Saturday 11 February 2012

WO Form 497 - A Rorke's Drift survivor

Robert Tongue, a framework knitter by trade, attested with the 25th Infantry Brigade at Nottingham on the 1st March 1877.  He was 19 years old and indicated that he previously served with the Nottinghamshire militia; indeed it was Colour Sergeant William England of the Notts Militia who had enlisted him.

Overseas service in the Cape of Good Hope (1st Feb 1878 to 11th Feb 1880), Gibraltar (12th Feb 1880 to 10th Aug 1880) and India (from 11th Aug 1880) is indicated on this side of Robert's attestation paper.  It was whilst serving overseas in the Cape that 1315 Pte Robert Tongue of B Company, the 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot, was one of the heroic defenders of Rorke's Drift.

Robert Tongue was transferred to the army reserve on the 21st June 1883 and discharged from the army on 28th February 1889.  He had married in 1884 and the couple had nine children, the first five of these children, all girls, dying in childhood.  The eldest of the couple's two boys, John George Tongue, would later die of wounds (29th March 1918) whilst serving with the 16th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers. By then, his father, had also died.  Robert Tongue died on the 29th January 1918 and was buried in a pauper's grave in the Shaw Street Cemetery in Ruddington.  Coincidentally, two other Rorke's Drift men, Caleb Wood and James Marshall, are also buried there.
All document images reproduced on this post are Crown Copyright, The National Archives. Pension records can be searched and downloaded from Findmypast which offers a FREE 14-day trial.

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Army Form B.96 - 1880 Attestation

Here's Army Form B.96 (late W.O. [War Office] Form 497); the attestation form used to attest soldiers enlisting for six years with the colours and six years on the army reserve.

The soldier in question, James Blackford, enlisted with the 56th Regiment of Foot (later The Essex Regiment) at Portland, West Bromwich on the 19th May 1880. The document has the word "copy" written acros the top of it and in fact this would not have been the attestation form version that would have been used for James. Look at the top left of the document and there's a date there: 9-80 (September 1880), whereas James actually joined in May 1880.

Other points to note: The printed signature next to the royal cypher reads C Ellice AG.  This is General Sir Charles Ellice who was Adjutant General between 1876 and 1882.

Note that in common with the 1846 attestation I wrote about earlier, the surgeon was supposed to check that the Recruit was free from a whole host of conditions, here listed as: "scrofula; phthisis; syphilis, impaired constitution; defective intelligence; defects of vision, voice, or hearing; hernia; haemorrhoids; varicose veins beyond a limited extent; inveterate cutaneous disease, chronic ulcers; traces of corporal punishment, or evidence of having been marked with the letters D or BC; contracted or deformed chest; abnormal curvature of the spine; or any other disease or physical effect calculated to unfit him for the duties of a soldier."

The letter D stood for Deserter, and BC for Bad Character; these initials branded on the skin.

James's number is expressed as 44 Bde / 1349.  This was the 44th Infantry Brigade Depot.  The 44th Infantry Brigade Depot at Warley, Essex was home to the 44th (East Essex) Regiment of Foot and the 56th (West Essex) Regiment of Foot.

He appears to have been a good soldier, earning two pay rises and being transferred to the Army Reserve on the 19th May 1886, six years after enlisting.  A note at the bottom of his record records that he died at Birmingham on the 10th October 1890.

The physical characteristics of the soldier, as well as his trade: a striker.

Where he served: three years at home and three years overseas.  Next of kin details are recorded, his character noted as Very Good and again, the date of death recorded.

More medical notes.  The day before his transfer to the Army Reserve his character was noted as Steady and Temperate.

Two cases of syphillis recorded, presumably picked up when he was in India.

All document images reproduced on this post are Crown Copyright, The National Archives. Pension records can be searched and downloaded from Findmypast which offers a FREE 14-day trial.

Wednesday 1 February 2012

Thomas Carpenter 1846: a highly scrophulous subject

Thomas Carpenter attested with the 40th Regiment of Foot at 2pm on the 18th December 1846 although this photo of him was taken many years later in March 1873 when he presented at Aylesbury Gaol to serve a sentence of one month's imprisonment for stealing a pair of boots.  He was then a 52 year old widower "on the tramp"; a fitter's labourer by trade and the father of two children aged 18 and 20.

Prison records note that Thomas served five years with the 40th Foot, although surviving papers in WO 97 at The National Archives (and published below) show that he actually served less than four years: three years and 270 days to be precise.

Thomas, born at Chard in Somerset, enlisted at Taunton aged 18 years.  A labourer by trade, he stood five feet, six and three quarter inches tall, had a fresh complexion, grey eyes and brown hair.  He had a cut on his left cheek.

 Commentary written along the right hand margin of the second page of his attestation paper (above) read: "a generally ill-formed Recruit - narrow chest, attenuated limbs, flat feet, very long fingers and a highly scrophulous subject - at present suffering from cough likely soon to form a casualty from phthisis pulmonatis." Nevertheless, he was passed medically fit on the 19th December and was finally approved on the 6th January 1847.

 The attestation form itself gives no indication when it first came into use, although the format and order of the first six questions would barely change over the next eighty years.  Question 10 notes that he enlisted for a bounty of four pounds - quite a tidy sum in 1846 - and that he had received the sum of two shillings and sixpence (page two).  It is also interesting to note the wording used in the declaration to be signed by the doctor.  This was a period of history when army deserters, once apprehended, were branded with the letter D and this is referenced here.

In passing Thomas medically fit, the surgeon acknowledged that his "general appearance [was] healthy" although he clearly had misgivings about this and wrote as much in the margin on the left-hand side, stating that the opinion of a Medical Board would go against him.  If nothing else, this man's attestation shows how desperate the army was to recruit men, paying a large sum of money for somebody who was actually a poor specimen.  No reason for Thomas Carpenter's discharge on the 14th September 1850 is given.

All document images reproduced on this post are Crown Copyright, The National Archives. Pension records can be searched and downloaded from Findmypast which offers a FREE 14-day trial.

  • Buckinghamshire County Council for the Aylesbury Gaol photo and prison notes
  • The National Archives for the Crown Copyright documents from the WO 97 Army Pensions' series