Home Page

Royal Engineers

Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis, 2000

Sapper James Campbell appears to have enlisted in the Royal Engineer in about 1866 and was assigned to the 37th Company, Royal Engineers at Chatham in Kent [1]. The 37th was a Depot Company that had been formed at Chatham on the 1st of April 1861. Campbell served in the 37th Company until the 1st of August 1868, when he was transferred to the 21st Company, R.E. He served with this company at Shorncliffe through March of 1869. In April of that year the company was transferred to Cork Harbour in Ireland. Sapper Campbell was assigned to duties aboard SS Cormorant during the period from the 9th through the 11th of April. Campbell remained with the 21st Company at Cork Harbour until September of 1870. On the 5th of December 1869 he was authorized Good Conduct pay at one penny (ld) per day. Towards the end of his tour of duty with the 21st Company, in September of 1870, he spent some time on duty at Harrow.

On the 9th of July 1870 Sapper Campbell received orders transferring him to the 22nd Company, R.E. at Cromer in Norfolk. However, as indicated above, he did not report to his new company until September.

In June of 1870 the 22nd Company under Major Webber had been permanently attached to the Post Office and became a Telegraph Company. While assigned to this unit Campbell did quite a bit of traveling in England and performed duties at Ayisham, Norwich, Ipswich, Haver Hill, Colm, Frodsham, Brandon, Ilford, Romford, Wisbech, Attleborough, Pewsey, and Chatham [2].

On the 5th of December 1872 Sapper Campbell was awarded Good Conduct pay at the rate of 2d per day. Between the 7th and 31st of December Campbell was attached to and paid by the 39th Company, R.E. He returned to the 22nd Company in January of 1873 and resumed his telegraph duties at Chatham, Barking, Southend, Chelmsford, Romford, and Ilford.

Sapper Campbell was transferred to the 28th Company, R.E. on the 18th of November 1873 in preparation for participation in the Gold Coast Expedition (Ashantee Campaign). The 28th Company, under the command of Major R.O. Jones, R.E., arrived in the Gold Coast on the 10th of December 1873 [3]. The company was assigned to duties requiring the construction of roads and bridges enroute to Coomassie to facilitate the movement of the expeditionary force. Portions of the company remained behind to maintain the lines of communication [4] while the remainder of the company crossed the River Prah in early January 1874 to continue the advance on Coomassie some seventy miles to the north. This forward element of the company saw action against the Ashanti during the subsequent battles that were fought enroute to Coomassie.

On the 30th of January 1874 the forward elements of the expeditionary force reached the Ashanti outpost at Egginassie. From there Sir Garnet Wolseley planned the attack on the Ashanti position at Amoaful for the next day. The advance was made in three columns. The center column was to move along the existing native path while the 28th Company and supporting native labourers were to cut roads 300 yards to the right and left of the center path for the other two columns. Captain R.N. Buckle, R.E., with one Sergeant and ten Sappers, at the head of 40 native workmen, took the lead of the left column, and Lieutenant M.S. Bell, R.E., with a similar staff to that of the right. Major Robert Home, R.E., with two Assistant Engineers, Lieutenants Hearle [5] and Lieutenant Hare [6], guided the centre.

The three columns commenced their advance shortly after 7 a.m. On reaching the village of Egginassie some shots were fired, and in pushing the centre column forward much opposition was encountered. Major Home set a party to cut a road in the bush to the left of the center line of advance, and by this means turned the Ashanti position. The British infantry pushed forward up the hill towards Amoaful and carried the village about noon. The Ashantis clung obstinately to the spot, and while loopholing the walls of the village for defence, one engineer labourer was killed and two wounded.

On the right Lieutenant Bell's party had cut their road out to the flank and were shortly met by a very heavy fire. Two Sappers were wounded and eight native labourers killed or wounded.

On the left Captain Buckle had cut about 300 yards to the front when his party was also met by a heavy fire that dropped several of his men, including Captain Buckle who was killed.

While the British attack was progressing, the Ashantis had passed around the flank of the British columns and attacked Quarman, two and a half miles in the rear. Lieutenant E.W. Cotter, R.E. and ten of his Sappers were the only Europeans at this post. They succeeded in defending the position until relieved by the Rifle Brigade.

In the attack on Amoaful, three officers of Royal Engineers, and two Assistant Engineers, with 29 Non-Commissioned Officers and Sappers were present [7]. Of these, one officer was killed and two officers and four Sappers were wounded.

The British force resumed the advance to Coomassie and reached Agemamue at noon on the 2nd of February. The River Ordah was reached at 3 p.m. the same day and was bridged by the Sappers. At 6 a.m. on the 4th of February the march was resumed. Ordahsue was secured enroute, and the column entered Coomassie just before dark on the 4th without any further opposition.

At the conclusion of the operations the 28th Company returned to Cape Coast [8] in forced marches which they made in advance of the main body of the expeditionary force. The company made the passage home to England on board the Himalaya, arriving at Chatham on the 20th of March 1874. For his participation in the Ashantee Campaign, Sapper Campbell was awarded the campaign medal with bar [COOMASSIE]. The single bar for this medal was only awarded to those men who crossed the River Prah and to those who took part in the actions at Amoaful and Ardahsa on the 31st of January and the 4th of February 1874, respectively.

Sapper Campbell was on furlough from Chatham during the period of the 8th of April through the 6th of May 1874. On the 1st of June he was transferred back to the 22nd Company, actually rejoining the company on the 13th of July. The roll for the Ashantee Medal indicates that Campbell's medal was forwarded to Major Webber, R.E. at 101 Cannon Street in London. Presumably Major Webber presented the medal to Campbell when he rejoined the 22nd Company.

Campbell resumed his telegraph duties with the 22nd Company and performed his work at New Cross, Ashford, Dover, Chatham, Tunbridge, and Canterbury, all in the Kent and Greater London areas. From the 6th through the 31st of March 1875 he was attached to and paid by the 38th (Depot) Company. He then rejoined the 22nd Company for duty at Chatham and Barking from April to June 1875. During the period July through December 1875 he served at New Cross [9]. In September and October of 1875 Sapper Campbell spent some time in hospital to be treated for some unknown illness or injury [10].

In January of 1876 Campbell was assigned to duties in London. He was transferred to Ipswich in December of 1876 and served there until September of 1877. In October of 1877 the 22nd Company was transferred to Jersey where it remained until the first quarter of 1881. On the 5th of December 1878, while serving in Jersey, Sapper Campbell was authorized Good Conduct Pay at 3d per day. He was also granted furlough during the period from the 1st through the 31st of October 1879.

After a short tour of duty in Guernsey from about March to April 1881, Campbell returned to Jersey for a couple of months and then moved with his company backed to London in July of 1881. On the 5th of December 1882 Sapper Campbell received Good Conduct Pay at 4d per day.

On the 1st of April 1884 a General Order forming the Royal Engineer Telegraph Corps was issued. This General Order read as follows:

"The C Troop and the 22nd and 34th Companies R. Engineers will be formed into one body, under the name 'Royal Engineer Telegraph Corps.’

The Royal Engineer Telegraph Corps will be comprised of two divisions as follows:-

1st Division. - The officers, men, horses, and equipment hitherto forming the C Troop.

2nd Division. - The officers, men, horses, and equipment hitherto forming the 22nd and 34th Companies. "

Although his service papers were not available at the Public Record Office, it appears that Campbell was probably discharged in 1887 after completing 21 years of service with the Colours. Although his conduct appears to have been very good, his failure to be promoted to a rank above that of Sapper may be indicative of his mediocre efficiency as a soldier. It would have been unusual for the Royal Engineers to allow a man who had only attained the rank of Sapper after 21 years to continue service beyond that point.


(1) Public Record Office: WO10/309-317, 360, 370, 381, 391, 402, 415, 427; W016/874, 899, 926, 951, 976, 1000, 1022, 1047 (Regimental Muster Rolls).

(2) PORTER, W. History of the Corps of Royal Engineers. Volume II. The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, 1951.

(3) GORDON, L.L. British Battles and Medals, Spink & Son Ltd., London, 1971.


[1] According to J. Farrington of London, there appear to be no available muster rolls for the 37th Company, R.E. either in the "Home" or "Foreign" sections of the muster rolls during this period. Campbell's estimated enlistment date is approximated from his Regimental Number.

[2] These duty stations being located in Norfolk, Suffok, Cheshire, Cambridgeshire, Wiltshire, Kent, and on the outskirts of London.

[3] See the Military Service of 6520 Sapper William Rochead for details of company officers and general duties of the company.

[4] Sapper Rochead was with this rear element of the company.

[5] Royal Marine Light Infantry

[6] 22nd Regiment

[7] Unfortunately, we cannot know for certain, with which column Sapper Campbell served.

[8] The British port facility on the Gold Coast.

[9] Now part of Greater London.

[10] His health was remarkably good compared to other Victorian soldiers. Compare Campbell's health record with that of Sapper Rochead, for example.