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Royal Artillery service records 1880s

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Royal Artillery service records 1880s

Postby hassamal » Sun Jan 22, 2017 11:01 pm

I am trying to discover something of the life of my great grandfather, Henry Mercer, who was a Sergeant in the Royal Artillery in the 1880s. According to the Scottish Census of April 1881, he was a ‘Sergeant Royal Artillery & Militia Stuff’ living at 30 Castle Street, Dunbar, with his wife, Ruth (I’m guessing that ‘Stuff’ should be ‘Staff’). The Valuation Rolls show them still living in Dunbar four years later in May 1885, with Henry still a Sergeant.

Henry came from Liverpool and Ruth from Sittingbourne in Kent, so I am assuming they met while Henry was stationed in Kent; they were married in Sittingbourne in August 1879, with Henry described simply as a Sergeant. They had returned from Scotland to Kent by the time of my grandmother’s birth in Rochester in 1891, with Henry having left the army and described as a ‘cooper (master)’.

My first question is: is there enough information here to know what Henry was doing in Dunbar in the 1880s? He doesn’t appear to be attached to an RA battery, and the reference to Militia could be significant, I imagine.

Forces War Records contains the transcript of a record from the National Archives (WO 69 Royal Artillery Records of Service and Papers) relating to a Sergeant Henry James Mercer, Dep Battery, 1st Brigade Royal Artillery. Dated 6 August 1879, the incident recorded is ‘To District Staff.’ Since my great grandparents, Henry and Ruth, married 19 days later on 25 August, this suggests to me that this record relates to Henry Mercer’s posting to Dunbar.

A former service number is given for Henry James Mercer - 2053 - and a list compiled in 1871 (WO 10/2403 Artillery Muster Books and Pay Lists) records 2053 Gunner Henry Mercer belonging to 1st Brigade Royal Artillery. My second question is, therefore: does the record for Sergeant Henry James Mercer relate to my great grandfather, Sergeant Henry Mercer? No other records give my great grandfather a middle name, though his marriage registration gives his father’s name as Henry James Mercer. And the age given in 1879 (22 years) is wrong (Henry was about 30), though that record also gives his military service beginning on 20 June 1868, which would have made Henry James Mercer only 11 years old on entry. Perhaps the transcript is inaccurate.

A third question would be: are there any further military records that might help me find out more about my great grandfather Sergeant Henry Mercer? He died in 1900 when he was only around 50 and all I really know about him is that he was a Sergeant in the Royal Artillery for most of his adult life. Anything further I can discover about his military career would be invaluable.

Many thanks,

Andrew
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Re: Royal Artillery service records 1880s

Postby AdrianB38 » Mon Jan 23, 2017 12:48 pm

There was a unit of Militia Artillery based at Dunbar in the 1881 Army List (and no doubt in lots of others), viz: the Haddington, Berwick, Linlithgow & Peebles Artillery. (Not the world's snappiest title!)

See https://archive.org/stream/newannualarmylis1881lond#page/n737/mode/2up and with acknowledgements to http://www.archive.org and the National Library of Scotland, this is that page:

newannualarmylis1881lond_0739.jpg
newannualarmylis1881lond_0739.jpg (368.81 KiB) Viewed 3714 times


My understanding is that Militia units would tend to have a Regular(s) soldier attached as instructors / drill serjeants, etc. Probably especially useful in Militia Artillery where it's rather important to know which end to put the cartridge in! So that's probably what your chap was doing.

Re numbering: I don't know how many number series were in use at any one time by Regulars in the Artillery. I'd always guessed that on the eve of WW1, the Royal Garrison Artillery had one number series and the Royal Field & Royal Horse Artillery shared another. If that were so in the 1870s, then there might be 2 soldiers in the RA with the same number. The chance of them having both the same first and last names is so small, however, that we can be confident that the two 2053 soldiers are the same guy.

To track Henry's service, someone needs to consult the Muster Books & Pay Lists at Kew. (I'm assuming that his Soldier's Records, e.g. Attestation, etc., don't survive?) See http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/british-army-muster-rolls-pay-lists-1730-1898/ These should tell you where he is - or at least, where his unit is. I would suggest starting with that 1871 reference and working both backwards (to see when he joined) and forwards, to see where he was and finally when he left. There's very little data in most books other than name, rank, serial number and pay rate but you will be able to get a basic idea where he was and there may even be records of expense payments that locate him accurately.

Be wary - some of the books are big and labelled by Brigade rather than Battery (depends what you know!) and if he's allocated to a staff role (as at Dunbar), you may need to consult the Depot Muster books, not battery level.

Good luck.
Adrian
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Re: Royal Artillery service records 1880s

Postby hassamal » Tue Jan 24, 2017 11:51 am

Adrian,

Many thanks for your lengthy response and links to sources that are new to me. It strengthens my uninformed guess that Henry Mercer’s posting to Dunbar was connected with the Haddington Militia. I was unable to find him on their muster lists during a visit to the National Archives (WO 68/78-85), but from what you say, it’s likely he remained on the Royal Artillery muster books relating to Woolwich Depot. In either case, it looks as though I need to start by ploughing through muster lists.

I had hopes of finding him serving in the Royal Artillery on the 1871 Census but have failed; and I can’t find either him or his wife on the 1891 Census. I have several ancestors who appear to be missing from the Censuses after they joined up and it appears that either a number of army census returns are missing or I am not looking in the right place. It seems very hit and miss and I wonder what the experience of others is of tracking the census returns for ancestors serving in the military.

Again, many thanks,

Andrew
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Re: Royal Artillery service records 1880s

Postby ianbee » Wed Jan 25, 2017 4:22 pm

hassamal wrote:I had hopes of finding him serving in the Royal Artillery on the 1871 Census but have failed

But the muster books apparently have Henry Mercer, 2053, at Woolwich at census time, the only person of that name in the RA in the 1871 Index.
Royal Artillery Barracks, 1871
Henry Mercer, Soldier, unm, 25, born Middlesex St Leonards
piece 780 folio 54 page 15
All "Gunners Royal Artillery"

Looking for some other names on that census page in the 1871 index, and they are all 1st Brigade, Royal Artillery, with the muster books reference WO 10/2403, same as Henry.
So that chap in the 1871 census should be 2053?
Ian
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Re: Royal Artillery service records 1880s

Postby ianbee » Wed Jan 25, 2017 5:12 pm

Henry James Mercer appears to be Henry John Mercer
Army service record -
Henry J Mercer
Born St Leonards, Middlesex
Attested June 1868 at Westminster for the Royal Artillery. Age 22, a Clerk
Had three regimental numbers? One was 2053 (not sure if it's the first or second)
Made sergeant, demoted, eventually promoted up to sergeant again
Henry John Mercer married Louisa Ann Footner in Hackney, 30 December 1874 (on ancestry), described as an Instructor in Gunnery.
Discharged at Woolwich in 1893

hassamal wrote:relating to a Sergeant Henry James Mercer, Dep Battery, 1st Brigade Royal Artillery. Dated 6 August 1879, the incident recorded is ‘To District Staff.’

Henry J Mercer's service record says
6 Augst 1879 Transferred to R.A. Regtl District Staff - reg no. 18772
Ian
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Re: Royal Artillery service records 1880s

Postby ianbee » Wed Jan 25, 2017 5:36 pm

hassamal wrote:According to the Scottish Census of April 1881, he was a ‘Sergeant Royal Artillery & Militia Stuff’ living at 30 Castle Street, Dunbar, with his wife, Ruth

The other Henry Mercer, formerly 2053, was in Woolwich
Henry John Mercer Head Mar 34 Sergeant Royal Artillery, born London
Louisa Ann Mercer Wife Mar 25 Middlesex Kingsland Rd
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Re: Royal Artillery service records 1880s

Postby AdrianB38 » Wed Jan 25, 2017 5:52 pm

Nice work Ian. But that leads me, unless I'm missing something, to ask where did we get 2053 from for Henry in Dunbar, of Henry and Ruth?

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Adrian
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Re: Royal Artillery service records 1880s

Postby AdrianB38 » Wed Jan 25, 2017 6:08 pm

Ah, I think I see where we've gone wrong. The Forces War Records entry refers to 2053 and because it was so close to the date of the Dunbar chap's marriage, we've assumed a link. But it isn't Ruth's husband after all. Unless I'm still getting it wrong....

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Re: Royal Artillery service records 1880s

Postby ianbee » Wed Jan 25, 2017 6:36 pm

I think that is right, Adrian. But it leaves no records for Andrew's "Henry"
We do seem to be back to square one with him!
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Re: Royal Artillery service records 1880s

Postby AdrianB38 » Wed Jan 25, 2017 9:54 pm

How about...
Name: Henry Mercer
Pension Admission or Examination Age: 42
Discharge Age: 42
Birth Year: abt 1847
Birth Place: Presert, Lancashire
Pension Admission or Examination Date: 15 Jan 1889
Discharge Date: 8 Jan 1889
Regiment: Scottish Dn. R.A. 1Bde.
Rank: Battery Sergeant Major
Regimental Number: 18798

Source Citation
Royal Hospital, Chelsea: Disability and Royal Artillery Out-Pensions, Admission Books; Class: WO 116; Piece Number: 161

Source Information
Ancestry.com. UK, Royal Hospital Chelsea Pensioner Admissions and Discharges, 1715-1925 [database on-line].

The problem is - and Ian will see this coming - Ancestry only has this index. The image is on Fold3. However (as Ian may also guess) - this appears to be in TNA's Discovery as a download. I am currently waiting for the free download to see what that has in it. Starting with - is there anything to show that he is our chap?
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