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.
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
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. 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.
He seems to have taken to soldiering and was steadily promoted up the ranks:
2nd Corporal 1/9/93
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.
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.