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Lieutenant Colonel (Honorary Colonel)
Royal Engineers


Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis
2006. All Rights Reserved.


This research is the result of the acquisition by the author in 2006 of a carte de visite (cdv) photograph of Colonel Constable. The photograph was taken of him in civilian attire at the Criterion Studios of Messrs. Cobb and Challis at 77 and 78 Wellington Road in Woolwich, Kent. A handwritten note in pencil on the back of the photograph, written in contemporary style for the period of the late 19th century reads: Col. W.V. Constable, Roy. Engineers, Bengal. This note was the basis of identification of the man in the photograph.

Constable’s story is about a man who, although commissioned as an officer in the Royal Engineers, spent most of his time working in what would be considered civilian capacities with the railroads of India. Of his more than 31 years of service he spent nearly 28 of those years on the subcontinent of India in various positions with various railway lines on the North West Frontier, in Bengal and in Madras.


Willoughby Verner Constable was born in Westmeath, in County Leinster, in north central Ireland on the 27th of September 1853. He was the son of Joshua Constable, a Clerk of Works, and his wife Sarah T. Constable.[1]

The 1861 Census of England shows the family living in Plumstead, Kent, a town located approximately 2.5 miles due east of Woolwich. Joshua, then 38 years of age, and Sarah, 37 years of age, are shown to have four children living with them: Clifford H. (age 9 years), Willoughby V. (age 7 years),[2] Sidney T. (age 4 years) and Florence M. (age 3 years). All three boys were born in Ireland. Florence was born in Penshurst, Kent. The Constables employed three servants in 1861. They were Ann Whitmore (age 19), Esther Borer (age 13) and Rachel Page (age 16). On the date of the 1861 census the Constable had three visitors living in their house: Ann Foster (age 32), Kate Foster (age 8) and Charles F. Foster (age 8 months). The relationship of the Foster family to the Constables is not known.

The 1871 Census of England indicates that Willoughby Verner Constable, age 17, was a Gentleman Cadet in the Royal Military Academy (RMA) at Woolwich. The name of Algernon Campbell Foley is also listed on the same census return for the RMA in 1871.[3]


Constable was commissioned a Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers on the 12th of September 1872.[4] Following a period of training at the School of Military Engineering at Chatham, Kent, Lieutenant Constable appears to have been posted to an engineer unit or staff in the United Kingdom. No records have been found to indicate to which organization he might have been assigned or where he was located for the period between September 1872 and January 1876.


In January of 1876 Constable was serving at Roorkee in Bengal, India.[5] While serving there he was promoted to the rank of Captain on the 12th of September 1884[6] and in December of that same year he was serving as Assistant Engineer, 1st Grade, in the Department of Public Works, on the West Rajpootana State Railway, Southern Section.[7] This was his first of many assignments as an engineer on the railroads of India.

In 1885 Captain Constable was called to active service and was posted to the command of Major-General Sir Gerald Graham, V.C. at Suakin in the Sudan.[8] Sir Gerald’s plan for operations in the Sudan called for the construction of a railway from Suakin to Berber on the Nile, a distance of about 280 miles, and then the methodical reconquest of the Sudan from the forces of the Mahdi. It would be fair to assume that Captain Constable’s experience with railway construction in India was one of the reasons for his assignment to Suakin. For his service in these operations, Constable was awarded the Egypt 1882 Medal with clasp [SUAKIN] and the Khedive’s Bronze Star.[9] This was to be his only campaign service.

Willoughby Verner Constable's Egypt 1882 Medal and Khedive's Star
(Photograph courtesy of Rob Henley)

Following his service in the Sudan, Constable returned to India. On the 13th of April 1889 he married Lucy Gordon, the daughter of Colonel James Henry Gordon and Arabella Hewitt Gordon (nee Sams).[10] It is most likely that this marriage took place in Madras as this was where Constable was posted following his return to India. Additionally, Colonel Gordon was a member of the Madras Staff Corps and it is probable that his wife and daughter Lucy were living there at the time.

On the 19th of October 1891 Constable was promoted to the rank of Major[11] and in April of 1892 he was serving as Executive Engineer, 2nd Grade, in the Department of Public Works, and was acting as the Deputy Consulting Engineer for Railways in Madras.[12]

By April of 1895 Major Constable was serving as Consulting Engineer to the North Western Railway in Lahore, India.[13] The North Western Railway (NWR) was formed in January 1886 by the amalgamation of a number of smaller railways, principally the Sind, Punjab and Delhi Railway (SPDR). The NWR was under Government management because of the strategic areas it served and its potential for use during military operations on the North West Frontier of India. The line from Delhi to Amritsar had been opened in 1870 with the aim of making troop movements to the North West Frontier provinces speedier. It met the line from Karachi – Lahore/Amritsar, which had been opened in stages, by passing the dangerous and slow river crossings by boat. This line had been operated by the Sind, Punjab and Delhi Railway (SPDR). Lines to the Khyber Pass and Kohat areas were later extensions. The NWR managed a number of narrow gauge lines, the most famous being that to Simla.[14]

Constable continued his work with the North Western Railway until the end of the century, being appointed to the rank of Temporary Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Engineers on the 18th of May 1899.[15] By January of 1900 he was serving as Manager of the Eastern Bengal State Railway at Calcutta. This railway provided service to districts lying to the north and east of Calcutta and enabled merchants in Calcutta to send their goods to the northern areas. The Indian Tea Association brought strong pressure to bear on the government and the railroad to extend the railway to Dhubri in Assam, an extension that was completed in 1902 during Constable’s final years in India. The Eastern Bengal Railway was later connected to other railways and the road network in other parts of the Indian subcontinent.

The 1901 Census of England shows Constable and his wife Lucy residing with Lucy’s mother, Arabella Hewit Gordon, at "The Rectory" in Cosgrove, Northamptonshire. Constable may have been on a period of home leave from India during this period.

Constable returned to India to resume his duties at the end of his home leave and remained in Calcutta until shortly before his retirement from the Army in December of 1904. On the 18th of May 1903, during his final tour of duty in India, he was promoted to the substantive rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Engineers.[16]


Lieutenant Colonel Willoughby Verner Constable retired from the Army on the 21st of December 1904. He was appointed an Honorary Colonel at the time of his retirement and was awarded an Indian Pension for all his years of service with the Indian railway systems.[17]

Constable’s service in the Royal Engineers is summarized in the tables below. It should be noted that the periods of service are approximate, as available references did not provide exact dates of his movements to and from the various postings.


Period of Service

Chatham, Kent

12 September 1872 to December 1875

Roorkee, Bengal

January 1876 to November 1884

West Rajpootana, India

December 1884 to February 1885

Suakin, Sudan

March to May 1885

West Rajpootana, India

June 1885 to March 1892

Madras, India

April 1892 to March 1895

Lahore, India

April 1895 to December 1899

Calcutta, India

January 1899 to 21 December 1904


Period of Service

Home Service

3 years and 110 days

Service Abroad

27 years and 355 days

Total Service

31 years and 100 days

NOTE: The home service shown in the table above is approximate and does not include periods of time spent on home leave.


Willoughby Verner Constable received the following promotions during his time in service:

Date of Promotion or Appointment

Rank or Position

12 September 1872

Commissioned Lieutenant

12 September 1884

Promoted Captain

19 October 1891

Promoted Major

18 May 1899

Appointed Temporary Lieutenant Colonel

18 May 1903

Promoted Lieutenant Colonel

21 December 1904

Appointed Honorary Colonel


As previously indicated, Willoughby Verner Constable married Lucy Gordon on the 13th of April 1889. Lucy’s parents were Colonel James Henry Gordon, C.B., D.S.O. and Arabella Hewit Gordon (nee Sams).

Constable’s prominent father-in-law, James Henry Gordon was born on the 25th of January 1839 at Blackheath, Kent, the son of Adam and Susan Gordon. Gordon joined the Indian Army on the 20th of April 1857. He served in Burma from 1885 to 1886, commanding the 23rd Madras Light Infantry. Gordon was present at the taking of Mandalay and at later operations in Burma. He was twice mentioned in despatches for general efficiency in camp and in the field and received the India General Service Medal 1854-1895 with clasp [BURMA1885-7]. Gordon was created a Companion of The Most Honourable Order of the Bath (C.B.) [London Gazette, 3 June 1893] and a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order (D.S.O.) [London Gazette, 25 November 1887]. Gordon was promoted to the rank of Colonel in the Madras Staff Corps on the 20th of April 1887 and was placed on the Unemployed Supernumerary List on the 5th of January 1895 after serving in the Indian Army for almost 38 years.[18]


The following is a list of Colonel and Mrs. Constable’s residences following his retirement from the Army:



January 1908

24, Alexander Court, Queen’s Gate, London SW.[19]

January 1910

Tytherley, Bournemouth, Dorsetshire.[20]

April 1910

Cedar House, Salt Hill, Slough, Buckinghamshire.[21]

August 1943

Pyper’s Plot, Stoke Park, near Slough, Buckinghamshire.[22]

During the Great War of 1914-1918, Lucy Constable served with the St. John's Ambulance Association. For her service she was awarded the medallion shown below with clasps dated 1915 through 1918.

Lucy Constable's St. John's Ambulance Association Medal
(obverse and reverse)

No information was uncovered regarding Constable’s employment after retiring from the Army. He was 51 years old when he left the Army and although he may have retired completely, it is more likely that he was employed in some managerial capacity with a railroad in England. This assumption is based, of course, on all the years of management and practical experience he had from his time in India. It is known that he was a member of the United Service Club.[23]

Willoughby Verner Constable died on the 28th of November 1943 at the age of 90 years and 2 months. His wife Lucy, seven years his junior, died on the 25th of December 1954 at the age of 83 years and 11 months.[24]


The following information was supplied by Mr. Mark Forster.

Colonel Verner Constable’s golden wedding celebration was noted on the front page of 13th April 1939 edition of The Times. The article states that Constable married Lucy in "Belgaum."

"The India List and the India Office List of 1905," page 466, Records of Service there is a short biographical account of the postings of W.V. Constable indicating that he was inspecting railways in America from April to July of 1901. Constable wrote a report titled "Report on the Working of American Railways," dated 23 July 1901, which was published by Eyre and Spottiswoode in 1901.


The following information was supplied by Rob and Lucy Henley, the great nephew and niece of Willoughby Verner Constable. Their Great Uncle Will and Great Aunt Lucy were the favorite uncle and aunt of Rob and Lucy’s mother Suzanne Gordon. Rob and Lucy have in their possession quite a lot of family information and photographs of Willoughby Verner Constable, as well as his brother-in-law Colonel George Hamilton Gordon and George’s father, Colonel James Henry Gordon. Rob and Lucy’s uncle, Hugh Mackay Gordon also worked on the Indian Railways as well as the East African Railways.

Rob and Lucy’s father was the late Major Anthony Cornish Henley. He served with the 4/16th Punjabis from 1933 to 1947 and was captured by the Italians at Benghazi in 1942.

Major Henley’s brother, Ted, was a major in the Royal Hampshire Regiment. He was killed at Monte Cassino in 1944.

Rob and Lucy’s grandfather, Major Cornish Frederick Henley served with the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry in South Africa and India. During the Great War he was taken prisoner at Kut al Amara by the Turks in 1916 and died in 1946.



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

2. CREAGH, O. & HUMPHRIS, E.M. The Distinguished Service Order, 1886-1923. J.B. Hayward & Son, London. 1978.

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

Census Records

1. 1861 Census of England. Civil Parish: Plumstead; County: Kent; Registration District: Lewisham; Sub-registration District: Plumstead; Enumeration District: 22; Household Schedule Number: 123. RG9; Piece 411; Folio; 12; Page 23; GSU Roll; 542633.

2. 1871 Census of England. Civil Parish: Woolwich; County: Kent; Registration District: Woolwich; Sub-registration District: Woolwich Arsenal; Enumeration District: Army Service Corps Barracks and Royal Military Academy; Household Schedule Number: 1. RG10; Piece 786; Folio; 99; Page 32; GSU Roll; 827741.

3. 1901 Census of England. Civil Parish: Cosgrove; County: Northamptonshire; Registration District: Potterspury; Sub-registration District: Potterspury; Enumeration District: 3; Household Schedule Number: 83. RG13; Piece 1413; Folio; 24; Page 12..

Internet Web Sites

The Peerage.com Web Site: A Genealogical Survey of the Peerage of Britain as well as Europe. http://www.thepeerage.com

Email Correspondence

1. Mark Forster, 7 June 2009.

2. Rob Henley, 15 February 2010.

3. Rob Henley, 16 February 2010.

4. Rob Henley, 21 February 2010.

Medal Rolls

Royal Engineers Roll for the Egypt Wars, 1882-1889 and Khedive’s Star, 1882-1889 (National Archives 64/132; Royal Engineers Medal Book 2/247).


1. Hart’s Quarterly Army List, January 1876. John Murray, London, 1876.

2. Hart’s Annual Army List, 1885. John Murray, London, 1885.

3. Hart’s Quarterly Army List, April 1892. John Murray, London, 1892.

4. Hart’s Quarterly Army List, April 1895. John Murray, London, 1895.

5. Hart’s Annual Army List, 1898. John Murray, London, 1898.

6. Hart’s Quarterly Army List, January 1900. John Murray, London, 1900.

7. Monthly Army Lists, April – June 1903.

8. Royal Engineers Monthly List, January 1905.

9. Royal Engineers Monthly List, January 1908.

10. Royal Engineers Monthly List, January 1910.

11. Royal Engineers Monthly List, April 1910.

12. Royal Engineers Quarterly List, January 1930.

13. Royal Engineers Quarterly List, October 1935.

14. Royal Engineers List, 1943.

15. Supplement to the Half-Yearly Army List, 1924. War Services.


[1] R.E. List, January 1910, p. xvi and the 1861 Census of England.

[2] On the actual census form Willoughby’s middle initial is shown as "B" rather than "V." Since the name of the child was told orally to the census taker it is most likely that the individual taking the census data heard "B" instead of "V", a not very unusual occurrence. Since a search on Ancestry.com did not produce any other individual with the surname Constable and the given name of Willoughby in the 1861 census, it may be assumed that this is Willoughby Verner Constable.

[3] The medals of Colonel Algernon Campbell Foley, R.E. are in the author’s collection.

[4] CONNOLLY, p. 51.

[5] Hart’s, January 1876, p. 116.

[6] CONNOLLY, p. 51.

[7] Hart’s 1885, p. 211.

[8] CONNOLLY, p. 51.

[9] Hart’s April 1892, p. 209 and the R.E. Medal Roll for the Egypt Wars.

[10] The Peerage.com Web Site.

[11] CONNOLLY, p. 51.

[12] Hart’s, April 1892, p. 209.

[13] Hart’s, April 1895, p. 208.

[14] The division of India and the creation of the nation of Pakistan saw terrible scenes near the new border areas with trains of refugees being attacked and the occupants massacred. The lines were part of the NWR system, which was divided by Partition with most of its 6,861 miles being in Pakistan territory, only 1,885 miles going to India, where it was to be part of the newly created East Punjab Railway, which was later absorbed into the Northern Railway.

[15] CONNOLLY, P. 51.

[16] R.E. List, January 1905, p. xvi.

[17] Half-Yearly Army List, 1924, p. 135.

[18] CREAGH & HUMPHRIS, p. 20.

[19] R.E. List, January 1908, p. xvi.

[20] R.E. List, January 1910, p. xxxv.

[21] R.E. List, April 1910, p. xxxv.

[22] R.E. List, 1943, p. xxiii.

[23] R.E. List, January 1908, p. xvi.

[24] The Peerage.com Web Site. The information regarding Lucy Constable's age may be in error. According to Rob Henley, it is thought that she married Willoughby Verner Constable at the age of 17. The family has her birthdate as January 4, 1870.