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The Orphans & The Duke of York’s Military School


 Royal Military Asylum in Yorkshire via

Stop Press! Fluke find of Charles, poor little bugger…..

All I did was bung in Gambles and thought ..... it! This was the result:


(Info on census card shows: name, occupation (schoolboy), age and place of birth.)

Found him in an Asylum of all places. Creepy name for a, me thinks, sort of Military Boarding School. Teachers all military, all boys’ school, all aged between 9 and 14 and born all over the world. 2nd Bn Essex Regiment was in Burma in 1897 and was sent to South Africa in December 1901. Census was 31st March 1901.


Charles was sent to England somewhere between 1897 and 31st March 1901, and who knows his brother and mother too?

 Wrong! It darn well is an Asylum located on the grounds of Chelsea Hospital

Crumbs, it is not, it’s more of an Orphanage: The Duke of York’s Royal Military Asylum for Children of Soldiers, later called The Duke of York’s Royal Military School !


The Royal Military


This institution is also situated at Chelsea. The first stone of the building was laid by his royal highness the Duke of YORK, on the 19th of June, 1801. It is a handsome edifice, and admits 700 boys, and 300 girls, the children of soldiers who have died, or are toiling, in the service of their country. The former are educated according to the system of Dr. Bell, in reading, writing, and the useful parts of arithmetic; and the latter in needlework, and the different branches of household work.

BRIEF HISTORY DURING THE SNOW ERA (1813-58) The Asylum was a boarding school for children who were orphans or in need of the Army's charity. It was formed in 1803 with the name "The Royal Military Asylum for Children of Soldiers of the Regular Army" and remained at its location until 1895.  Thereafter the name of the school was changed to The Duke of York's Royal Military School and relocated to above the cliffs of Dover between Folkestone and Dover At first, the institution was intended both for boys and girls, and both were admitted freely; but it is long since the Asylum has been reserved for boys only. As stated in the original regulations, the institution was intended for, "1st", Orphans. 2nd, those whose fathers have been killed on foreign service. 3rd. those who have lost their mothers, and whose fathers are absent on duty abroad; and 4th, those whose fathers are ordered on foreign service, or whose parents have other children to maintain. These regulations have since been extended to admit the children of pensioners of long service and good conduct. Children, according to the original regulations were admitted at " the earliest age for nurture, and into the Asylum from four years till twelve years, being discharged at fourteen years.[1]


For a long time I was wondering whether Thomas Gambles was killed in action and now I’m convinced this is true: I found the poor little basterds Charles and Albert in the ledgers of this Asylum, or as it was actually called after 1892: Duke of York’s Military School, which took boys from the age of 9 to 14 or so and educated them until they could (voluntary) join a regiment. Evidently this is what happened. The mystery though is what happened to their Mum…..This is where I found Gambles Charles F and Albert E, both Essex Regiment (Father’s Regiment)

 All names entered into W0143/27 and WO143/78      All Names Index

Here only Charles is mentioned as transferred to Duke of York’s School.

Transfer to the Royal Military Asylum, Chelsea          Transfers



Charles’ age was 12 on 31st March 1901 according to the census report and the Asylum took on kids from 9 to 15, so he could have stayed there sometime from 1897 through 1903, which happens to be the year (?) he joined up with the Essex Regiment according to the photo of the Drummer Boy. So this is where Charles (and Albert?) stayed and was raised until he joined Dad’s Regiment in about 1903 in Dublin! Albert is still a bit of a mystery…..Age wise he must have been younger and he is not mentioned in the Transfer Index!

Thomas Gambles must have died or was disabled (?) somewhere between 1897 and 1903. His regiment was stationed in Burma from 1897 to 12.1901 when it was sent to South Africa. In 1902 it was stationed in Warley, England.

Conclusion: Looking at the dates Thomas must have died in Burma.

Okay, there is always a chance the boys were sent here for their education, but the fact that I can’t find Thomas at all, no birth, marriage, death, resurrection, etc. does seem to point to the more dramatic theory….Another possibility is that their Mum died and Thomas sent them to England???

Series details for WO 143

                                                                                                       Browse the catalogue from here

Royal Military Asylum for Children of Soldiers of the Regular Army, later Duke of York's Royal Military School, and Royal Hibernian Military School: Records                                                                       





Administrative/biographical background           Provision of education for soldiers and their children was provided at regimental schools, which began to be established in the second half of the eighteenth century. A Corps of Army Schoolmasters was formed in 1846. On 11 June 1920 this was replaced by the Army Education Corps, which in 1946 became the Royal Army Education Corps.

Alongside the regimental schools there were two boarding schools for children of serving or deceased officers. These were the Royal Hibernian Military School, Dublin, founded in 1769 for children and orphans of soldiers on the Irish establishment; and the Royal Military Asylum for Children of Soldiers of the Regular Army, established at Chelsea in 1801 on the initiative of the Duke of York.

In 1892 the latter was renamed the Duke of York's Royal Military School, and in 1909 it moved to Dover. In 1922 the Royal Hibernian School moved to Shorncliffe, and in 1924 it was merged with the Duke of York's School.

Royal Military Asylum for Children of Soldiers of the Regular Army, 1801-1892

Duke of York’s Royal Military School, 1892

Alongside the regimental schools there were two boarding schools for children of serving or deceased officers. There are other examples of boys 'Not Admitted' and shown as ' Provided for, a standard fee was paid to the relative or foster person to care for the child until old enough for admission to the RHMS or until such time that the child reached the normal discharge age of 14.

Brain shaker:

Always wondered why this photograph of Charles was made in Chelsea. He was 12 on 31st March 1901, and the photo was taken in +/- 1903 (as written in handwriting of our Dad) the photo could have been taken in 1902, 1903 or 1904. This would make his age 13, 14 or 15.  Taking into consideration what Charles (?) scrawled on reverse photo: ‘Wishing you a happy New Year’ the end of 1902, beginning of 1903 or the end of 1903 are logical possibilities date wise. Studying his face on the photo I would guess he is not older then 13, 14 or 15. So the photo could have been taken either at the Royal military School or when he had just joined the Essex Regiment, which was stationed at Warley between 1902 and 1904. 

   Royal Military School? Drum badge intro. At least as early as 1874 [and 1849 for drum-majors], and has appeared in several materials and sizes. The early versions were cloth, fairly large, and rather gaudy and padded, a not-very-good likeness of a drum, in various coloured wools. It was intended for red frocks [not the smarter tunic, where the full drummer's lace and shoulder adornments marked his role. Nevertheless, it was worn on red tunic in many regiments, but not in the Guards]. Later [and here I avoid a date!] it appeared in brass, smaller and detachable, and in khaki worsted with detail picked out in different but dull colours. As to whether the colourful one made it on to service dress, I do not know, but I suspect so. The brass one was in wear by many in 1418. This is what they looked like:

This is where school was:

Now for the fun part:

At the time this article appeared, the British monarch was Queen Victoria, who had ascended to the throne in 1837.

The Electrician (London), May 26, 1899, page 144:

    The Queen and the Electrophone.--Her Majesty heard the electrophone for the first time on Wednesday, when she listened at Windsor Castle to the boys from all the naval and military schools and the Duke of York's school singing "God Save the Queen" at Her Majesty's Theatre, in London. Afterwards the Queen and her guests had the opportunity of listening to the concert at St. James's Hall.

‘The great majority of boys joined the army at the age of fourteen as band-boys or drummer-boys. From the earliest Chelsea days there was always a military band, also drums and bugles….band and drum practice was an integral part of the School curriculum. His musical progress was so good that he was made a lance-corporal on attaining the age of eighteen and at twenty two was promoted sergeant. At the early age of twenty-six he was appointed Drum Major and Bandmaster….”

Excerpts from: Play Up Dukies, Duke of York’s Royal Military School 1801-1986 by George Shorter, Drum major: the male leader of a band (= a group of marching musicians) especially in the army.

Bandmaster: someone who conducts a military band.

If it is exceptional that the above person was promoted to lance-corporal at eighteen  it might be significant that Charles was a lance corporal at twenty!


[1] In the case of Thomas: pensioner of long service and good conduct? – did he have a medal – T.N.A. !