The CWGC Thiepval Memorial App

I’ve been trying out the newly released CWGC apps this week.  One app is for the men behind the names on the panels of the Thiepval Memorial, which has been receiving a great deal of attention this year, and the other is for people who are looking for CWGC War Graves or Cemeteries.  You can download these apps, free of charge on the Apple Store or on Google Play depending on the device you’re going to use them on. To access some aspects of these apps, you will need to be online, but there is still much that you can view without having to go online.

While this post focuses on the Thiepval Memorial app, you will be able to read an overview of the War Graves app in a separate post on this blog.

The Thiepval Memorial commemorates over 72 000 soldiers, by far the majority of whom were serving in either the British or the South African Forces, and who died before 20 March 2018 and have no known grave. The cut-off date for this Memorial was the start of the German Spring Offensive, also known as the Kaiserschlacht.  Tap on THIEPVAL on the opening screen and you’ll come across information about the Memorial and its location.

If you are looking for a particular soldier, you simply go to FIND A CASUALTY and search on the surname.  I searched on BIDDULPH because I have written up some of the story of Victor Roundell George Biddulph for Petersham Remembers, one of my war memorial blogs, and from that research I know that he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

There was only one Biddulph summary in the search results. If there’s more than one search result, you’ll have to tap on your target’s name to view the details unique to him which will appear on the right of the summary.

The image below captures what appears to the right of Victor’s summary. This area is headed by the following four tabs

  • INFO, the basic information for the soldier;
  • his STORY, if available—here the icon is faint, showing that no story has been uploaded for him;
  • a PLAN of the memorial, on which the section with panels showing the soldiers’ names can be found and finally
  • an image of the name in its place on the PANEL.

ON THIS DAY delivers the story behind a man on this Memorial who died on that day’s date.  I’m viewing it on 17 September 2018 and the related story is for 17 September 1916. The soldier is C/12802 Sergeant Frederick George Blomeley of the 21st Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps. He was a trainee teacher at Leeds Training College but had enlisted on 8 December 1915.  He was rapidly promoted to Sergeant, reaching that rank in less than three months after enlisting.  Six months later he was dead, killed during an attack on Flers.  He was only 20. Searches continued to be made for bodies in that area until well after the war, but none were found.

There is as yet no story for our Victor Biddulph.  To see the 600 men whose stories are told, go back to the opening screen, and tap on THE 600.  Tap on one of the 600 photos, and the screen will display a larger image, and some information.  Most war memorial researchers are thrilled to find a photo of a serviceman whom they have researched.  It’s a great pity that so few photos have survived.  After the Armistice, the War Office asked each deceased soldier’s next of kin to provide a photo of the relative who had died on active service.  Some of them gave the only photo they had.

The TIMELINE provided is sobering, revealing the number of casualties suffered on The Somme day by day, until the cut-off date on 20 March 1918.

On no account should you skip DID YOU KNOW?  This offers you fascinating themes to explore! Do you wonder how many brothers died on The Somme?  How many casualties on the British ‘side’ were of other nationalities?  Tap on the country, and up they pop.  Apart from the United Kingdom with 71208 and South Africa with 824, a further 219 men came from 25 other countries. Besides all these, there are also categories for Sportsmen, Artists and those awarded the Victoria Cross.

I do think, though, that they might have spared those listed as SHOT AT DAWN.

Challenges in matching a name on a War Memorial with the correct military record

The image below shows that Face of the Ham Parish War Memorial which lists the parish’s casualties as a result of that war.  It is a stark list of initials and surnames, arranged in no particular order, and includes mistakes and spelling errors.  You might even notice that the son of Lord Sudeley, who had been Chairman of the Parish War Memorial Committee, is listed twice.  It’s not hard to guess the reason why that had to be corrected, but difficult to understand why they left the error on the face.  As you will see, they had form for erasing.

The WW1 Face of the Ham War Memorial

The explanation for the errors on this particular face is that this list dates from after the Second World War. That’s not because it took the good folk of the parish over two decades to get round to erecting it.  This face replaced what had previously appeared on the War Memorial.

Like the War Memorial for the neighbouring parish of Petersham, the original Ham War Memorial included the rank, full name and military unit of each casualty, and planning for this memorial started halfway through the First World War.

Between the two World Wars, the population of the parish of Ham had increased dramatically, with the building of housing estates on open land, to meet the urgent housing needs of the boroughs of Kingston and Richmond.  (The parish of Ham was formerly entirely within the borough of Kingston.)  This population increase meant that as many lives were to be lost in the Second World War, as had been lost in the first. In addition there were several civilian dead.

Rather than erect another memorial, the Parish Council decided that the names of the First World War casualties would be erased,  and their ‘entries’ condensed to initials and surnames. This provided the opportunity for transcription errors along the way, and this, as well as the minimal amount of information, caused considerable difficulties for me as the lead researcher.

E. PARSONS was one example.  A search of the CWGC  Casualties’ Database will generate 55 casualties for E. PARSONS, during the First World War, and with no rank, regiment or first name to go by, that’s quite a crop to eliminate.  Readers of the War Memorial blog, Ham Remembers, may remember similar challenges, particularly with those, before I could identify Ernest Parsons, who had passed through the parish yet left no record there.

One of the names on the 1914–1918 face was W.S. BENSON—it’s the tenth name in the first column.  As is the case with many local historians, familiarity with parish registers meant that I cheerfully recognised this surname as that of a large local family and surmised that he was probably the descendant of Thomas Benson.

Thomas Benson had arrived in Ham as a Market Gardener in the late and built up a business as a Potato Dealer, living in a comfortable house on Ham Common until his death. The domestic arrangements were a little complicated since Thomas’s first wife abandoned him, contracting a bigamous marriage, leaving behind six young children under the age of twelve, the youngest being an infant.  Two children had died in infancy.  Thomas soon embarked on a second relationship with his housekeeper, Sarah Fisher, having by her nine more children, most of them registered as Fisher but with Benson as a middle name.  The Fisher children simply dropped the Fisher after their parents’ marriage, some 25 years after the start of the relationship and a decade after the death of Thomas’s first wife.

While eight of Thomas’s sons survived to adulthood, I also had to factor in the possibility that W.S. Benson might be the illegitimate son of one of Thomas’s daughters, whose surname would also have been Benson.  Since the youngest of Thomas’s children was born in 1878, only he and the two a little older than him, would have been old enough to be conscripted, even when the ceiling was raised in 1916.  While I took stock of these sons, I focused more closely on the grandchildren.

In researching war memorials, one turns first to the CWGC database. This search did generate a W.S. Benson.  Following up the search results up, I found a casualty named Walter Stanley Benson, and then another, plain Stanley Benson, both serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps.  There was also Rifleman Jack W. S. Benson, a casualty from The King’s (Liverpool) Regiment.  Another Walter Stanley Benson, born in Hackney, served in the Royal Navy but survived.  It was helpful that the deaths of these men occurred close together, in April, May and July 1917, but a careful search of the local newspapers for that period did not report the news of the death of a Benson from either Ham or Petersham.

It was some time before a list of the original inscriptions, capturing them before their removal was found in a box in the Local Studies Library and Archive by one of our team  from the Friends of Ham Library.   Fortunately, a local historian, Sylvia Greenwood, had had the foresight to draw up a list of the names on the war memorial before the masons erased their details.  The belated discovery of this ‘Annex 4’ showed that the War Memorial had originally listed W.S.Benson, associated with the Scottish Rifles (The Cameronians).  We also found a list, drawn up by the Parish Council, and published in 1915, listing the inhabitants of the parish who were then ‘serving with the colours’, and this included Stanley Benson of Old Malt Cottage, serving with the 2nd Scottish Rifles.

I then searched the CWGC database, with a filter to extract a list of Benson casualties serving with The Cameronians.  There were five, all privates, listed in search results in the following order:
William Benson
Henry Benson
Peter Benson
Frederick Benson
M. Benson.

Tearing my hair out by then over Walter Stanley Benson, I tried a search of the Database Soldiers died in the Great War, for Benson.   Top of the list was someone in Brixton, Surrey (Go figure, as they say) but I scrolled down and further south on the list skimming over Bensons born in Islington and Whitehaven, Cumberland. Just about to leave that page, with the mouse heading to exit, I spotted Frederick Benson, born Ham Surrey, and serving in The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles). Looking for the Medal Index Card of this Frederick Benson, he was at the top of the list of Fredericks and serving with the 2nd Battalion of the Cameronians, his service number being 10129.  Replicating this search more recently, searching for just  Frederick Benson, he headed the list of 14 Search Results.

There was a Frederick in the Benson brood, the youngest child of their grandfather’s first marriage and the uncle or half-uncle of Thomas’s grandchildren.  He was born in 1856 and would have been too old to serve in the First World War.  His life was not easy but that is another story.

Soon after, as I worked through Thomas’s grandsons, I was to discover a Walter Stanley Benson.  It seemed I’d found a match.  He was the eldest child  of Walter Benson Fisher and his wife, Ellen Stevens and had been born at Mayleigh Cottages, and was duly baptised in Petersham.

By this point, I was ready to concede that this Frederick was in all likelihood ‘our’ W.S. Benson, and that it was possible that the Army had made a mistake or that he had adopted an alias.  On his card in the Medal Rolls Index, he is down as BENSON, F., and another hand has filled in ‘rederick’ to complete the Frederick.  Indeed it occurred to me as I looked at it, that the F could well be a transcription error, if he had become known in the Army as Stanley, and if someone, somewhere along the line, had misheard thn S as an F.

People sometimes reinvent themselves and change their names in a new town or even in a new job.  We know from the surviving parish lists that he was known as Stanley, and that indeed, in his family unit there was a second Walter in the family, Walter Henry, nine years younger than Walter Stanley.  At that time it was not unusual for children to be named after a parent, thereby carrying on family tradition, but to be always known by their middle names.   The younger Walter, Walter Henry, was born in the year before their father’s death and if their father was known to be in declining health, that might explain why he was also given his father’s name. The two boys appear in the 1901 Census, shortly before the death of their father, Walter, as Walter S and Walter H.

Walter S appears in the 1911 Census as Walter, perhaps because the Military Enumeration Officer, like Walter Senior had been in 1901, was a stickler for the facts.  And it was the 1911 Census that brought us full circle.  Walter Benson is listed at the Meeanee Barracks in Colchester, as a Private in the Second Battalion of the Scottish Rifles. He’s 20—the right age.  (Walter Stanley was born on 11 January 1891, and would have been 20 on 2 April 1911.)  Unlike his Benson cousins, who were born in Ham or further afield, he was born at Mayleigh Cottages in Petersham, so his birthplace is also correct here.

Finally, a search in the Register of Soldiers’ Effects, has ‘Stanley’ entered as Frederick.  There he is, with his gratuity divided equally between his mother, his brothers and sisters, his half-sisters, who included “Emily Morphew” (sic). I think ‘Emily’ is Violet Emmeline Buckner, the wife of Robert Morffew. I have written elsewhere about the Benson connection with the Morffews of Ham.

This makes me inclined to think that he did indeed voluntarily change his name. Prior to making the entries in the Register, the Army would have corresponded with the family to confirm their relationship with the deceased soldier.  He does indeed at last appear to be a safe match for the man recorded as Frederick on the CWGC Database.

Finally, a check of the panel list, confirms that our man is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial as F. BENSON.

Further Reading.

Frood, M.W., ‘Decision as to tribute to the gallant dead’, https://hamremembers.wordpress.com/2015/10/25/decision-as-to-tribute-to-the-gallant-dead/, accessed 20/1/2018.

Frood, M.W., ‘Ham’s War Memorial as it was between the Wars’,  https://hamremembers.wordpress.com/2015/05/08/hams-war-memorial-as-it-was-between-the-wars/, accessed 20/1/2018.

What I’ve been up to over the past 14 months

Things were more than just ‘somewhat quiet’ on this blog in 2016, so here’s an update on what I’ve been doing.

War Memorials
What readers of this blog may have worked out, is that since 2012, much of my time has been spent on military research, particularly on the people commemorated on four local war memorials.  I blog about them and you can find the fruits of this research on those blogs.  If you scroll down the right hand sidebar, you will see a blog roll for three of these war memorial blogs.  I also collaborate with other war memorial researchers, give talks to groups, young and old, with an interest in the war memorials and also in local history—the younger ones being school parties and Scouts.  I have also been doing some training of groups researching war memorials in Surrey.

Among those servicemen I researched last year, at the request of their relatives, were two WW2 fighter pilots in the RAF.  I continue, where I’ve been able to trace relatives of the men and women on the war memorial, to share their stories, including, sometimes, some indiscretions that I have n’t upload for public view.

One of my personal projects has been researching the South African Military Hospital in Richmond Park.  I shared my research at the time with the Hearsum Trust, and I subsequently contributed the information that appeared for that hospital in the Richmond at War exhibition in the Museum of Richmond.  I even managed to sneak in a photo of my grandfather in his hospital blues. When I think of the slightly baffled looks when I mentioned this hospital not much more than five years ago, I’m pretty chuffed that these days hardly anyone—at least locally—blinks to hear of its existence. I see from What’s On, The National Archives’ guide to forthcoming events, that, among other WW1 related topics, there’s going to be a talk on the hospital at the National Archives in September, organised by the National Archives and the Richmond Local Studies Library and Archive.  You can read about the South African Memorial in Richmond Cemetery on in several posts on my South Africa Remembers blog.  [http://southafricaremembers.wordpress.com]

Teaching and Learning
I attended the Final Conference for The Fleming Project held at the University of St Andrews last June.  In December I completed a module, Understanding Latin in Documents and Archives, offered on its M.Litt pathway by the University of Dundee.  I absolutely relished that, and also the Ecclesiastical Archives course I had taken immediately prior to it.  The Lambeth Palace Library is a haven for a researcher, and I hope for reasons to revisit it, as also the Church of England Record Centre in Bermondsey and Dr Williams’ Library.  And at the National Records of Scotland, the church records for the parish of Lethendy and Kinloch provided insight into the compassion and values of its Minister, my relative, Andrew Kessen.

In courses and events that provided some of my Continuing Professional Development, a Study Day at the fascinating Freemasons’ Museum stood out. I have sought advice from the librarian and archivist in the past, but even during this Study Day, as I listened to the speakers, I began to feel that I was developing a ‘nose’ for freemasons—and went home to run a check on a family of shipbuilders, ancestors of one of my younger relatives, finding not only  a lodge named after him but also an East End school, one of eleven which he founded.  In my research for clients, a man’s following certain professions, or turning out to have associates or mentors who were freemasons, has often provided the nudge to follow up in Freemasons’ records.

Come January this year, I was preparing for a module in Palaeography & Diplomatic, so that month I did my usual ‘stunt’ of including my current enthusiasms in the Dundee syllabus for the U3A family history groups I lead.  While I was engaged in all manner of Latin in archives, they had had a fast-track guide to making sense of Memorial Inscriptions—and it’s not a one way flow of knowledge in the U3A. A member of another group of experienced researchers offered a suggestion that provided a clue to solving an enigma in one of a group of Latin memorial inscriptions which I was translating in All Saints’ in Kingston.   (Thank you, Alistair Brechin.)

Unfortunately, thanks to careless (and thoughtless?) builders renovating a local shop, a piece of grit tore my cornea, the worst such tear I’ve ever had.  Never have I appreciated the value of the zoom function, which allowed me to continue to develop skills in Palaeography, but the tear took several weeks to heal. In the final week, I went to the National Archives to look for a drawing in the State Papers.  I became quite emotional when I found I was able to follow every word of the supporting document with ease—thanks to our brilliant tutor.

Researching
Because of these research and educational commitments, I’ve not marketed my own family history practice this past year, beyond responding to fresh research requests from some of my regulars. Amongst those r eturning for more over the past year have been my own relatives, returning clients and three scientists from two academic institutions. And of course, members of my U3A groups who bring to our meetings their research hurdles and challenges.

Within 24 hours of submitting my Final Assignment for the Oral History module last week, there was an intriguing request in my Inbox.   So, as I have loose ends to tie up—war memorial posts, mainly, but also long-term projects that were on ‘pause’ and intriguing research requests—I’m delaying starting my dissertation until next year.  This family and local historian is officially back in business.

 

 

 

Charles Austin Pittar, MC

Charles Austin Pittar was the brother of Dorothy Mabel Austin Clarke, one of the ‘Civilian Dead’ whose names are recorded on the War Memorial in the parish of Ham, Surrey.  Dorothy and her husband, Sydney, were killed in an air raid over Ham in 1940, and their post is on my blog for Ham’s War memorial.  Charles was Dorothy’s only sibling.  It seems churlish to overlook Charles Pittar, and so I’m posting about him here, just to rescue something of his story, for his sister’s sake.

Lieutenant Charles Austin Pittar, M.C., (1898–1921)
The Coldstream Guards,
Died 1921, buried at Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford.

Charles and Dorothy were the children of Charles William Erskine Pittar (1863–1931), and Mabel Frances Austin (1876–1955), who were married in Dresden on 20 August 1897.  (I am intrigued by that marriage in Germany, and hope one day to discover a little about the background to this.)

Charlie was born in Calcutta, Bengal on 17 August 1898 and baptised there three weeks later.  His father was born in Kidderpore in 1863, where his paternal grandfather, Charles Frederick Pittar was a solicitor. His maternal grandfather, Ware Plumptre Austin, was also a Civil Servant, in Madras so the marriage of Charles and Mabel was in one sense another example of the prevailing dictum, ‘like marries like’.

Educated at Eton, like his father before him, Charles proved to be, according to a short biography included in the catalogue when his sword was auctioned in 1998, someone who ‘excelled at athletics, and was an accomplished scholar.’

Alexandra Churchill, in Blood and Thunder: the boys of Eton College and the First World War echoes this, describing him as ‘a phenomenally talented athlete and a bright boy’.  She also notes that he ‘had trouble with his eyesight and so operated with divisional troops rather than a fighting unit’. In connection with the events in which this was alluded to, she notes that ‘one of his main responsibilities in the hot weather’ prevailing on that day, was to get sufficient water up to the men on the fighting on frontline.

In an attempt to find out the cause of Charles’s death, and its connection to his military service, his service record was viewed at The National Archives. Charles’s medical declaration, made when he applied for a commission in 1916, does not record any eye problems. In the first category, for ‘serious illness or injury’ he does declare a kidney problem which occurred in 1911 and “was cured by the end of 1912”.

For the second and third categories, Charles strikes out the words “except as stated below”.  For the fourth category, ‘good vision for near and distant object… without the aid of glasses’, he does not strike out those four words, but nor he does he insert any information in the space below.

Many of the officers’ service records have been extensively weeded out, so one cannot say whether there were further investigations and there seem to be no papers indicating eye problems in what survives in Charles’s file.  This medical problem may seem to be exercising me rather too much, since it can hardly be a cause of his death, but significant eye problems usually ruled out active service. Without a budget for any of my war memorial projects, I cannot justify applying for his civilian death certificate and there is simply no clue to the cause of his death in what survives in his service record.

In November 1918, Charles was awarded the Military Cross, the citation reading:

‘For conspicuous gallantry and initiative while on daylight patrol. He left his lines in broad daylight, accompanied only by his orderly, and scouted right up through the enemy outpost line, a distance of some 700 yards. He showed great daring and enterprise and the information he brought back was of the utmost importance.”

Soon after the award of the Military Cross was gazetted, Charles Pittar was affected “moderately seriously” by the influenza epidemic.  He recovered, but was regarded as still unfit for duty, so the Board recommended two weeks’ sick leave in the U.K.  His return to the field was delayed until late January 1919, by his spraining his ankle in Oxford.  Within a few months, Charles Pittar had relinquished his commission, but was allowed to retain the rank of Lieutenant.  He was demobilised on 14 May 1919.  His service record, which was weeded as early as 1933, mentions the report of his death in The Times of 2 September 1921.  His death is likely have been connected in some way to his military service as his name appears on the CWGC database. After leaving the army, Charles followed his father and grandfathers into the Indian Civil Service.

He died on 28 August 1921 and is buried in Wolvercote Cemetery, where there are a number of CWGC graves, many of them of airmen, based at Wolvercote Aerodrome.

Further Reading

Churchill, A.J., Blood and Thunder: the boys of Eton College and the First World War, The History Press, 2014.

DNW Auction Catalogue, http://www.dnw.co.uk/auction-archive/special-collections/lot.php?specialcollection_id=295&specialcollectionpart_id=291&lot_id=37349 , accessed 29/3/2016.  This link is not currently arriving at the correct page.

Eton Roll of Honour, http://www.etonrollofhonour.cabanova.com/, accessed 22/5/2016.

The London Gazette, Supplement 29903, p.578, 12 January 1917.

The London Gazette, Supplement 30997, p. 13165, ‘2. Lieut. Charles Austin Pittar, C. Gds, Spec. Res.’, 5 November 1918.

 

The National Archives, WO 339/82737, ‘Lieutenant Charles Austin Pittar, Coldstream Guards’, 1916–1922.

Percy’s photos

I have a threadbare wallet containing photographs of some of my grandfather’s military comrades in the Great War.  Most of these photos are either studio photographs or informal group photographs taken in military hospitals.  On the reverse of each, my grandfather, Percy, pencilled the names and regiments of those in the photos.

At the time the Imperial War Museum’s project Faces of the First World War was first announced, I read that, after the war, when families were asked (presumably by the War Office) to provide a photo of the deceased soldier, some families gave the only photo they had.  The thought of the loss of these ‘sole photos’ dismayed me.  But it shouldn’t really have surprised me since, in the course of my war memorial projects, where I’ve been able to contact relatives, it is rare indeed to find someone, apart from direct descendants, who has ever seen a photo of their relative.

So many of those who went to war were young and unmarried, leaving grieving parents, siblings and young widows, but no direct descendants.  Indeed, I’ve not yet come across a photo of my grandmother’s first husband, who died in 1915.  From time to time, I’ve made attempts to locate relatives of some of the men in Percy’s photos, particularly those on the CWGC database of those who did not survive the conflict.

A friend, who has  a ‘dedicated’ scanner, has allowed me to use it to make superior scans of Percy’s photos, making it easy to provide a digital copy to any interested surviving relatives.   My most recent such reunion of relative and photo provided a studio photograph of a man killed in 1918 to his half-brother’s son, a man not born until the end of the Second World War.

What follows is a list of the men whose relatives have not yet been located.  Apart from one Canadian, all served in either the South African or the Australian forces. Given the superior surviving records for the Australian forces—I have sung the praises of the AWM elsewhere, more than once—I am hopeful that I will eventually reunite copies of these photos with interested relatives.

By publishing their names here, at some point, preferably during my lifetime, a relative researching them may come across this post.  Most of the men on this list did survive the war.

Group of three soldiers with a nurse
In pencil on the reverse of the postcard:
4340, Sgt L Buckley, A Company, 30th Battalion, A. I. F.
Pte G Fox, No. 1 Section, 9th F. A., A.I.F.
Trooper J. H. Nash, 13th A. L. H., A.I.F.

Three soldiers, signatures on photos
Signatures read:
R.G.
Patrick, C.W. Medlin, A. Willison

Reverse of card, pencilled:
Pte Patrick, S.A. Scottish;
Pte C.W. Medlin, 3rd S.A. Infantry;
Sgt. Willison, 5th Canadians.

Three soldiers, posing in Williams Pioneer Studios Ltd (Holloway)
Sgt G.A. Leak, 1st Regiment, Killed Delville Wood, July 1916
F (or T?) Horsley (or Hawsley?), 4th Regiment.

Photo of man in black tie, taken at the Parisian Studios, 27 Church Street, Liverpool
6050 Sgt Spud Murphy, S.A. Scottish

Photo of three men standing behind a nurse
Percy is the man in the middle.  On the reverse is written:

2nd London Gen. Hospital
Chelsea Hut I
18-6-18

With best wishes
From
J.A. Mitchell, 7th Battalion, A.I.F.
Home address: Queensborough, Victoria, Australia

On the right (in the space for the address):
P. A. Groves, 1st S.A.I., Abroad.

Very young soldier (head and shoulders)
Signed below portrait: Yours sincerely, Reg. L. Huckett, 11th October 1917

 

 

 

To the Fallen, from the Rear Party

Talking yesterday to a U3A group about the various ways of finding out what happened on the battlefields in World War 1, I mentioned my passion for out-of-print regimental histories, which I often find on the Internet Archive.  As we had a SMART Board at hand, I offered to look for a history for a particular regiment, and the ‘Loyal North Lancashire’ was suggested.

The Internet Archive did not disappoint.  The War History of the 1st/4th Battalion the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment (1914–1918), published Preston, 1921, was there for the taking, with 1350 people besides myself having coveted and downloaded.

We had a quick peep at the ‘Read Online’ version and we were immediately touched by the wording of the book’s dedication.

Loyal North Lancs Dedication

I love the metaphor of the survivors being simply ‘The Rear Party’ and the way it conveys a the feeling of fellowship with those who hadn’t survived.

Immediately opposite the dedication is a photograph of Lieutenant-Colonel  Ralph Hindle, D.S.O, who commanded the battalion for just over two years until he was killed in action in November 1917.   The photo is accompanied by a remark he made in 1917: “What do these fellows mean by saying, ‘I’ve done my bit’?  What is their ‘bit’?  I don’t consider I’ve done mine yet.”

The first pages consist of a reduced facsimile of the Roll of Volunteers for Service Abroad, as signed in the Public Hall on 8 August 1914.  It’s for all eight companies of the battalion, and if you read the book online, it’s easy to enlarge the image until the signatures of the men are legible.

The book is  enhanced by extracts from the war diaries, photos, including aerial photos which show opposing trenches, and fascinating, detailed battlefield maps.  There’s even a copy of the Battalion’s Christmas Card for 1916.  The Appendices include a list of honours awarded to members of the regiment, and a detailed list of all casualties.

This book is going to keep me up tonight.

 

More Information about Digital Editions
I’ve previously written about downloading digital editions of books and choosing between the available formats here.

 

Kindle Treats

I’ve recently been reading, on an early version of Kindle, the diary of an anonymous nursing sister who served on hospital trains during World War 1.  I can’t help contrasting her experiences and the demands of nursing the wounded and the dangerously ill with all that has been bubbling up since the Stafford Hospital revelations of the lows in nursing 100 years later.  Her description of the perilous condition of many of the patients, coupled with our realisation of how limited the treatment options were 100 years ago, makes it a somewhat gruelling read for those whose imagination tends to overdrive.  There’s a fair bit of anecdotal description of trench life from the patients and some interesting glimpses of the views of the ‘enemy’ patients she nursed.

This is one of a number of books of interest to family and local historians that are available free of charge and can be downloaded either from Amazon, or from one of the other providers listed below . When I was first given my Kindle, I focused on adding to it books that would be free and useful.

If you do find a book online, and it’s free, whether or not it’s in a version for Kindle, act.  Bookmarking the page will not necessarily help you to locate it again.  There is a phenomenon that I liken to booking your travel online.  [You visit a site, as part of a wider trawling expedition, and go back to the most favourable offer, a short time later…and it’s gone up in price.] It always seems to me that once ‘your visit has shown interest, in the form of leaving a cookie, you find the price inflated when you revisit the site.  In the case of out-of-print books, you’ll find the free version has vanished, but someone’s offering it, in another format, for sale.

I became aware of how fleeting a book’s availability might be, after noticing online a free version of memoirs that would have been of interest to descendants of the writer.  The free pdf had vanished when, some months later, I made contact with other descendants of the writer, only to find, when I had mentioned it to them, that it was only available as a printout at an exorbitant cost.  Worse, it was no longer accessible where I had added it to my Google Books. Fortunately I had saved the free version when I saw it, but I so nearly hadn’t bothered as it was a rather large file and I had access to a rather worn out copy of the book. Nowadays I am very careful, when I come across a publication of interest, to ‘harvest’ immediately.

What if the free versions don’t include a Kindle version?  Well, there’s almost always a pdf version.  Download that to your computer, and do what you can’t do with a Kindle purchase: rename it so the title is recognisable and short enough to show on the list of ‘items’.  (Maybe that’s only necessary on older Kindles!) Eliminating initial articles (The, A, An) helps, for a start.  Once you have it on your computer, you email the file to your Kindle.  To work out your Kindle address is simple.  The user name is exactly the same username as the email address that you use for your Amazon account.  (If your email address is heyamazon@sendmail.com then you email the file to heyamazon@kindle.com.)  No subject, no body text in the email, just attach the file.

The Hot List

Here’s my shortlist of current favourites.  Please don’t draw attention to it.  I’d hate these books to vanish before others find them.

Anonymous, Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western Front 1914-1915, Kindle edition.  The same book is offered on Amazon by ‘independent publishing platforms’ at prices between £10 and £20, with no ‘caveat emptor’.  This book covers the writer’s nine months nursing in France, much of it spent on the hospital trains, nursing the most seriously wounded.   It reveals the reality of D.O.W. but also the heroism of patients and nursing staff.  The book was published by William Blackwood & Sons in 1915 (Edinburgh and London).

Buchan, J., The History of the South African Forces in FranceLondon, 1920, [Thomas Nelson & Sons].  Anyone interested in out-of-print regimental histories will find that many are available in formats that are suitable for Kindle or eBooks.  If I remember correctly this book would have cost me £37.50, and I suspect that it might have turned out to be a printout from a pdf.

Waugh, E. Home Life of the Lancashire Factory Folk during the Cotton Famine,  Public Domain, Kindle Edition.  [This riveting read was introduced to me by Denise, a fellow family historian.  It is a reprint of Edwin Waugh’s articles in The Manchester Examiner and Times of 1862.  Week by week he describes his visits to the poor in Blackburn, Preston and Wigan.]  If you are looking for insight into the realities of poverty in 19th century Britain, you will find it here.

There are many nuggets out there.  While researching a handloom linen weaver in Scotland, an immigrant from Lurgan in Armagh, I came across, on the Internet Archive, an illustrated booklet The Hand Loom Linen Weavers of Ireland and their Work  by James White, published Chicago. Irish Hand-woven Linen Damask Company, (date of publication not evident).  Booklets like this broaden one’s understanding of trades, skills, working life and can flesh out the story of an individual for whom few records survive.  There is a Kindle edition, and in the case of this book, I should point out that free Kindle editions often show the signs of digitisation without subsequent editing.

There’s a dedicated community of volunteers who are steadily converting physical editions of out-of-print, out-of copyright books and pamphlets to digital editions.    We would not have so wide a choice if each one had had to be edited word by word.  The Hand Loom Weavers has quite a few puzzling passages e.g. sometimes the caption is detached from the picture it supports, or a page number floats inside the text.  Stick with it, despite the blips, and they soon become less intrusive because your brain can, and will, adjust to cater for that.

If these occasional blips really bother you and interfere with your reading, then do read the original book online. The clearest images for this are found on the Open Library.  Taking The Hand Loom Weavers as an example, follow the hyperlink to it, two paragraphs back, in this post.  You’ll see, towards the bottom of the box that gives you the book’s details e.g. Author Subject Publisher, a tiny blue icon for the Open Library.  To the right of this icon are the words “This book has an editable web page on the Open Library”.

Click on the words editable web page and you will be taken to the main page for the book, on the Open Library website.  Select the option Read online and you will be able to read a perfect copy of the book and to make use of the zoom feature to increase the font size.

Potential Sources of Free Digital Editions

Google Books

Hathi Trust Digital Library

The Internet Archive

Project Gutenberg

VIRGO [This has replaced the inimitable Electronic Text Centre of the University of Virginia.  Many of the Etext’s resources are still available here, or have been migrated to other providers such as Google Books and Project Gutenberg.]

Finding Regimental Histories

Visit The Long Long Trail to find to which division the regiment or the battalion of interest was attached.  You may need this later if a search for the regiment produces no results. Just type the regiment’s name in the search box at the top of the page.   The first search result is usually the page you want.  Scan the page for the Battalion Number, and note to which Division it was attached at the period of interest to you.

Use a search engine, keying in the regiment’s name in lower case and the words regimental history.   Omit the battalion number on your initial search.   Scan the search results.  What looks promising?  How might you narrow down the results by adding another keyword to your search terms?

I have recently found a number of other useful personal accounts or regimental histories, all of them free for electronic readers, including Kindle. They include:

Ainsworth, R.B., The Story of the 6th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry, France, April 1915–November 1918, London, 1919 [St Catherine Press].

Anonymous, Regimental Nicknames and Traditions of the British Army, 5th ed., London, 1916, [Gale & Polden].  With its colour illustrations, this is definitely one to read online!  Find it on the Internet Archive, and follow the link to the Open Library, rather than downloading it from Kindle.

Buchan, J., History of the South African Forces in France, This also covers the South African Brigade’s earlier operations elsewhere, for example against the Senussi,  It is one of many regimental histories undertaken by John Buchan.  His affection for the South African Brigade, which was attached to the 9th Scottish Division is reflected in his dedication to his novel Mr Standfast, which reads: “TO THAT MOST GALLANT COMPANY THE OFFICERS AND MEN OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN INFANTRY BRIGADE ON THE WESTERN FRONT”.

Thompson, E., The Leicestershires Beyond Baghdad (1919), London, [Epworth].

Ward, F.W. The 23rd (Service Battalion) Royal Fusiliers (First Sportsmans’)  London, 1920, [Sidgwick & Jackson].

Weetman, W.C.C., The Sherwood Foresters in the Great War, 1914–1918: 1/8th Battalion, Nottingham, 1920, [Thomas Forman & Sons].

An altogether different view—for World War 1, sides are taken— can come from the observations of journalists and writers.

Bennett, A., Over There: War Scenes on the Western Front, 1915.  Bennet was sent by the War Propaganda Bureau to tour the front in 1915.  He was horrified at what he saw, but agreed to produce an account that would encourage men to enlist.  At this point, enlistment was still on ‘voluntary’ or under moral pressure.  Balance his journalistic ability to observe and describe with the propaganda that, today, is likely to rankle.

Hales, A.G., Campaign Pictures of the War in South Africa (1899–1900) Letters from the Front, Melbourne, 1901, [Cassell & Company].  These are the letters, sent back for publication, of  a journalist covering the experience of the Australians sent to South Africa to support the British forces.

Next month:  Electronic readers and research

I also saw the opportunity to use my Kindle to carry about with me the notes, glossaries and aide memoires I need for my research. I have several tips for adding your own documents to Kindle, so I’ll be writing them up in a future post.  I also use a Kindle version for Android and DropBox, on my smartphone, to access research aids that I might need to have on hand in an archive, thus avoiding taking in loose sheets of notes that need to be inspected page by page at security points.