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.

Scots ‘abroad’ commemorated on The Scottish War Memorial

Visiting the Scottish National War Memorial in the grounds of Edinburgh Castle arouses in me similar emotions to visiting Delville Wood on the Somme, or the graves of soldiers from West Africa in the cemetery at Dido’s Valley. Sometimes it’s the sheer scale of the burials, sometimes the poignancy of the wording on a headstone, or the distance of the cemetery from the bereaved families, that I find hard to contemplate.

The Scottish National War Memorial: this zone commemorates Scots serving in Scottish regiments based outside Scotland

I was at the Scottish National War Memorial last week intending to look for the memorial book in which I had been told a relative of James Douglas Cockburn ‘thought’ his name was recorded.   It’s one of three such books placed in front of this memorial.   The 4th South African Infantry Regiment, known as The South African Scottish, was raised as follows:  A Company was raised from soldiers serving in the Cape Town Highlanders, B and C Companies from the first two battalions of the Transvaal Scottish Regiment, while D Company was raised with the ‘encouragement’ of the Caledonian Societies of Natal and the Orange Free State.  If you visited the exhibition in the Scottish National Museum in 1914, you may have been struck by a huge image depicting a group of soldiers in the South African Scottish in their kilts, taken in June 1918.

James Douglas Cockburn served in the London Scottish in the Great War and his name is recorded on the Ham War Memorial, one of several war memorials, that I have been researching in the London area.  It’s not unusual to find Londoners serving in Scottish regiments and on Ham war memorial we have, besides the London Scottish, two from the Scots Guards, and others in The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), the Seaforth Highlanders and the Highland Light Infantry. Sometimes, such as is the case with the War Memorial in Trinity United Reformed Church in Wimbledon, at least fifty percent of the surnames are clearly Scottish.

Here is the entry for which I was looking.

James Cockburn in the London Scottish Memorial Book.

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.

 

 

 

Biddulphs & Joels & Petersham Scouts

Last week I was asked to speak at a Celebration of Scouting in St Peter’s Church, Petersham.  This Scout Troop is thought to have the longest unbroken existence of any in this country—there are others that started earlier than the Petersham and Ham Troop, but have been ‘inactive’ for periods, perhaps when the Scout leaders went to war.

They asked for ‘five minutes’ and I have posted the gist of my talk here.  [The link will take you to the blog for the Petersham War Memorial.]

I chose, given the short time available, to focus on two fathers who lost their only sons.  Those fathers were the Scout Leaders, George Biddulph and Walter Joel, and the sons, Victor and Harold Joel.  I could just as well have spoken about any of the other fourteen commemorated on the Scouts’ Memorial Tablet—all shone in some way.

Afterwards I found out that there was a Biddulph amongst the audience—one of the current Scout Leaders—not, apparently, related to the Ledbury Biddulphs.

War Memorial Research (3): No easy match on the CWGC database?

In my experience, at least half the time, I can match a name to an individual without too much difficulty, particularly if there is information about next of kin on the CWGC database.  Here are some suggestions on where you might look for information about those whose names appear to be missing from the database or for whom the database offers too many possible matches.

Have they moved away? Bear in mind that soldiers on your War Memorial, who have no local address attached to them, are likely to have had some close local family connections, or to have hailed originally from your parish or town.  A not insignificant number may turn out to have been serving with Commonwealth forces following their emigration, or that of their parents.

George Brisco, who was serving in the Australian Forces, appears on the Sea Scouts’ Memorial Plaque inside St Peter’s Church in Petersham, though not on the Petersham War Memorial.  In George’s case, finding the Australian Service Records was quite an eye-opener running to 40 pages of high quality digital images.  In addition to his service records, the Australian Red Cross went to commendable lengths to track down other soldiers in hospitals and camps in England, who might be able to provide information about the incident in which George lost his life—just in that file, there were 45 pages’ worth of letters, records of interviews and communications with his mother.   The Missing Persons’ File included a fine photo of George in uniform.  You can locate and view records of those serving in the Australian Imperial Forces at the Australian War Memorial and at the National Archives of Australia.  Both organisations have sites that are easy to search and provide excellent information sheets.  The digitised records for WW1 service personnel are also free to view.  And while it can be months before one hears back from the CWGC, a query about the location of a diary, brought an answer within 24 hours.  Same day really, if you consider the time difference.  [Thank you, and well done, Australia!]

Finding people who have no obvious connection with the place: Of the six names on a Leicestershire War Memorial that I am researching, three had, initially, no obvious connection with the village.  Family Reconstitution techniques played a significant part in identifying the nature of their links to the village.  This is, however, time-consuming and if you know of someone who is doing a One Place Study on the place, they may be able to assist with that part of your research.

Finding natives of the place, whose names are missing from the War Memorial: If you would like to trace some of those who grew up locally, but whose names are not listed on the memorial, then the tactic of looking for the village or district as a birthplace, leaving the surname search box empty, often generates a number of results for soldiers who had been born there, but enlisted after moving away.

Were the service records up to date? Sometimes a war memorial will include rank, or the name of a regiment: note these down, but do not take these details at face value, particularly if you are unable to find a record for someone with a low frequency surname.  Soldiers were sometimes transferred to other battalions or to other regiments in the course of their service and news of promotions towards the end of a military life may not have reached the family or the committee responsible for the list.

Can you locate the soldier in the 1911 Census?  If you are able to access the 1911 Census, you may well find your soldier recorded with those parents or that spouse or living at that address.  Most of those named on war memorials will have been enumerated in the 1901 and 1911 Censuses so looking them up may help you to ‘flesh’ out the background of those whose Service Records have not survived.

Where in the UK was the regiment based?  If you know the regiment to which the soldier was attached, that can sometimes provide a clue to the region where your soldier lived or worked.  A search engine could be used to find out where the regimental headquarters were.

Research the whereabouts of the unit and the action around the time your person died.  British Service Records for ‘other ranks’, where they’ve survived, often provide no more information than K.I.A. or D.O.W.  If you are researching an officer, or an airman, you may find, or be able to deduce, more about their military service and deaths in their files.  Search The National Archives’ online Discovery Catalogue to locate the record reference in the relevant series or start at the Records page, by clicking on Looking for a Person, which, if you are not familiar with the site gets you to the search box with opportunities to find out more en route.

The inimitable site The Long, Long Trail is the finest information resource on WW1 and if you have queries, its companion site, The Great War Forum is outstanding.  Use the first site to find some background on the regiment, or key action on a particular day during the war, so that when you ask your question on the forums, you post it to the ‘right’ group.

Once you know the regiment, you are ready to look for the battle diaries of the battalion, the regiment and the division of which it was part.  Soldiers of other ranks are rarely mentioned by name, unless for something particularly noteworthy.  You can view digital copies of the diaries The National Archives at Kew, free of charge.

Workplace Memorials: If you are researching a workplace memorial, like the War Memorial at Waterloo, which lists railway employees, or even the small memorial inside the Royal Mail Sorting Office in Kingston upon Thames, bear in mind that they will record employees who may not have lived locally.  However, listing on a workplace memorial means that if you can locate the employment records for your soldier, at least some of his or her story will be revealed.  You may even find, if you contact the organisation’s archvist, that there was mention of his death or military service in its internal publications at the time.

 

War Memorial Research (2): First Steps

Recently I’ve been asked to provide advice on researching war memorials, so to make access easier, I’ll be posting some thoughts on this research here.  Eventually, I’ll also be posting some ideas for tackling local history projects, which I hope could be helpful for schools considering researching war memorials in their communities.

Record the names

Researching a war memorial usually starts with noting down the names.  I try to take a photograph of the memorial from every aspect, ideally on the first visit, as it gives a helpful reference point.  This is particularly important if the engraving has suffered any damage from exposure to the elements. There is plenty of advice about taking photographs of graves or memorials online including a clear, brief guide on the website of the Maple Leaf Legacy Project .

I find it’s helpful, also, to make a list of the names on the spot, writing them down in the order in which they appear and carefully noting any additional details.  Somehow I feel, while I’m writing down the names, a sense of engaging with each person, so, unless the memorial has hundreds of names, I do that as well as taking photographs.   If names appear on more than one panel or side of the memorial, be sure to note where there is a break in names.  You’ll also need to  devise a way that clearly identifies each panel or side, not just for you, but for anyone who comes across your project.  Compass directions will not always be  as obvious to others as they may seem to be to you.

If there are details of rank, regiment or service arm, note those as well, as any additional information will help you to ‘narrow down’ the field, when you’re looking for, say, a high frequency combination like ‘Thomas Williams’.  [Pause here to guess how many men named Thomas Williams died while on military service in the course of WW1.]

Where a war memorial does include rank, or the name of a regiment do not take these details at face value, particularly if you are unable to find a record for someone with a low frequency surname.  Soldiers were sometimes transferred to other battalions or regiments in the course of their service and news of promotions towards the end of a military life may not have reached the family or the committee responsible for the list.

Match the name on the War Memorial to a specific individual—using a site with FREE access

My next step is to ‘marry’ each of the names on the War Memorial to a name on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s database.   If it’s a rare surname, you’re in luck, but generally, at some point you may sense the enormity of the nation’s loss when you discover how many men with the name  ‘Thomas Williams’ died in WW1.

Search Tips for using the CWGC database
1. One of the reasons, some people are hard to find on the CWGC database, is that it works at its best if you enter the name in the exact format in which it appears on the CWGC database.  But of course, until you find the name there, you won’t know what that format is!  So, unless I’m dealing with a high frequency name/surname combination, I enter only the surname and an initial.

2.  If you are searching this database for the first time, start with the more unusual surnames on the memorial.  By the time you reach the high frequency surnames, you will have learned your way around the site and thought of a few search tips of your own.

3.  With a high frequency surname, you need to take the Forename search route for Thomas Williams because, while it will prioritise the Thomases, it also lists those who have the initial T and eventually delivers even the odd, but unique,  ‘Theophilus Tunstall Williams’ and ‘Tobler K. Williams’.   If there is more than one initial associated with the name, you’re in luck, because searching for T. T. Williams generated just three results (not 34 pages of results), one of whom was Theophilus Tunstall Williams.

Searching by the initial is the default search so to search by forename make sure that you click the radio button next to the word Forename.

If your search result is the message (0) records match your search criteria, do check that you haven’t entered a forename without disabling the radio button for initial.  (What it will have done for Thomas would have been to transform the name into t  h o m a s and to have looked for a T. H. O. M. A. S. Williams)  With a high frequency surname, you may realise that there can’t be no results at all for a Thomas Williams or a John Smith, but this possibility may not occur to you with a low frequency surname like  Camplejohn.

Other databases for WW1

If you subscribe to an online service, such as Ancestry,  it’s useful to also find the deceased on the UK, Soldiers died in the Great War database.  There is often slightly different information on the two databases.  Ancestry is available in many public libraries, so even if you do not have a subscription, you may well be able to access it on library premises.

If you are researching a Scot, search the Scottish National Roll of Honour as well as the CWGC database.

People missing from your War Memorial

Not everyone who died while on active service, is recorded on a war memorial. You may discover someone born in the district covered by your war memorial who is not recorded on it.  You will almost certainly feel compelled to rescue ‘The Overlooked” and you might even wish to make a case for their names to be added to the memorial.

Some of those who died on active service are recorded on more than one war memorial: in the parish from which they originate, or a town or city memorial, on a school war memorial, on a university war memorial, on a workplace war memorial as well as on war memorials in parishes with which the family was connected.

Names missing from the WW1 databases

Occasionally, you won’t find a matching record  so some lateral thinking is called for.

There’ll be suggestions on getting round the problem of missing or overlooked names in another post.

 

Worcester College

We followed up lunch in Oxford yesterday, to mark the birthday of a cousin, with a walk in the remarkable gardens of Worcester College.

Afterwards, heading out, I noticed the 1939–1945 War Memorial with, worryingly, as many as 92 names.  My post-prandial counting proving unreliable, I had to repeat the exercise twice—my excuse is the odd  triple-barrelled surname taking up most of an entire line and the incessant background chattering of my companions.

With chatterers in the chapel, the counting of names on the 1914–1918 memorial proved easier.  That’s grossly unfair on the chatterers, and is withdrawn apologetically, as here the names were in columns.  I made it 86.

In my experience of recording War Memorials, the WW2 count is usually not more than about one third of the WW1 toll.

What explains this?  In what theatre of war did they fall?  It seems to me almost like the toll of a Pals’ Battalion.

This interactive map of Bomber Command bases does not show any bases near Oxford, most of the being in East Anglia and the East Midlands. I know RAF Moreton in Marsh was a training centre for Bomber Command, so I’m wondering whether its proximity drew a significant number from Worcester College.

 

 

…a scrap of advice…

Two of the war memorials I am researching started off on impulse with the names scribbled down on scraps of paper, a practice my students would tell you that I frequently advise against.

Scraps of paper get lost.  By the time they turn up again, if they turn up again, you’ll have spent time searching for them and possibly having to reconstitute their contents.  You may even have to retrace your footsteps and do the research all over again.

I  use a laptop to enter, save and backup data, whenever that’s feasible.  Where archives permit photography, I use a camera and transcribe later.

Planning I tend to prefer to commit by hand to paper.   My solution to the problem of lost notes, has been to invest in a large supply of Muji’s A4 notebooks.  Muji, because they sell, for £1.95 a slim A4 sized-notebook—slim is important since it adds minimal weight to whatever else I have to carry about with me.  The cover is plain charcoal grey, (in case you have a branch of Muji handy).  Each notebook has 30 leaves to it. You should be able to find something similar locally.

I used to favour notebooks that fitted easily into a bag, but it’s more useful to have the extra writing area.  The A4 sheet is the best fit for the frame, whether I’m photocopying or printing.

In my research notebooks, each spread has its own function.  When I say ‘spread’, I mean it in its publishing sense, i.e. two facing pages.

On  the left hand page of each ‘spread’ I write the information I already have, and the specific questions that need answering.

I use the right-hand page of each spread, to write the information I subsequently find—basically that means nothing gets written on the right-hand page until I’m in the archive or library, engaged on that research. I do my best to position the search findings including any negative results, opposite the question it’s answering, though this is more difficult when research higher up the page has been particularly fruitful.

Having the details of the quest, the potential information source and the resulting information together, in the same notebook, means I know exactly where I will find that information.  I often  revisit the notebooks, even after I’ve transferred the information elsewhere.

When I first adopted this system, I allocated a spread to each of the archives or libraries that I visit regularly.  I would note down on the left hand side of my National Archives’ spread, the series, title and references for the documents I expected to view.  When the thought came, “Ah, I might find that at the National Archives, next time I’m there!” I went straight to the National Archives’ spread, and added that research task to the list of those already there.  Where possible, I used an online catalogue to note the reference and title of the information source that might be relevant.  Once I had enough meat for a feast, it was time to find a slot for the pilgrimage.  Similarly, other national, regional or local archives had their own spreads.

I still use this method, the only difference being that nowadays I might have a whole notebook dedicated to each repository, with separate spreads for each series of records.  When I have a large commission for a client, I tend to allocate an entire notebook to that research, with a separate spread being used for each resource type e.g. an archive, a library, an interview.

It’s useful to catch ‘questions’ that occur to you when you’re researching.  Too often, one is so engrossed in what one is finding and where it is leading, that any fleeting “I wonder whether…?” questions, that flit in and interrupt the flow, are swiftly dismissed.  Nobody wants a diversion when the destination is clear.

That diversion, however, could hold significant information.  So, if you always keep your notebook handy, a quick scribble on a left hand page preserves that question until you have time to follow it up. I used to keep a Post-It pad handy for that, but now I tend to jot those fleeting thoughts down on the last page of the notebook, transferring them later to the appropriate page for the search I’d need to make.

The notebook system facilitates your passage through an archive’s entry and exit points.  While separate sheets of paper will be paged through by the security staff, a quick riffle of the notebook with the thumb, and you’re clear.

Sometimes you come across a piece of information, when you weren’t expecting it, and a scrap of paper, such as a till receipt is all you can find when you empty your pockets.   Tough call, that.

If, however, you have the luxury of a ‘clean sheet’ (whether it’s paper or a paper napkin) write on only one side of it.  That way you can eventually paste it into your working book, even if you have to do something nerdy like writing on your hand to remind you.

 

War Memorial Research (1): Perils and pitfalls

I was asked, last week, to talk about the ‘perils and pitfalls’ of War Memorial research, but instead, I’ll be posting a few tips in the next few days, about tackling the task in ways that will help avoid potential pitfalls.

But just to get the perils out of the way, the biggest one is that you could get hooked.

Your role, in this, hinges on curiosity.  Can you curb yours?  (Trick question: there’s no ‘correct’ answer.)

Are you a  YES? 
If you have an A in curiosity suppression, then this could be an ideal project for you.  It’s not going to impinge too much on your time, especially if you choose a modest memorial—a couple of dozen names, max.  Don’t let yourself be coaxed into taking on a big project.  You should be able to put together a couple of sentences for those names on your list that you are able to locate in the online database of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.   That’s probably enough information for most people anyway.

The risk is that you might not find the whole business engaging which could well bury the chance of some stories ever surfacing.   Apart from people who were decorated for gallantry, or whose fame  is already in the public domain, most of them aren’t, without some extra ‘fishing’, going to generate more than a few lines.   The only stories you have a chance of finding without leaving the house, are those whose exploits are already online.  The ‘hard’ cases mean digging in archives and running the risk of acquiring an addiction to the romance of viewing documents in folders that were last handled more than 90 years ago.  You could argue that worthy people shuffle off all the time, barely noticed, and rapidly forgotten, unless there is someone left to remember and to grieve.  (At least, nowadays, most lives are better recorded, and records are accessible digitally.  These days, how often do you enter the name of a living person  in a search engine without generating at least one result?)  For some names on a war memorial, you will find nothing, not even a military record, that links that name to a specific individual.

Can you tell where this is going yet?

Are you a NO?
If your curiosity is curb-resistant, indeed rather inclined to propel itself, then the risk is that your research could take a lot of time, but the people behind the lists of names will come alive for you.  You can expect to feel a few twinges.  You may even shed a tear. Another researcher wrote to me that she seemed to be ‘blubbing all the time’.  Developing a greater sense of the enormity of the loss felt by your community, can be somewhat disturbing.

Sometimes the circumstances in which a life was lost, will feed a curiosity that you can’t shake off, so you’ll try to learn more about the military manoeuvres at the time.

If it takes you there, watch your back.  I’ve just weighed Niall Ferguson’s The Pity of War and it came in at 1.25 kg.  Peter Hart’s Gallipoli must come pretty close.  Seriously, think heavyweight, as you eagerly reach for a book.  Take your battles home from the library, one kilogram at a time .

You may well never trace a photograph or find a living relative for any of those commemorated on your memorial.  Instead, at least for you, walking to the shops won’t be the same, as even if you never trace a photo or find a living relative, you’ll know where they lived, played and laboured.  It may seem pretty pointless, that a school or a street or a house can be the sole surviving relic, but at least there’s someone around to recognise its significance, once, to someone. You might be the only person on the planet able to make that connection.

If those names come alive for you, a little of that will rub off on others—maybe more than a little, if you create a tangible record.

Can you tell where this is going yet?

Whether you’re a YES or a NO, you have an opportunity to rescue quite a few people from oblivion.  As for me, I’m a ‘NO’, my curiosity is insatiable—teamed with the elephant’s child on that.