William Stentiford - Colour Sergeant
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In Issue 44, in an article called Raw Recruits, we visited the Devonshire Regiment* at their home in the Higher barracks in Exeter in 1891. Albert Stentiford and Charles Stentiford were young men just starting out on their military careers but also at the Barracks, living with his family in the married quarters, there was a far more experienced soldier - Colour Sergeant William Stentiford of the 11th of Foot. 


Colours of the Devonshire Regiment


Colours of the Devonshire Regiment




Cap badge of the 11th of Foot used after 1881

Cap badge of the 11th Foot used after 1881


Colour Sergeant was a pre-World War 1 infantry rank which eventually gave way to the ranks of Company Sergeant Major and Company Quartermaster Sergeant. It is still the title used to refer to all staff sergeants in infantry regiments, no matter what their appointment.

The rank was introduced during the first Napoleonic Wars. Junior officers (or ensigns) carried the Company Colours into battle to create rallying points for the troops - a highly exposed task. The Colour Sergeant had the task of protecting the officer and for this reason, the appointment was given to battle-hardened sergeants who had shown bravery under fire - a public recognition of courage which the other men could respect. 

Colour Sergeants are referred to and addressed as Colour Sergeant or Colour, never as Sergeant and today, usually form part of a Colour Party on ceremonial occasions. Other ranks are not allowed to handle the Colours, they are always saluted when uncased and they travel everywhere with an armed escort.


Colours of the 1st Devonshire Regiment on parade

Colours of the 1st Devonshire Regiment on parade


William Stentiford was born in Drewsteignton and we have met some of his family before - in Issue 9 we presented the service records of two of his brothers - James and George - who joined the Devon Constabulary.

Both Herbert Samuel Stentiford (see Article 1 in Issue 47) and this William Stentiford are descended from the Ann Stentiford who we wrote about in Issue 6.

William  was the third son of George Stentiford and Jane Browning and was baptised in Drewsteignton on 14 Aug 1859. 

His wife Mary came from Drewsteignton too but their marriage is a bit of a mystery. We think they may have married at St. Nicholas church, in Cork, Ireland on 9 Feb 1889. The British maintained a presence in County Cork throughout the 19th century and this church was used by military personnel. The 11th of Foot can be traced to Cork around this time. However, "other ranks" were not encouraged to marry and, indeed, Peter Burroughs in The Oxford Illustrated History of the British Army says that "the official roll for wives was restricted to six per 100 infantrymen, those ‘off the strength’ receiving no acknowledgement or help from the army."

Presumably it became William's "turn" to become a respectable married man because the 1891 census shows him living with his wife Mary and their first child Henry William in the married quarters provided by his regiment in the Higher Barracks in Exeter - now, incidentally, converted into luxury housing, renamed "The Horseguards"  and completely unrecognisable!

The 1901 census finds the family living in the Mutley district of Plymouth at 48 Gifford Torr Rd. William is described as an army Warrant Officer and there are no other clues as to why he is living in Plymouth. William and Mary now have four children and another family member is staying with them - Albert Charles Stentiford who is an Able Seaman in the Royal Navy. Albert was the second son of William's policeman brother George (See Issue 9) and was born in Teignmouth during his father's tour of duty there.

William Stentiford died in Plymouth in the March Quarter of 1921 aged 61.


Henry William b 1890 Dec Exeter
Gertrude Elizabeth b 1893 Mar Exeter
Herbert George b 1894 Sep Plymouth

Winifred May

b 1899 Sep Plymouth


*See Roy Hewitt's article in Issue 44. When the British Army was reorganised with regiments being amalgamated and County names being allocated instead of numbers, the 11th of Foot, in which this William Stentiford served, became the Devonshire Regiment.

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Last modiied: 27/11/2005