Home Page

6027 SERGEANT MAJOR DAVID W. STEWART
ROYAL ENGINEERS
by
Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis, 1999

Early Life and Enlistment (1836 - 1860)

David Stewart was born in the Parish of Letham, in the County of Perth, Scotland in 1836. Prior to enlisting in the Army, he worked as a mason.

Stewart was enlisted in the Royal Engineers on the 31st of March 1859 at Glasgow, in the County of Lanark, Scotland. On the date of his enlistment he was described as having a fair complexion, brown hair and blue eyes. His chest measurement was 36 inches and his muscular development was described as good. On the day of his medical examination Stewart’s pulse was 72 beats per minute and his respiration 18 inspirations per minute. The examining doctor noted that he had no small pox marks on his body and that he had been vaccinated, as evidenced by three vaccination marks on his left arm. Nevertheless, he was re-vaccinated after his enlistment. Stewart was determined to be fit for military service.

On the 1st of April 1859 David Stewart attested for service in the Royal Engineers. He was assigned Regimental Number 6027 and the rank of Sapper, and was sent to Brompton Barracks at Chatham, Kent for his period of basic training as an engineer soldier.

Service at Shorncliffe (1860 - 1862)

After about a year in training at Chatham, Sapper Stewart was assigned to duties at Shorncliffe Camp near Dover. He was promoted to the rank of 2nd Corporal on the 1st of April 1861. On the 10th of June 1861 Stewart was admitted to hospital at Shorncliffe with a fever resulting from an unknown infection. After treatment, he was released back to duty on the 27th of June. 2nd Corporal Stewart continued to serve in England for about six more months before being ordered to service overseas.

Service in Bermuda (1862 - 1867)

Stewart arrived in Bermuda on the 16th of January 1862. Although his service papers do not indicate his unit of assignment, it is probable that he was assigned to a fortress company of the Royal Engineers; a unit commonly stationed on the island of Bermuda during this period in the 19th century. The mission of the fortress companies was to assist in the defences of naval bases established on islands and at mainland harbours.

On the 1st of April 1862 Stewart was awarded Good Conduct Pay at the rate of 1.d. per day. Shortly thereafter, on the 1st of October 1862, he was promoted to the rank of Corporal.

The effects of climate took their toll on many men assigned to Bermuda and other tropical stations in the 19th century. In those days Bermuda was not the tropical paradise and vacation spot that it is today. Stewart was stricken with yellow fever and hospitalized on the 20th of August 1864. He was fortunate to have recovered from this potentially deadly disease and was released back to duty on the 12th of September. He continued his duties on Bermuda and was promoted to the rank of Sergeant on the 1st of February 1866.

Service in Canada (1867 - 1868)

Sergeant Stewart proceeded directly to a new posting in Canada after having served for a total of 5 years and 119 days in Bermuda. He arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia on the 13th of February 1867. As Halifax was a seacoast town, it is probable that Stewart was again assigned to a fortress company there.

On the 1st of April 1867 Sergeant Stewart became eligible for Good Conduct Pay at the rate of 2.d. On the 4th of July 1868 he re-engaged at Halifax to complete 11 years and 270 days with the Colours. After serving a total of 1 year and 144 days in Canada, Sergeant Stewart was posted home.

Home Service (1868 - 1880)

Sergeant Stewart arrived in England in September of 1868 and was immediately posted to Chatham, where he was assigned to the 38th Field Company, Royal Engineers. After a short stay in Chatham, he was posted to Ireland to serve under the Commander Royal Engineers (C.R.E.) Belfast.

On the 26th of July 1869 Sergeant Stewart was appointed a probationary Military Foreman of Works. Stewart became eligible for Good Conduct Pay at the rate of 3.d. per day on the 1st of April 1871 and was promoted to the rank of Quartermaster Sergeant and appointed to the position of 2nd Class Military Foreman of Works on the 5th of March 1872. He then became eligible for Good Conduct Pay at the rate of 4.d. on the 1st of April 1875.

In April of 1877 Quartermaster Sergeant Stewart completed 18 years of service with the Colours and became eligible to receive the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. He was promoted to the rank of Sergeant Major on the 6th of May 1878 and became eligible for Good Conduct Pay at the rate of 5.d. on the 1st of April 1880.

At this point it is interesting to summarize Stewart’s military service with regard to promotions and Good Conduct Pay to understand what an outstanding soldier he must have been in the eyes of his superiors. The following table is helpful in this regard:

Date of Event

Description of Event

Number of Years Since Enlistment

01 Apr 1861

Promoted 2nd Corporal

2 years exactly

01 Apr 1862

Good Conduct Pay at 1.d.

3 years exactly

01 Oct 1862

Promoted Corporal

3 years and 6 months

01 Feb 1866

Promoted Sergeant

6 years and 10 months

01 Apr 1867

Good Conduct Pay at 2.d.

8 years exactly

01 Apr 1871

Good Conduct Pay at 3.d.

12 years exactly

05 Mar 1872

Promoted Q.M. Sergeant

12 years and 11 months

01 Apr 1875

Good Conduct Pay at 4.d.

16 years exactly

06 May 1878

Promoted Sergeant Major

19 years and 1 month

01 Apr 1880

Good Conduct Pay at 5.d.

21 years exactly

It should be noted that Stewart became eligible for each increment of Good Conduct Pay on the anniversary of his enlistment. Such consistency over a 21 years period indicates that he had absolutely no infractions of any kind on his record with regard to conduct.

Discharge (1880)

Upon completing 21 years of service in April of 1880, Sergeant Major Stewart claimed discharge upon termination of his second period of limited engagement. This request was probably a disappointment to his superiors, as a senior non-commissioned officer of his quality would have readily been granted permission to serve beyond 21 years if he chose to do so. On the 23rd of July a Regimental Discharge Board convened at Belfast to consider his request. The Board consisted of the following three officers of the 16th (Bedfordshire) Regiment of Foot:

Board President: Captain W.H. Young

Board Member: Lieutenant L.C. Grubbe

Board Member: Lieutenant C.E.S. Lean

On the day the Board convened, Sergeant Major Stewart had served 21 years and 119 days with the Colours. He had served abroad for 6 years and 263 days. The Board noted that he had never been tried by court-martial and that his name had never been entered in the Regimental Defaulters’ Book. His conduct and character during his career were described as "very good."

Stewart’s service papers showed that he was in possession of one Good Conduct Badge which he had earned before being promoted to the rank of Sergeant. Furthermore, he would have received a total of five Good Conduct Badges had he not been promoted to the rank of Sergeant. He was also in possession of the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal and a First Class Certificate of Education.

As he prepared to leave the Army, Sergeant Major Stewart’s commanding officer, Colonel R.H. Strotherd, R.E., Commander Royal Engineers in Belfast, had this to say about him:

" Habits and conduct in the service most satisfactory. Thoroughly temperate and trustworthy & zealous in the performance of his duties."

Colonel Strotherd reviewed and approved the proceedings of the Discharge Board at Belfast on the 24th of July 1880. Stewart’s discharge was finally approved at the Headquarters of the Irish Command in Dublin on the 10th of August 1880. On this date Stewart’s final service was reckoned at 21 years and 132 days.

At the time of his discharge he was described as being 42 years of age, his discharge papers indicating that he had been 21 years of age when he enlisted. This information is in conflict with his enlistment papers which indicate that he was 23 years of age when he joined the Army. Stewart’s further description on discharge indicates that he was 5 feet 6 inches tall, with a fresh complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. His distinguishing marks or scars included a cicatrix on the left arm and a large scar on the right breast.

Sergeant Major Stewart appears to have had no war service and was not eligible for any campaign medals. The Military History Sheet is missing from his service papers, so there is no information available about whether he was married or had any children.

Sergeant Major Stewart indicated at the time of his discharge that his intended place of residence was to be 130 Great Georges Street in Edinburgh, Scotland.

REFERENCES

Books

1. CONOLLY, T.W.J. Roll of Officers of the Corps of Royal Engineers From 1660 to 1898. The Royal Engineers Institute, Chatham, Kent, 1898.
2. GRIERSON, J.M. Scarlet Into Khaki: The British Army on the Eve of the Boer War. Greenhill Books, London, 1988.
3. 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

WO97/1856. Soldier’s Service Papers. Public Record Office, London.

a. W.O. Form 83. Proceedings of a Regimental Discharge Board.
b. Form F. Medical History.
c. Detailed Statement of Services.

Maps

1. AUTOMOBILE ASSOCIATION. AA Motorists Atlas of Great Britain. Basingstoke, 1984.
2. BAEDEKER, K. Great Britain Handbook for Travellers. Karl Baedeker, Publisher, Leipzig, 1910.