Sgt Major James Wise RE

First up is an apology for the lack of posts recently. Unfortunately real life has conspired to keep me from writing and even researching has been tough. I now have plenty of time on my hands so hopefully you should see an increase in posts which I hope you enjoy.

Recently I have been researching the British armies Balloon Corps which was sent to South Africa at the start of the 2nd Boer War. Originally the preserve of amateur aeronauts the first British Army balloon was built in Woolwich Arsenal by Captain J.L.B. Templer.

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Balloon pioneer, Captain J.L.B. Templer.

He built the balloon, Pioneer which was made of specially treated and varnished cambric, and cost £71. It was the first balloon built by the RE at Woolwich. Therefore it was the first British Built Military Aircraft. The first flight was on the 23rd August 1878.

The Army began military balloon training in 1880 and moved the unit to Chatham, Kent.

Balloons were first deployed by the British Army’s Royal Engineers during the expeditions to Bechuanaland and Suakin in 1885.

By 1890 the British government has recognised  the importance of the Balloon Corp and had moved it to larger quarters in Aldershot and brought the unit into the British Army establishment.

The first unit in action was the 2nd Balloon Section under the command of Major GM Heath, which arrived at Ladysmith on 27th October only to remain within the besieged town for the next four months. At first they continued to observe the enemy’s movements until the supply of gas ran out.

A small contingent of the 2nd Section which had remained outside of the town and with reserve equipment and gas, saw action at Potgieters Drift and Spion Kop.

The 1st Balloon Section joined Lord Methuen’s advance on the Modder River and at the battle of Magersfontein, observing the enemy and directing the artillery with great effect.

Soldiers of the Royal Engineers (balloon section) stood in front of the basket of a fully inflated observation balloon, some men in kilts are stood at the edge of the photograph. Image slightly overexposed.  © IWM (RAE-O 677

Soldiers of the Royal Engineers (balloon section) stood in front of the basket of a fully inflated observation balloon, some men in kilts are stood at the edge of the photograph. Image slightly overexposed. © IWM (RAE-O 677

In 1900 the balloonists provided vital information on the Boer’s positions at Paardeborg, even though the 12,000 cub foot Duchess of Connaught was holed and leaking badly.

The gas was transferred to the Bristol which flew at the Battle of Poplar Grove, and in the advance from Blomfontein, it was kept inflated for twenty two days on the 165 mile march.

It then took part in the engagements at Vet River and Zand River.

(Text taken from
Balloons at War’ by John Christopher. Tempus Publishing)

While researching the Balloon Corp, I came across this great picture of the NCO’s of the Balloon Section RE.

L-R Sgt-Champion, Sgt Jolly, Sgt-Maj Greener, Sgt-Maj Wise, Sgt Ewen.

L-R Sgt-Champion, Sgt Jolly, Sgt-Maj Greener, Sgt-Maj Wise, Sgt Ewen. IWM (RAE-O 6)

As you can see the men are named so I set about to see what I could find out about them. Using http://www.findmypast.co.uk/ I first tried to find their service records, for Sgt Maj Champion, Sgt Jolly, Sgt Maj Greener and Sgt Ewen as expected this drew a blank.

When I added Sgt Wise into the search engine amazingly I got a hit. It is quite rare to have a picture and a complete service record for any solider, especially from pre WW1 so this got me quite excited.

Using his service record I could then find his birth index, census records, Marriage and finally death index. This is what I found out.

James Wise was born in Dartford, Kent 1864 to Charles and Jane Wise. His father was a gardener and he was the youngest of 4 children. When he finished his schooling he became a General labourer until on the 23rd June 1883 he joined the Royal Engineers as a Sapper.

James Wise's original sign up paper.

James Wise’s original sign up paper.

He seems to have taken to soldiering and was steadily promoted up the ranks:

2nd Corporal 1/9/93

Corporal 1/9/95

Sergeant 1/1/1900. (even though he is listed as Sgt Major on the picture it isn’t listed on his service record).

On the 19/5/91 he was listed as skilled Ballooning which earned him extra pay.

He spent the first 15 months of his service at depot but in September 1884 he was posted to Egypt. He served for just over 2 years in Egypt for which he earned  the Egyptian medal.

He also saw service thought out the 2nd Boer war in South Africa and was awarded the King’s SA medal and also a Good Conduct award.

Image 9

He married with permission, Lizzie Ackrill Brown on the 23rd May1893 in Aldershot and went on to have 4 children with Lizzie.

He retired from the Royal Engineers on the 22nd of June 1904 after 21 years exemplary service. He originally retired to Chatham Kent but by 1911 was living in Channing town with Lizzie and the children.

Sergeant-Major James Wise (retired) died in Channing Town in 1926.

 

 

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“Back To the Army Again” Rudyard Kipling

I’m ‘ere in a ticky ulster an’ a broken billycock ‘at,
A-layin’ on the sergeant I don’t know a gun from a bat;
My shirt’s doin’ duty for jacket, my sock’s stickin’ out o’ my boots,
An’ I’m learnin’ the damned old goose-step along o’ the new recruits!

Back to Army again, sergeant,
Back to the Army again.
Don’t look so ‘ard, for I ‘aven’t no card,
I’m back to the Army again!

I done my six years’ service. ‘Er Majesty sez: “Good day —
You’ll please to come when you’re rung for, an’ ‘ere’s your ‘ole back-pay:
An’ fourpence a day for baccy — an’ bloomin’ gen’rous, too;
An’ now you can make your fortune — the same as your orf’cers do.”

© IWM ARMY TRAINING 1636 Interior of a barrack room at Brock Barracks, Reading, the depot of the Royal Berkshire Regiment.

Interior of a barrack room at Brock Barracks, Reading, the depot of the Royal Berkshire Regiment. (© IWM ARMY TRAINING 1636)

Back to the Army again, sergeant,
Back to the Army again.
‘Ow did I learn to do right-about-turn?
I’m back to the Army again!

A man o’ four-an’-twenty that ‘asn’t learned of a trade —
Beside “Reserve” agin’ him — ‘e’d better be never made.
I tried my luck for a quarter, an’ that was enough for me,
An’ I thought of ‘Er Majesty’s barricks, an’ I thought I’d go an’ see.

Back to the Army again, sergeant,
Back to the Army again.
‘Tisn’t my fault if I dress when I ‘alt —
I’m back to the Army again!

A Billiards Room at a Royal Artillery barracks.  © IWM ARMY TRAINING 163

A Billiards Room at a Royal Artillery barracks. © IWM ARMY TRAINING 163

The sergeant arst no questions, but ‘e winked the other eye,
‘E sez to me, ” ‘Shun!” an’ I shunted, the same as in days gone by;
For ‘e saw the set o’ my shoulders, an’ I couldn’t ‘elp ‘oldin’ straight
When me an’ the other rookies come under the barrik-gate.

Back to the Army again, sergeant,
Back to the Army again.
‘Oo would ha’ thought I could carry an’ port?
I’m back to the Army again!

I took my bath, an’ I wallered — for, Gawd, I needed it so!
I smelt the smell o’ the barricks, I ‘eard the bugles go.
I ‘eard the feet on the gravel — the feet o’ the men what drill —
An’ I sez to my flutterin’ ‘eart-strings, I sez to ’em, “Peace, be still!”

Back to the Army again, sergeant,
Back to the Army again.
‘Oo said I knew when the troopship was due?
I’m back to the Army again!

Interior of a barrack room occupied by the Grenadier Guards in old Wellington Barracks, London. (© IWM ARMY TRAINING 19126 )

Interior of a barrack room occupied by the Grenadier Guards in old Wellington Barracks, London. (© IWM ARMY TRAINING 19126 )

I carried my slops to the tailor; I sez to ‘im, “None o’ your lip!
You tight ’em over the shoulders, an’ loose ’em over the ‘ip,
For the set o’ the tunic’s ‘orrid.” An’ ‘e sez to me, “Strike me dead,
But I thought you was used to the business!” an’ so ‘e done what I said.

Back to the Army again, sergeant,
Back to the Army again.
Rather too free with my fancies? Wot — me?
I’m back to the Army again!

Next week I’ll ‘ave ’em fitted; I’ll buy me a swagger-cane;
They’ll let me free o’ the barricks to walk on the Hoe again,
In the name o’ William Parsons, that used to be Edward Clay,
An’ — any pore beggar that wants it can draw my fourpence a day!

Back to the Army again, sergeant,
Back to the Army again.
Out o’ the cold an’ the rain, sergeant,
Out o’ the cold an’ the rain.
‘Oo’s there?

Detachtment of the 1st Welsh Guards on first arrival and in new uniform, at Chelsea Barracks. (© IWM (Q 67406) )

Detachtment of the 1st Welsh Guards on first arrival and in new uniform, at Chelsea Barracks. (© IWM (Q 67406) )

A man that’s too good to be lost you,
A man that is ‘andled an’ made —
A man that will pay what ‘e cost you
In learnin’ the others their trade — parade!
You’re droppin’ the pick o’ the Army
Because you don’t ‘elp ’em remain,
But drives ’em to cheat to get out o’ the street
An’ back to the Army again!