Home Page

754 Colour Sergeant
WILLIAM C. WAGSTAFF
Royal Engineers

by
Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis, 2000

Early Life

William C. Wagstaff was born on the 11th of June 1830 in St. Mary’s Parish, near the town of Woolwich, in the County of Kent. No records of William C. Wagstaff appear in the 1851 or the 1881 British Census. The Vital Records Index for the British Isles, with data from 1538 to 1888, was also checked with negative results. Based on his place of birth, it is most likely that William’s father was also a soldier and probably a non-commissioned officer in The Royal Sappers and Miners.

Physical Description

Wagstaff’s service records did not contain his Attestation Papers; therefore, his description on enlistment was not available for this research. A physical description of him was given at the time of his discharge. In 1870 he was described as being 39 years and 9 months of age. He was 5 feet 6-1/2 inches tall. He had a fresh complexion, light grey eyes and grey hair. Wagstaff had no scars or distinctive marks on his body.

Enlistment and Training

William Wagstaff attested at Woolwich as a Bugler in the Royal Sappers and Miners on the 18th of August 1843. At the time of his enlistment, he was 13 years and 7 months old. It appears that at the time of his attestation he was even under underage for enlistment as a boy soldier. His enlistment as a Boy Soldier is further evidence that his father was serving with the Colours. Many soldiers’ sons joined the Army at a young age, if not to follow in the fathers’ footsteps, then simply to relieve the monetary burden on their parents who may have had many mouths to feed.

Wagstaff attained the age of 18 years on the 11th of June 1848. He continued to serve as a Bugler until the 1st of January 1851 when he was posted to the ranks as a Private in the Royal Sappers and Miners. His trade on joining the ranks was listed as carpenter. He probably received some training as a carpenter by serving as an assistant to one of the older men in his unit. His father may have even been a carpenter. At the time he was posted to the ranks he probably had to undergo engineer recruit training at Woolwich or at Chatham.

Assignments and Campaign Service

As a 2nd Corporal, Wagstaff was posted to Gibraltar where he served for almost six years. At the outbreak of the war with Russia in 1854, his unit received orders to proceed to the seat of the war. From Gibraltar he proceeded to the Crimea where the British and French landed sizable forces to engage the Russian Army. The companies of the Royal Sappers and Miners that took part in the operations in the Crimea by the end of the war included the 1st through the 5th Companies, and the 7th through the 11th Companies. Of these units, only the 7th, 8th, 10th and 11th Companies took part in the battles at the Alma River and on the heights at Inkermann, in addition to the siege of the city of Sebastopol.

At the time of the initial British landing on the Crimean Peninsula, the following was the order of battle of the companies of Royal Sappers and Miners:

1st Division: 11th Company, R.S.& M.

2nd Division: 8th Company, R.S.& M.

3rd Division: 7th Company, R.S.& M.

Light Division: 10th Company (Pontoon Train), R.S.& M.

After the landings to the north of the River Alma, the four divisions proceeded south to their ultimate destination, the city of Sebastopol. The companies of Royal Sappers and Miners took part in hard fought battles before Sebastopol was finally captured.

Wagstaff was one of the men who took part in the battles of the Alma (20 September 1854) and Inkermann (5 November 1854). He was also present at the siege of Sebastopol, which lasted until the 9th of September 1855. For his services in the Crimean War, Wagstaff was awarded the Crimean Medal 1854-1856 with clasps [ALMA] [INKERMANN] [SEBASTOPOL] and the Turkish Crimea Medal.

Following the war in the Crimea, Wagstaff was posted to Corfu where he served for a period of about 5 years and 2 months before returning to England. Upon his return to England he was posted to Chatham in Kent.

In addition to the medals mentioned above, Colour Sergeant Wagstaff was awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal in 1869 after completing 18 years of service in the ranks. Along with the medal he also received a gratuity payment.

Promotions, Conduct and Education

Promotions: William Wagstaff received the following promotions or changes in rank during his time in the Royal Sappers and Miners and later in The Corps of Royal Engineers:

Date of Promotion

Rank

18 August 1843:

Attested as a Boy Soldier (Bugler)

11 June 1848:

Attained the legal age for service in the ranks

1 January 1851:

Posted to the ranks as a Private

23 February 1854:

Promoted 2nd Corporal

1 April 1855:

Promoted Corporal

13 January 1856:

Promoted Sergeant

17 October 1856:

Royal Sappers and Miners redesignated Royal Engineers

1 May 1863:

Promoted Colour Sergeant

It is worth noting in the table above that Wagstaff rose from the rank of Private to the rank of Sergeant in just a few days more than five years. These rapid promotions attest to his prowess as a soldier and to his potential as a non-commissioned officer.

Conduct: Colour Sergeant Wagstaff was awarded Good Conduct pay at the rate of 1.d per day. By the 11th of June 1869 Wagstaff would have been entitled to Good Conduct Pay at 5.d per day had he not been promoted to the rank of Sergeant in 1856. At the time of his discharge Colour Sergeant Wagstaff’s conduct was rated as "Very Good." His discharge record indicates that:

"He was in possession of one Good Conduct Badge. He would have been in possession of 5 Good Conduct Badges had he not been promoted. His name does not appear in the Regimental Defaulters Book and he was never tried by Court-Martial."

Education: Colour Sergeant Wagstaff’s discharge papers give no indication of any military training he received, nor is there any information in his papers about the award of any Certificates of Education.

Medical Information

No Medical History Sheet was included in Colour Sergeant Wagstaff’s discharge documents.

Marriage and Personal Information

No marriage information was included in Colour Sergeant Wagstaff’s discharge records. The only personal data contained in his papers is his intention to reside in Chatham, Kent after his discharge from the Army.

Discharge

Colour Sergeant Wagstaff made a request for discharge after completing 21 years of service with the Colours. Based on this request, a Regimental Discharge Board convened on the 7th of March 1870 to review the service of Colour Sergeant Wagstaff. At the time the board was convened, Wagstaff’s total service was reckoned at 21 years and 270 days. His total service abroad was reckoned as shown in the table below:

Overseas Location

Period of Service

Gibraltar

5 years and 353 days

Crimea

1 year and 262 days

Corfu

5 years and 65 days

Total Overseas Service

12 years and 225 days

The Regimental Discharge Board consisted of the following officers:

President: Captain and Brevet Colonel G. Graham, V.C., C.B., R.E.

Member: Captain and Brevet Major F. Mould, R.E.

Member: Captain R.M.F. Sandford, R.E.

After reviewing his record, the Board recommended that Colour Sergeant Wagstaff be discharged from the service. The Board noted that Wagstaff elected not to serve in the Army Reserve after leaving the Regular Army.

Approval of Wagstaff’s discharge was approved by the Assistant Adjutant General, R.E. on the 12th of March 1870. He was finally discharged from the Army on the 22nd of March 1870 with a total of 21 years and 285 days.

REFERNCES:

  1. Proceedings of a Regimental Discharge Board. War Office Form 83. WO97/1857, Public Record Office, Kew, Richmond, Surrey.
  2. GORDON, British Battles and Medals. Spink & Son Ltd, London, 1971.
  3. PEMBERTON. W. BARING. Battles of the Crimean War. The MacMillan Company, New York, 1962.
  4. CIMA, K.A. Reflections from the Bridge. Baron Birch and The Institution of Royal Engineers, 1994.