Having met all the requirements for enlistment, Adams was assigned Regimental Number 49523 and the rank of Pioneer. After a saying his good-byes to his family and friends, he was then shipped off to his unit to receive training as an engineer soldier.

Assignments and Campaign Service

Pioneer Adams reported to the 92nd Field Company, Royal Engineers on the 8th of October 1914. The 92nd Field Company was assigned to the 24th Division when Adams first joined the unit. In January of 1915 the 92nd Field Company was reassigned to the 18th (Eastern) Division at Bordon in Hampshire, and shortly thereafter the company moved to Colchester in Essex [5].

On the 12th of May 1915 the 92nd Field Company, along with all the units of the 18th Division, moved from Colchester to Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire where more space was available for division level training and maneuvers. By the 26th of June, the 18th Division was considered ready for deployment to the front. On that day His Majesty King George V inspected Pioneer Adams and the other men of the 92nd Field Company at Codford in Wiltshire [6]. Within a month following the King’s inspection, the company embarked to join the other units of the British Expeditionary Force already in France.

Adams’ company landed in France on the 28th of July 1915 and proceeded immediately to Boulogne. By the 30th of July the company was located near Flesselles, south of Doullens, just 15 miles from the front line trenches. The unit worked on defensive positions in the 18th Division sector of the front for the remainder of 1915 and into early 1916.

In the early spring of 1916 the 92nd Field Company was making preparations for a British offensive that was to take place in July of that year. At this time the 18th Division made up part of the XIII Corps [7] in the British Fourth Army [8]. The Commander Royal Engineers (CRE) of the 18th Divisional Engineers was Lieutenant Colonel H.G. Joly de Lotbinière.

The men of the 92nd Field Company saw their first major action in the great British offensive on the Somme. The offensive began on the 1st of July 1916, with the preliminary phase of the battle lasting until the 13th of July. The assault of the 18th Division was remarkably successful on the first day of the battle and by the end of the day the division had secured its final objective. Two sections of each field company in the division were allotted to the infantry brigades for the consolidation of captured positions. They began work before nightfall on the 1st of July. During the night, the companies made much progress in opening up communications and clearing roads and tracks from the division’s forward positions to the rear areas.

As will be noted in the next section of this narrative, Adams was promoted to the rank of 2nd Corporal on the 14th of July. This promotion was made so that he could be a replacement for a 2nd Corporal named Maplethorpe who was wounded during the Somme offensive [9]. On the day of his promotion, the company was in action at near Trones Wood in the Bazentin area. While elements of the company were involved at Bazentin, other sections of the 92nd Field Company were seeing action in the Battle of Delville Wood, which had begun on the 15th of July. The Battle of Bazentin ended on the 17th of July, but the action at Delville Wood continued until the 3rd of September 1916.

2nd Corporal Adams was admitted to hospital on the 7th of September 1916 and was released to No. 4 General Base Depot on the 11th of September. At this point his service papers are unclear, but it appears that he returned to England, possibly for recuperation. His papers do not indicate if his hospitalization was due to wounds, injury or illness [10].

Adams appears to have spent all of 1917 in the U.K. Following his recuperation he was assigned to the 198th Quarrying Company, Royal Engineers. This unit was in France at the time of the Armistice; hence, it appears that Adams returned to the front to complete his service. His assignment to the 198th Quarrying Company entailed a change in his Regimental Number to a War Reserve number (WR-27595), due no doubt to his restricted physical capabilities as a result of whatever caused him to be hospitalized in September of 1916. His classification as a "Skilled Engine Driver" made him very useful to a quarrying company, since such units had rock crushers and other heavy equipment items needed to produce crushed stone for road construction purposes.

Promotions, Appointments, Conduct and Education

Promotions: Robinson Adams received the following promotions during his time in service:

Date of Promotion



4 September 1915

Paid Lance Corporal

17 August 1915

2nd Corporal

14 July 1916

Appointments: Adams received the following skill classifications during his time in service:



"Proficient" Engine Driver [11]

1 November 1915

Remustered as a Lance Corporal (Sapper) [12]

2 November 1915

"Skilled" Engine Driver [13]

31 March 1918

Adams’ classification as an Engine Driver was most likely the result of skills acquired by him as an Engine Fireman prior to enlisting in the Army.

Conduct: Robinson Adams’ service papers give not indication of his conduct while on active service. His rapid promotions to Lance Corporal and 2nd Corporal would seem to indicate that his conduct was at least "good" if not "very good."


There is no indication in Adams’ service papers of any specialized training or the earning of any certificates of education while he was serving with the Colours.

Medical Information

The results of a medical examination administered at the time of his enlistment indicated that Adams’ chest measured 33-1/2 inches normally and 36-1/2 inches expanded. His pulse rate was 70 beats per minute and his physical development was described as good. Adams had four vaccination marks on his right arm and none on his left arm. These marks were the result of childhood vaccinations against smallpox. His vision was rated as 6/6 in both eyes. He had no congenital defects, signs of previous disease, or any physical or mental defects that would cause him to be rejected for military service.

It appears that Adams was seriously injured or became seriously ill in September of 1916. If he was injured, it appears that his injury was not considered to be a combat related wound. His service papers are not clear on the nature of his disability, but it was cause for his reclassification into a lower medical category [14].

Marriage and Personal Information

Robinson Adams married Ethel Elliott at Chester-le-Street Church in 1910. Witnesses to their marriage were William and Evelyn Brownlee. After their marriage the Adams continued to reside in Chester-le-Street where Robinson worked as a fireman.

Ethel Adams gave birth to a son on the 1st of August 1913. The child was named Lancelot. Lancelot Adams was baptized at Chester-le-Street Church.


On the 17th of February 1919 Adams was issued a Certificate of Identity that indicated his Medical Category as B.III. This medical category indicated that he was "unfit for general service." On the 16th of March 1919 he was transferred to the Class "Z" Army Reserve in London. At the time of his demobilization he indicated that his home address was 15 Church Close in Chester-le-Street, County Durham [15].

For his service during the Great War, Robinson Adams was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal [16].



The 1901 British Census verifies that Robinson Adams was born in Chester-le-Street, County Durham. The census record shows the following details:(*)

Civil Parish:


Ecclesiastical Parish:

St. Mary and St. Cuthbert, Chester-le-Street

Parliamentary Borough or Division:


Administrative County:


At the time of the 1901 Census, Robinson Adams was 15 years old and living with his parents at Middle Chase, Chester-le-Street, County Durham. He was an employed Coal Screener Above.(+) His father, William Adams, had been born in Easingwold, Yorkshire and was 50 years of age at the time of the census. William Adams's occupation is listed as an Umbrella Repairer working on his own account at home. Robinson's mother, Elizabeth Adams, had been born in Ingleton, County Durham and was 53 years old at the time of the census.

In addition to Robinson, William and Elizabeth Adams had four other children: Robert, 26 years old, an employed Mineral Water Cartman; Hannah, 22 years old, an employed Domestic General Servant; Mary, 17 years old, employed at a Topping Jam Confectionery Works; and Evlyn, 13 year old. Robert, Hannah and Mary had been born in Sunderland, County Durham. Evlyn was born in Chester-le-Street.


(*) PRO Reference. RG Number, Series RG13, Piece 4698, Folio 134, Page 20, Schedule Number 131.

(+) The precise meaning of this terminology is not known. Presumable the "Above" refers to above ground rather than in a mine.


1. Service Papers (from Burned Records) of 2nd Corporal Robinson Adams, Royal Engineers, including:

a. Short Service Attestation Form (Army Form B. 2065).

b. Description on Enlistment.

c. Trade and Special Qualifications Record.

d. Protection Certificate and Certificate of Identity.

e. Medical History (Army Form B.178).

f. Casualty Form (Army Form B. 103).

g. Statement of Services

h. Military History Sheet.

2. Battle Honours of the Royal Engineers. The Royal Engineers Journal. The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, Kent, 1925-1932.

3. General Staff, G.H.Q. Order of Battle of the British Armies in France (Including Lines of Communication Units), November 11, 1918.

4. LETTS, C. Roadbook of Britain. Charles Letts and Company Limited, London, 1977.

5. ROYAL ENGINEERS. History of the Corps of Royal Engineers. Volume V. The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, Kent, 1952.

6. ADDISON, G.H. The Work of the Royal Engineers in the European War, 1914-1918. Miscellaneous. The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, Kent, 1926.

7. NICHOLS, G.H.F. The 18th Division in the Great War. William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh and London, 1922.


[1] Papers retrieved from the Public Record Office ("burnt records") courtesy of Mr. Stuart Gase of West Drayton, Middlesex.

[2] Chester-le-Street is a town located approximately 9 miles south of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and 9 miles southwest of Sunderland. The town was visited by the author in 1988.

[3] Neither Lumley nor New Winning appears on modern day maps of the United Kingdom. It is assumed that they were located in County Durham near the turn of the 20th century.

[4] M.B.: Bachelor of Medicine. Ch.B.: Bachelor of Surgery.

[5] Other engineer units in the 18th Division included the 18th Divisional Signal Company and the 79th and 80th Field Companies, Royal Engineers. The 8th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment was the division’s Pioneer Battalion.

[6] On present day maps of England, Codford is known as Codford St. Mary.

[7] The Chief Engineer of XIII Corps was Brigadier General S.H. Powell.

[8] The Chief Engineer of the British Fourth Army was Major General R.U.H. Buckland.

[9] Maplethorpe appears to have survived the war as his name does not appear in the Royal Engineers volume of Soldiers Died in the Great War.

[10] Adams’ Military History Sheet in his service papers shows no entry regarding any wounds. One may assume that he had been accidentally injured or perhaps was taken seriously ill.

[11] This classification was given to Adams by the Officer in Charge, Royal Engineer Records.

[12] This reclassification was done at the request of Adams’ Company Commander, Captain R.G. Wright, R.E. Adams was remustered from the rank of Lance Corporal (Pioneer) to Lance Corporal (Sapper). This reclassification action was significant. It indicated that Captain Wright considered Adams to possess the more significant field engineering skills of a Sapper rather than the lesser skills of a Pioneer.

[13] This reclassification took place while Adams was serving with the 198th Quarrying Company, Royal Engineers. At the time of this reclassification, his Regimental Number was changed to WR-27595, a War Reserve number usually issued to overage men or to men whose physical capabilities were no longer acceptable for front line duty. Since Adams was not overage, the reclassification had to be due to a physical disability. The date of his reclassification as a "Skilled" Engine Driver may coincide with the date of his assignment to the 198th Quarrying Company.

[14] Category B.III.

[15] Presumably his wife and child were living at this address while he was in France.

[16] Adams’ Victory Medal is in the author’s collection. The whereabouts of the 1914-15 Star and British War Medal are unknown.