Madras Sappers and Miners
A brief summary based on notes taken from talks with
H.E.M. Newman in 1987
The Madras Sappers and Miners were one of three S&M Corps in India, the others
being the Bombay S&M and the Bengal S&M.
The Madras S&M were stationed in Bangalore along with several other regiments,
Bangalore being a large garrison town.
The Madras S&M Corps consisted of six field companies, two army troops
and two mounted field troops. Each company had three (British) officers, making
18 officers total plus staff officers in headquarters - perhaps 30 in total.
Officers tended to spend their carriers in the Corps or leave after a minimum
of five years.
During WW2, the Madras S&M served in North Africa, Italy, Singapore/Malaya
and Burma (prior to the Japanese occupation).
Recruits for both the Royal Engineers and Royal Artillery began their training
in Woolwich. The top students in the Army exam were assigned to the RE, the
others going into the RA. Recruits for other regiments went to Sandhurst. RA
recruits completed their training at Woolwich while RE students went on to Chatham
for two years where they studied engineering subjects such as water supply,
Indian officers had the following ranks:
- Jemadar (one star): in charge of a Section, there being four Sections per
- Subadar (two stars): in charge of a Company, reported directly to the Company
Commander (a Major)
- Subadar Major: in charge of a Company HQ. Adviser to British Commandant
(a Lt.Col or Col.)
In his memoirs, my father recorded having the support of one Subadar and four
Jemadars when he temporarily took charge of the 9th Company in 1926 - see his
In 1924 my father had a Subadar named Anthony who went on to become ADC to
King George V in England (interpreted from my 1987 notes of conversation).
See also “Indian
Sappers and Miners” by Lt.Col. E.W.C. Sandes
Refer also to the Army Museum, Chelsea Barracks.
My father's uncle Edwin M.B. Newman had
preceded him into the Madras S&M, having graduated from Chatham some 30
years before. He was killed in the Sudan in 1885.
Friends of my father who served in the Madras S&M include:
- Tarn Bassett: Commandant in Bangalore in 1929 who put a
stop to married officers being put in command of Field Corps, thereby curtailing
my father's opportunities for advancement after his marriage (prompting his
return to England the following year). Retired to Somerset.
- Jack Steedman: older than my
father (i.e. born before 1900). Became Commandant of the Madras S&M.
Sent to Burma in WW2 where he became Chief Engineer of the British Forces
prior to the Japanese occupation. Retired to Camberley (Surrey) after the
war having reached the rank of Lt. General, then becoming head of the War
Graves Commission. A great hockey player. One of my two Godfathers.
- Maurice Jeakes: older than my
father (i.e. born before 1900). Commanded the 33rd Field Troop when my
father first went to India. A great polo player. Retired in the 1930s to become
secretary of the Madras Racing Club. Re-enlisted during WW2 to take over from
Tommy Tucker as Commandant in Bangalore. Retired after the war to go back
to Madras. Returned to England after Indian Independence, retiring to Stamford
Dingly with his wife Kathleen where he died in 1958. He was my other Godfather.
- Tommy Tucker: Took over command from my father of 9th Field
Company in 1926, and became Commandant in Bangalore before WW2. Killed in
an aircrash on the Burmese frontier during the war.
- Gilbert Cassels "Cassey": senior to my
father when he was first stationed in Bangalore. When he went on leave
in Farmed in Argentina during the 1950s and retired to Merfield House, Rode
(Somerset) in the early '60s, where John Cameron (see notes above) became
his tenant for several years.
- Dick Pedder: O.W. It was he who invited my father to a
party at the (Bangalore?) Race Club where he first met my mother.
- Sir John Forbes: O.W. and my father's best friend at school.
Passed through Woolwich and Chatham just behind my father. He went straight
to Bangalore after Chatham, remaining there until the start of WW2 when he
was drafted as Chief Engineer for the Norway invasion. He married Agnes Farquharson
in 1935. Retired with the rank of Colonel after the war, returning to his
Allargue estate in Aberdeenshire, Scotland with his family of five daughters.
- John Cameron: O.W. b.1905; spent his entire career in India,
much of the time in charge of troop training. Retired in 1950 as Lt.Col. He
was assistant to Maurice Jeakes at one stage. John was a lover of railways
and so became a great friend of mine.
- Dick Richards (half-brother
of my mother): was subaltern to Maurice
Jeakes in a Field Troop and was Quartermaster for a period. Was rendered unfit
for active service when he began suffering from epileptic fits after falling
from a pony when playing polo. My mother was staying with him when she met
- Lawney Gayer (in Razmak 1937)
- Jo Richards (husband of Patricia):
first met in Bangalore in 1940. Jo started with the Bengal S&M and was
posted to Madras at the start of WW2. He took a field company to Persia and
finished his career in Christchurch. He spent three years in Washington as
a liaison officer at the Pentagon.
- Eric Bolton: married to Margaret.
Another army friend of my father, Brigadier Ralph (Pongo) Wheeler,
was not in the Madras S&M. He spent his career in the Ordinance Survey,
being seconded to Africa for a period. My father
first met him in Southampton in 1935 and then in Chessington. On retirement,
he remained in the O.S. as a civilian employee in the Bristol area. In the 1960s
he and his wife Nancy moved to Brent Knoll where
they became neighbours of my father.
Likewise, Major General Geoff Cheetham was not in the Madras
S&M. He also spent his career in the Ordinance Survey and was my father's
boss before his retirement. His wife Connie - a famously charming and uninhibited
lady - was one of my Godmothers.
Page created 26 Jul 2013