Who would have guessed that my great grandfather, Edwin Williams, was ever in the army? Thanks to a document and letter in the possession of my cousin, and graciously shared with me, I was able to find out about Edwin’s short army career.

The document below is a pass for Acting Corporal E Williams (army no 1360) of the 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade currently stationed at the Raglan Barracks, Devonport and dated December 28 & 29, 1867.

Army Pass for Edwin Williams 28 &29 December 1867
Army Pass for Edwin Williams 28 &29 December 1867

The letter was from Edwin’s fellow soldier and friend, George Hobart. The letter was dated January 26, 1868 and was a condolence letter to Edwin regarding the death of this mother (Edwin’s mother, Susannah Williams, died on January 23, 1868). The letter also mentions the possibility of a discharge from the army for Edwin as follows:

I was thinking that you might be able to get your discharge sent to you, but on making enquiries at the Orderly Room of Serg Houghton he tells me that you will be obliged to come back to be present when the Board sits, and that the sooner you return, the sooner you will be able to leave this detestable calling for ever, and become once more free and although when you go I shall lose, if not the only friend I have, the one most esteemed, it will be some consolation to know that you are happy, or at least amongst friends that are dear to you.

Army service records for the 19th century have mostly been lost. However, if the soldier went on to earn a pension, service details were included in the pension records (despite his apparent displeasure of army life, Edwin’s friend George, went on to have a long army career and pension). The only way to find out when and where a soldier like Edwin served is by looking at the army pay lists and muster rolls. These are not available online and there is no index, so you have to know the regiment number, battalion name and service dates. Luckily, both the pass and letter contain these details.

The pay lists and muster rolls are held in the National Archives at Kew, in London. I used the National Archive’s catalogue to confirm that the pay lists were available. I was in London in March and put aside a day to go to Kew. As I had obtained a Reader’s Ticket on a previous visit, I was able to reserve the appropriate documents before I got to the archives.

Here is a summary of Edwin’s career:

Edwin enlisted in the British Army on 2 May 1865. His seventeenth birthday was the following week (7 May), but he must have lied about his age as the army records list him as 18 years old (and 5’ 6 ½ ” tall). He joined the 2nd Battalion of the Rifle Brigade at Liverpool.

He was stationed at Winchester Depot from 14 May 1865 until he travelled to India sometime in October 1865 with a large group from the depot. He was initially stationed at Meerut, East India. On 2 November 1866 the Battalion “moved to Agra and was encamped in Agra during the durbar held by the Governor-General, Sir John Lawrence; till 1 to 5 December, when it proceeded in detachments, by rail, to Fort William Calcutta.” The following year, on 29 September, 1867, the Battalion left India. “The 2nd Battalion, having embarked at Calcutta on board H.M. Troop-ship ‘Jumna,’ proceeded to Suez. And re-embarking at Alexandria on board H.M. Troop-ship ‘ Crocodile,’ disembarked at Portsmouth on November 23, and proceeded at once by rail to Devonport, and occupied quarters.” [2. quotes from “The history of the Rifle Brigade (the Prince Consort’s Own) formerly the 95th” by Sir William H. Cope].

Edwin did indeed obtain a discharge from the army. The discharge was dated 24 February 1868 and was obtained by purchase.

Whilst as the National Archives, I looked for the details of Samuel Williams, Edwin’s youngest brother, who had apparently died in December, 1877 at the Curragh Camp in Ireland while serving in the 1st Battalion of the Royal Scots and No. 1 Regiment of Infantry. However, I was unable to find his name in the pay lists. This is a mystery I will have to solve at a later date!

Edwin Williams was in the Army?