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7533 Sapper
ALFRED OSMOND
Royal Engineers

by
Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis
2002. All Rights Reserved.

1. INTRODUCTION

Unless otherwise noted, the details supplied in this narrative were obtained from the soldier’s service papers found in WO97/3597 at the Public Record Office at Kew, Richmond, Surrey.

2. EARLY LIFE AND FAMILY INFORMATION

Alfred Osmond was born in the Parish of Marylebone [1], in the town of London, in the County of Middlesex in April of 1842 [2]. Alfred grew up in the London area and as a young man he worked as a plasterer and bricklayer. At the time of his enlistment in the Army in 1863, Alfred was living in the Parish of St. Margaret’s in the County of Middlesex [3].

3. PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION

The following is a description of Alfred Osmond at the time he enlisted in the Army in 1863 [4]:

Age:

21 years and 11 months

Height:

5 feet 6 inches

Chest measurement:

35 inches

Pulse:

90 beats per minute [5]

Respiration:

21 inspirations per minute

Complexion:

Fresh

Eyes:

Grey

Hair:

Brown

Distinctive marks:

None

Vaccination marks:

Vaccinated as an infant

4. ENLISTMENT AND TRAINING

Alfred Osmond was recruited for service in the Army by Sergeant R. Griffiths of the Royal Engineers [6]. Osmond enlisted at Westminster at 3:30 p.m. on the 27th of March 1863 with the promise of a bounty of 2 and a free kit [7]. His enlistment was for an initial period of engagement of 12 years with the Colours [8].

On the day of his enlistment Osmond answered the usual questions put to the recruit by the Recruiting Officer of Non-Commissioned Officer. He indicated that he was not an apprentice and that he was not married. He was not a member of the Militia, Volunteer Force, Royal Navy or any regiment or corps of the Army, he had never been marked with the letter "D" as a deserter, and had never been rejected as unfit for service on any previous enlistment.

Alfred Osmond swore the Oath of Attestation in front of a Justice of the Peace at Westminster Police Court at 4:15 p.m. on the 28th of March 1863. His attestation was witnessed by Sergeant Griffiths. A Surgeon Major issued a Medical Certificate for Osmond on this same date and he was declared fit for military service. His enlistment was then certified by the Recruiting Officer, Captain M.J. Wheatley, R.E. [9]

Final approval for Osmond’s enlistment was given at Horse Guards in London on the 30th of March 1863. The certification of his commanding officer was issued on the 2nd of April 1863 when he was given Regimental Number 7553 and the rank of Sapper in the Royal Engineers. Osmond’s attestation papers were received by the office of the Adjutant General, Royal Engineers on the 9th of April 1863. By this date Sapper Osmond had already been posted to the School of Military Engineering at Chatham, Kent for recruit training [10].

5. ASSIGNMENTS AND CAMPAIGN SERVICE

Following about a year of training at the School of Military Engineering, Sapper Osmond was posted to the 2nd Field Company, Royal Engineers at Chatham in April of 1864. He embarked with the 2nd Field Company for service on Mauritius on the 27th of September 1864.

The 2nd Field Company served on Mauritius until the 29th of December 1867 when it departed for the Cape of Good Hope, arriving at its new station on the following day. The company departed the Cape of Good Hope on the 8th of June 1870 bound for England aboard the troopship HMS Serapis [11]. The company disembarked on the 16th of July 1870 and was immediately posted to Chatham. On the 23rd of September 1870, Osmond and his company arrived at Shorncliffe Camp in Kent.

Alfred Osmond married while at Shorncliffe, and on the 18th of January 1875 he and his wife arrived in Glasgow, Scotland where he was to serve with the 32nd Fortress Company, Royal Engineers. While in Scotland, Osmond re-engaged to complete 21 years of service at Shawfield, Kelvinside, Maryhill [12].

Sapper Osmond served in Scotland for about two years and in 1877 he was posted to the 6th Company, Royal Engineers at Curragh Camp in Ireland. After about two years of service in Ireland, Sapper Osmond was posted to the 17th Field Company, Royal Engineers at Aldershot in Hampshire on the 9th of April 1879.

Osmond took a short leave from the 15th to the 23rd of June 1879 and then resumed his duties with the 17th Field Company. He and his company were transferred to Shorncliffe Camp on the 14th of September 1880. The 1881 British Census shows that he and his wife and two sons were residing at Shorncliffe Camp, Cheriton, Kent at the time of the census [13].

While Osmond was serving with the 17th Field Company at Shorncliffe, the unit that he would see active service with was stationed in Nova Scotia, Canada. The 26th Field Company, Royal Engineers arrived at Shorncliffe after returning from Nova Scotia in June of 1880, shortly before Osmond arrived there from Aldershot with the 17th Company. The two companies trained side by side while in 1881 serious events were unfolding in Egypt.

In 1881 the Egyptian army mutinied from the Khedive of Egypt, and forced him to appoint Said Ahmed Arabi as Minister of War. In March of 1882 Arabi was made a Pasha and with his new appointment he began to act as a dictator. Impassioned demands were made by Arabi that foreigners be driven out of Egypt. Subsequent massacres of Christians prompted an armed response from the British government, first in the form of a naval bombardment of Alexandria, and then as an expeditionary force under Lieutenant-General Sir Garnet Wolseley. Sir Garnet Wolseley's campaign, completed in just four and a half weeks, was an almost 'textbook' operation, carefully planned and executed with masterly competence [14]. It was in this campaign that Sapper Osmond would take an active part.

In July of 1882 Major Bindon Blood [15] assumed command of the 26th Field Company in preparation for its deployment to Egypt. To bring it up to strength, the 26th Field Company apparently drew men from other companies, including the 17th. Sapper Osmond was one of these men [16]. On the 9th of August 1882 Sapper Osmond embarked for Egypt with the 26th Field Company aboard SS Californian, a transatlantic cattle boat. At the time of embarkation, the company consisted of a total of 5 R.E. officers, a surgeon [17], and 185 non-commissioned officers and men. With Major Blood in command, the other Sapper officers included:

Captain E. Dickinson [18]

Lieutenant J.E. Blackburn [19]

Lieutenant W.H. Pollen [20]

Lieutenant M.L. Tuke [21]

The 26th Company’s senior Warrant Officer was 7990 Company Sergeant Major J. Abbotts, R.E. [22]

The company landed at Alexandria on the 24th of August 1882 and was assigned to the 2nd Division under Lieutenant Colonel J.H.M. Maitland [23] the division’s Commander Royal Engineers (CRE).

Major Bindon Blood, one of the most famous officers to have served in the Corps of Royal Engineers, recalled in his memoirs that [24]:

"Their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales – afterwards King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra – inspected us on embarkation, and were as gracious and charming to us all as usual. The Princess and the Ladies insisted on inspecting my war kit, which was accordingly laid out in my cabin by my discreet soldier-servant. The ladies where especially interested in my revolver, after they were assured that it was not loaded, and in my arrangement for carrying it and for the quick draw. I had to put it on and show exactly what it all meant, and how the sword was now useless except at night, etc., and the ladies were much amused. When their Royal Highnesses said goodbye, and landed just as we cast off and started, you may be sure that all ranks gave them three hearty cheers more! My company, the 26th, had always been a very good one, and had been made up to war strength by transfers of fine men from other service companies [25]. Like the old 30th, that I went with to South Africa three years before, it consisted of a lot of men of the different ranks who were all determined to do their best, and did it. We were attached to the 2nd Division of Lord Wolseley’s Force, and served most of the campaign with the 3rd, Sir Archibald Alison’s Brigade.

After arriving in Egypt and learning that his divisional commander wished to send a small column to clear the enemy from some outpost near Kafrel Danwar, and that he lacked mounted infantry, Major Blood volunteered to mount and arm 60 of his sappers to act in this capacity. The company, however, was ordered to embark for Ismailia before they could show their ability in this role. The 26th Company landed at Ismailia and reached the front line a few days before the Battle of Tel-el-Kebir, which took place on the 13th of September 1882. Prior to the actual battle the company, in cooperation with the 17th Field Company, destroyed the dam across the infamous waterway, the Sweetwater Canal, at the southern extreme of the Egyptian fortified line on the 28th of August 1882. The company also demolished and removed obstacles across the railway line from Tel-el-Kebir to Onassasin.

In late September the British force began to assemble in the vicinity of Kassassin (El Qassassin). The Egyptians realized that if they intended to take the offensive they must do so before Lord Wolseley could concentrate his entire force. Arabi, therefore, launched Ali Fahmi Pasha against the British 1st Division at Kassassin on the 9th of September 1882 with a force of 17 infantry battalions, 30 guns, several squadrons of cavalry and thousands of Bedouins. The Egyptian attack was made from the west by the garrison of Tel-el-Kebir and from the north by a detachment from Es Salhiya. Lieutenant General G.H.S. Willis, commander of the 1st Division, was nearly taken by surprise, but he soon repelled the enemy and drove them back towards Tel-el-Kebir. According to Sandes (1937) [26], the 24th Field Company, Royal Engineers was the only Sapper unit engaged in this action. Maurice (1887) [27] indicates that Lieutenant Tuke of the 26th Field Company was present at the action. Tuke may have been on attached duty with the 1st Division or with the 24th Field Company, or it may be that he was in command of a section of the 26th Company attached to the 1st Division [28].

On the day of the actual battle at Tel-el-Kebir, the 26th Field Company remained in the British Camp at Kassassin. At the conclusion of this phase of what was to be a long campaign, the company was based at Cairo as part of the Egyptian Army of Occupation.

The 26th Company left Cairo for Suakin on the shores of the Red Sea on the 17th of February 1884. At Suakin the company became part of Sir Gerald Graham’s force of 4,000 men organized to campaign against Osman Digna for the relief of Tokar in the Sudan. Sapper Osmond was not with the company for this move, as he had returned home on the 20th of December 1883. His return to England at this time was probably the result of his having only a short time before taking his discharge from the Army after completing 21 years of service.

For his service during the campaign in Egypt, Sapper Osmond was awarded the Egypt 1882 medal (no clasp) and the Khedive’s Bronze Star 1882. A total of 144 Egypt 1882 medals were awarded to the officers and men of the 26th Field Company. Major Blood and Lieutenant Blackburn were awarded the medal with clasp [TEL-EL-KEBIR]. All other officers and the Company Sergeant Major were awarded the medal without clasp [29]. Major Blood also received a Brevet of Lieutenant Colonel, a mention in despatches published in the London Gazette of the 2nd of November 1882, and the 4th Class Order of Osmanieh from the government of Egypt.

Above: The Egypt 1882 Medal with clasp [TEL-EL-KEBIR] and the Khedive's Bronze Star.
Sapper Osmond was awarded the Egypt 1882 Medal without the clasp.
Only Major Blood and Lieutenant Blackburn were present at the Battle of Tel-el-Kebir

On his arrival in England, Sapper Osmond was posted to the School of Military Engineering at Chatham. He applied for discharge from the Army on the 4th of March 1884 in anticipation of his completion of his second term of limited engagement. He completed 21 years of service on the 27th of March but he was not discharged until the 1st of April 1884.

6. PROMOTIONS AND CONDUCT

a. Promotions: Sapper Alfred Osmond received no promotions during his more than 21 years of service in the Royal Engineers. His conduct appears to have been very good during his 21 years of service and his medical history certainly indicates that he was not a malingerer. These, then, could not be the reasons for his remaining a Sapper for his entire career. Since he did not receive any Certificates of Education while serving, one may assume that his intelligence and/or his ambition may have been below average, his performance as a Sapper only average, and that he displayed none of the qualities required of junior non-commissioned officer in order to be promoted.

b. Conduct: Sapper Osmond received the following Good Conduct Badges during his time in service [30]:

Date of Award

Good Conduct Badge

28 March 1866

Awarded Good Conduct Pay at the rate of 1.d.

2 June 1870

Awarded Good Conduct Pay at the rate of 2.d.

28 March 1875

Awarded Good Conduct Pay at the rate of 3.d.

28 March 1879

Awarded Good Conduct Pay at the rate of 4.d.

Sapper Osmond completed 18 years of service in March of 1881 and became eligible for the award of the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal at that time. He was subsequently awarded this medal and a gratuity of 5 in accordance with General Order 96 of 1882. At the time of his discharge from the Army in 1884, his habits were noted to be "regular" and his conduct "very good."

7. EDUCATION AND QUALIFICATIONS

a. Education: There is no indication in Sapper Osmond’s service papers that he earned any Certificates of Education during his time in service [31].

b. Qualifications: Sapper Osmond’s service papers do not indicate that he earned any special qualifications during his time in service.

8. MEDICAL INFORMATION

Sapper Osmond’s Medical History Sheet shows no periods of hospitalization, illnesses or injuries during his more than 21 years of service. The single medical entry shown in his service papers indicates that he was re-vaccinated at Shorncliffe, Kent in 1871 with "perfect" results. This is a rather remarkable medical history considering the fact that he was stationed at Mauritius, the Cape of Good Hope and Egypt for a total of more than 7 years. During the late 19th century, none of these stations were considered particularly salutary.

9. MARRIAGE AND PERSONAL INFORMATION

Alfred Osmond married Charlotte Finnis at Cheriton, Kent on the 22nd of August 1874, with leave [32]. According to the 1881 British Census, Charlotte Finnis had been born in Cheriton, Kent in 1851 [33]. The 1881 Census also indicates that the Osmonds had two children: Albert, born in Scotland in November of 1876, and Charley, born in Ireland in May of 1879.

10. DISCHARGE

Sapper Alfred Osmond was discharged from the Army at Chatham, Kent on the 1st of April 1884 on the termination of his second period of limited engagement. His total service was reckoned as shown in the tables below:

Location

Period of Service

Chatham, Kent

28 March 1863 to 26 September 1864

Mauritius

27 September 1864 to 29 December 1867

Cape of Good Hope

30 December 1867 to 16 July 1870

Chatham, Kent

17 July 1870 to 22 September 1870

Shorncliffe, Kent

23 September 1870 to 17 January 1875

Glasgow, Scotland

18 January 1875 to 1877

Curragh Camp, Ireland

1877 to 8 April 1879

Aldershot, Hampshire

9 April 1879 to 13 September 1880

Shorncliffe, Kent

14 September 1880 to 8 August 1882

Egypt

9 August 1882 to 19 December 1883

Chatham, Kent

20 December 1883 to 1 April 1884

Location

Period of Service

Home Service

13 years and 309 days

Service Abroad

7 years and 61 days

Total Service

21 years and 5 days

11. POST SERVICE LIFE

No information is available regarding the life of Alfred Osmond after his discharge from the Army.

REFERENCES

Books

1. BARTHOLOMEW, J. Reference Atlas of Greater London. John Bartholomew & Son, Ltd., The Geographical Institute, Edinburgh, 1957.

2. CONNOLLY, T.W.J. Roll of Officers of the Corps of Royal Engineers from 1660 to 1898. The Royal Engineers Institute, Chatham, Kent, 1898.

3. FARWELL, B. Mr. Kipling’s Army: All the Queen’s Men. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1981.

4. FEATHERSTONE, D. Tel El-Kebir: Wolseley’s Conquest of Egypt. Osprey Campaign Series No.27, Osprey Publishing, 1993.

5. GOODRICH, C.F. Report of the British Naval and Military Operations in Egypt, 1882. Navy Department, Washington, DC, 1885.

6. GORDON, L.L. British Battles and Medals. Spink & Son, Ltd., London, 1971.

7. GRIERSON, J.M. Scarlet Into Khaki: The British Army on the Eve of the Boer War. Greenhill Books, London, 1988.

8. Mc ASLAN, A. The 26th Squadron RE: A History of the Squadron from its Formation in 1855 to the Present. 26 Squadron RE, 1988.

9. MAURICE, J.F. Military History of the Campaign of 1882 in Egypt. J.B. Hayward & Son, London, reprinted in 1973. First published in 1887.

10. ROGERS, H.C.B. Troopships and Their History. Seeley Service & Co., Ltd., London, 1963.

11. SANDES, E.W.C. The Royal Engineers in Egypt and the Sudan. The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, Kent, 1937.

12. 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.

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

Computer Data Bases

1881 British Census and National Index. Family History Resource File, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1999.

Documents

1. Soldiers Service Papers, WO97/3597, consisting of the following documents:

a. Enlistment Paper

(1) Questions put to the Recruit
(2) Description on Enlistment
(3) Medical Certificate

b. Attestation of the Recruit

(1) Oath of Attestation
(2) Certification of Recruiting Officer
(3) Certificate of Commanding Officer

c. Record of Service

d. Medical History

2. 26 Company Royal Engineers. Roll of Officers, Warrant Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Men Entitled to the War Medal for the Egyptian Campaign, 1882. Public Record Office, Kew, Richmond, Surrey.

ENDNOTES

[1] The Parish of St, Mary Le Bone was established in 1679 in the borough of Middlesex. It was part of the archdiocese of Middlesex in the diocese of London. The principal religions represented in the parish were Baptist, Independents, Wesleyans, Calvinistic Methodists, Seceders from the Scottish Church, Greek Church, French and Roman Catholics. Osmond’s service papers do not indicate his religion.

[2] This district of present day London lies to the north of Hyde Park and Paddington Station and is south and west of Regents Park.

[3] In all probability this Parish of St. Margaret’s refers to the parish located 1.5 miles northeast of Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire, about 18 miles to the north of the center of London. This small parish was established in 1697 as part of the diocese of London in the archdiocese of Middlesex.

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

[5] This is a rather high pulse rate. Osmond must have been exercising just prior to being examined or he may have been extremely nervous.

[6] Sergeant Griffiths was a Crimean War veteran. His Crimea Medal appeared for sale in Catalogue #1 (1985) of the late John Laidacker.

[7] See Recruiting Bounties.

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

[9] Later, Colonel Moreton John Wheatley.

[10] See Engineer Recruit Training.

[11] HMS Serapis was one of five ships that were to become familiar to generations of British soldiers. She was built in 1866 along with her sister ships Crocodile, Euphrates, Jumna, and Malabar. HMS Serapis was a fine looking rigged screw ship painted white with a green riband round the hull and funnel. The ship had three-masts and a single stack. As the Government of India paid the bill for the operation of the ship, Serapis was emblazoned with the Star of India on either side of her bow. She could carry a full battalion of infantry with families, or about 1,200 people. Serapis must have had some elegant compartments, as she was used to transport H.R.H. the Prince of Wales home from India in 1870. Available photographs show that she was still in use as late as 1888. Rogers (1963) indicates that she was in service for nearly 30 years.

[12] Maryhill is located approximately three miles northwest of Glasgow.

[13] 1881 British Census, FHL Film 1341240, PRO Ref RG11, Piece 1011, Folio 77, Page 6.

[14] Osprey Campaign Series No. 27.

[15] Later, General Sir Bindon Blood.

[16] It is interesting to note that the 17th Company also deployed to Egypt to serve in the campaign. Both the 17th and 26th Companies were among the original six companies sent to Egypt with the expeditionary force, so one wonders why Osmond was transferred.

[17] Two Surgeons of the Army Medical Department, J.A. Smith and J.C. Dormon, are listed on the medal roll of the 26th Company, Royal Engineers for the Egypt 1882 Medal. Both were awarded the medal without clasp. There is no data to indicate which of these Surgeons first accompanied the 26th to Egypt and which man might have joined the company at a later date.

[18] Later, Colonel Edward Dickinson.

[19] Later, Lieutenant Colonel John Edward Blackburn, R.E.

[20] Lieutenant Walter Hungerford Pollen, R.E.

[21] Later, Major Martin Litchfield Tuke, R.E.

[22] The medal roll shows that CSM Abbott received the Egypt 1882 medal without clasp.

[23] Later, Major General James Makgill Heriot Maitland, KCB.

[24] Mc ASLAN, p. 2.

[25] Sapper Osmond was among these transfers.

[26] SANDES, p. 38.

[27] MAURICE, p. 187.

[28] Since it is not known which section Sapper Osmond was assigned to, it is not possible to know if he was at this action.

[29] 26 Company Medal Roll.

[30] See Good Conduct Pay.

[31] See Certificates of Education.

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

[33] Cheriton is a town located on the southeast coast of England, approximately a mile and a half west northwest of Folkestone. It is in close proximity to the military camp at Shorncliffe.