This is an updated version of an earlier post. I wanted to check that links provided then would still work on the CWGC website.
You can use the CWGC’s search tools to locate war graves in British cemeteries, including those of our allies from the old Empire and those from the opposing side—the very victims of war whose graves, we should remember, are unlikely to have been visited much, if at all.
You can find burials without specifying the names of particular people. In fact, when it comes to filling in the search boxes, and even when you think you have the ‘correct’ info, the adage ‘less is more’ usually applies.
FIRST FIND THE CEMETERIES NEAR YOU THAT HAVE COMMONWEALTH WAR GRAVES
The easiest way to do this, is to allow the CWGC to know your current location.
Click on the link and go to this page: https://www.cwgc.org/visit-us/find-cemeteries-memorials/
Under the very first search box (for entering a country) you will see the hyperlink Use my current location. Click on it and it will generate a list, usually in order of distance from the point at which you currently are. You can scroll down the list or choose the option to view the cemeteries on a map which, if you’re in a place you’re not too familiar with, helps you to see which are within easy range.
Searching via your current location
There are also two options to filter the results. The most useful one is View as Map, which enables you to see where a cemetery is in relation to where you are.
The buttons for the options to (1) Refine results OR (2) View as map.
In the next example, the train I was on was paused at a signal and the Allerton Bywater (St Mary) Churchyard was at the top of the search results.
Arthur Marchant is the first name on the list of nine servicemen, four from WW2 and five from WW1. In Arthur’s case there is a photograph of his grave. Where a photo exists, paying attention to landmarks in the background, will make it easier for you to find the grave when you visit the cemetery.
FIND YOUR FELLOW COUNTRYMEN OR COUNTRYWOMEN
Here are some tips for finding the war grave of your fellow countryman or countrywoman!
Go to this page: https://www.cwgc.org/find-records/find-war-dead/
Skip the Last name and First name boxes, unless you have a particular individual in mind.
In the box Served with (country), choose a country close to your heart. If you’re looking for a fellow Kiwi, you might choose New Zealand.
In the box, Commemorated in (country), choose the country in which you’re looking for war graves or memorials.
Looking for someone from New Zealand commemorated in the United Kingdom.
Scroll down and press the Search button (bottom, left).
This generates the details of 2104 New Zealanders in Commonwealth War Graves or commemorated on War memorials in the United KIngdom. That’s a big number. You might now want to narrow down the results with additional filters, such as the location of the cemeteries.
WHAT ABOUT FINDING CIVILIAN DEAD?
Choose them in the box Served in (army, etc). The etcetera cover Air Force, Army, the Merchant Navy, Civilian War Dead, Merchant Navy, Miscellaneous and Navy. The Navy needing no further description is the Royal Navy—the maritime branch of our military forces.
WHAT IF YOU CAN’T FIND YOUR COUNTRY IN THE ‘SERVED WITH’ LIST?
You may have noticed some countries are missing. Let’s say you’re interested in finding someone from the West Indies or West Africa.
A temporary fix would be to use the Regiment field, and to enter a unit that you know hails from that region. You may need to use a search engine to find the names of the regiments that served with the British forces. If you’re looking for someone from the Caribbean, say, you could choose a regiment such as the British West Indies Regiment. That delivers 1493 individuals, worldwide.
Now you need to narrow down this number by country so that you find results that are in the country in which you will be looking for CWGC graves. For that you need to scroll down the page as far as the heading ADDITIONAL FIELDS. Select the option Country (commemorated in). When that box opens up you will select United Kingdom. (You may have noticed this category has more options, such as Antigua and Barbuda, and Jamaica on the drop-down list.)
Click the search button and you will generate a list of the graves or panels that commemorate 135 individuals from that regiment. Scroll down to find war graves near you. Note carefully the details for the individuals of interest. Be aware that the CWGC numbering is not always the same as the numbering in the original Grave Registration documents for that cemetery.
The mystery man Readers who have come across my Ham Remembers blog post on Alec Willows will know that, in many respects, he was, and still is, a man of mystery. Part of the mystery is that he is not commemorated on the Ham War Memorial and is thought not ever to have resided in the parish. Yet his name was on an interim, handwritten Roll of Honour in the Parish Church, added to in the course of the Great War, as news of fatalities reached the parish. Identifying his connection turned out to be a more difficult search than finding why Ernest Parsons was commemorated on this memorial. Who the heck was Alec?
For the three censuses in which Alec is recorded—1891, 1901 and 1911—there is conflicting evidence for his birthplace and for his age. I located him first of all in the 1911 Census, as a Bombardier serving in the Royal Field Artillery at Headley in Hampshire. That census recorded his age as 28 and his birthplace as Eastbourne. One might suppose, as I did, that the Army would have based this age on some documentation or information provided to them when he enlisted. If this age was calculated with any accuracy, and if one can rule out a transcription error, at the time his details were transferred to the census summary sheet, this would mean he was born in 1882 or 1883.
I went on to Alec in the 1901 Census, when he was enumerated at 26 Southlands Road, Bromley, aged 16, and with his birthplace recorded simply as ‘London’. He was described, moreover, as the ‘adopted son’ of Ellen Tracey, the head of the household, and a widow, aged 55. If this age was accurate, Alec was born in 1884 or 1885. I was curious about the connection, and have to admit to having wondered whether Alec was the natural child of either George Tracey or his wife, Ellen Tracey, née Reason. It took a while to be able to rule that possibility out.
Despite being armed with conflicting information from the 1901 and 1911 censuses, I was able to find Alec’s whereabouts in 1891. Ancestry had conspired, as it often does, to mistranscribe his entry but I eventually matched him to the David Alexn(sic)Williams (sic) in the household of George and Ellen Trang (sic) aged 6, and described as a ‘boarder’. All the members of the Trang family in this household match, apart from their surname, the names and ages of the members of George and Ellen Tracey and their children, in earlier as well as subsequent censuses. The age of Alec in this census is consistent and his birthplace is given as London—N. K. (Not Known). It appears that the Tracey family believed their boarder turned adopted son had been born somewhere in London.
As for his parentage and his birth, it may be some time before those details can be clarified. I have, of course, searched for the registration of his birth, but not found it in England, Wales or Scotland, nor in any of the regions or districts that could be included in a broad interpretation of either London or Eastbourne. In my searches I have entered as first names David and/or Alexander, and for surnames I’ve used Willows, and even Williams and Tracey, searching for similar sounding and phonetic variations. I’ve considered illegitimacy, maternal post-natal mortality, illness or imbecility. I’ve used a wide range of possible birth years, but I cannot yet identify his mother.
Over one hundred years after his death, the families of Ellen Reason and of Emily Spencer have different perceptions of his relationship with their relative. Both families had been led to understand, that their relative was Alec’s fiancée. Did this fearless Serjeant hesitate to commit himself because he could not bear to disappoint one of them?
Emily Spencer of Bromley (1883–1965) About ten years ago, Ellen Reason’s great-nephew, Christopher, and Emily Spencer’s great-niece, Claire, made contact with each other online, via Ancestry. They shared documents and photos, in the course of which an alternative story unfolded about their respective great aunts. Emily and Ellen each believed, until the end of her life, that she was Alec’s ‘intended’.
It seems that the two women knew of each other—certainly the letter that Alec’s Commanding Officer, Major Ballingall, sent to Ellen Reason, following Alec’s death, was in Emily Spencer’s possession at the time of her death. The letter itself increases the mystery about Emily since the salutation, “Dear Miss Reason” seems to have been altered to read “Dear Miss Spencer“.
Emily is likely to have met Alec when Ellen Tracey, his adoptive mother, moved her family to Bromley, following the death of her husband. The Spencer family had also moved to Bromley—from their home in Gravesend—and were living at 22 Bourne Road, a road parallel to, and only one block away from, Southlands Road, where the Tracey family, including Alec, were living at number 26. Alec and Emily were almost certainly good friends by the time he enlisted: a photo of Alec, taken about the time he joined the army, was among Emily’s possessions. She may have been given it as his ‘sweetheart’.
Alec had been employed locally as a rent collector, until his enlistment in the Royal Field Artillery, towards the end of the Anglo-Boer War, the first war in which news of battles in distant parts of the Empire could rapidly reach those ‘at Home’. By the end of the 19th century almost everyone under the age of 30 had benefitted from at least five years of compulsory education and could read newspaper reports of war and be inspired, alas, by the prospect the army offered of adventure and ‘thrills’. Was this what attracted Alec to the army? There was also the opportunity, during military service, to acquire a trade or skills that would provide stability and a decent income on when the 12 years was up, and the soldier returned to civilian life.
The birth of Emily Hester Spencer was registered in the fourth quarter of 1883. She was baptised at Holy Trinity, Tulse Hill on 10 February 1884, the second of the four children of William Spencer, a house painter, and his wife, Amelia Elizabeth Payne. At the turn of the century, Emily was a dressmaker, as was her elder sister, Ada Lucy, both still at home with their parents and two younger brothers John William and William Arthur. By 1911, only Emily was still living at home. Perhaps by then, she was in love with Alec, a young man, about to embark on a military career that would end only with his death. He appears to have been popular with his fellow soldiers, and by his sorrowing commanding officer, Major Harry Miller Ballingall, who was to describe him as ‘my best Serjeant and a very good comrade”.
Emily’s other life as a military nurse
Emily had taken steps, as soon as war broke out, to contribute to the War Effort, by preparing to train as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse. First she was required to complete introductory courses in First Aid (completed in December 1914) and in Home Nursing (completed in April 1915). Further training followed with an examination and certificate in First Aid to the Injured in November 1915. In July 1918, at the time of the first and milder wave of the 1918 pandemic, Emily was again sent on a course in Home Nursing. By October 1918, she would certainly have been exposed to the risks of nursing patients in the more deadly wave of the 1918 pandemic which was at its height from then until the Spring of 1919.
In the aftermath of the war, and the resulting ‘Great Silence’ Emily became a founder member of the Paddington Nursing Division, later renamed the St Marylebone Nursing Division. We know that she participated in its divisional meetings throughout the period between the wars.
In 1930, the Paddington Nursing Division was registered as a Voluntary Aid Detachment. By the end of the decade, Emily was in her mid-50s, the age at which women of that age were taking their pensions.
By maintaining her involvement with the Nursing Division, Emily was one of those called up when war was declared. She was immediately deployed to Millbank Barracks, under whose ‘direction’ she was to work for 9 years. During that time she was deployed to a number of hospitals and military hospitals in London and the Home Counties.
After the war, Emily worked for a period at the Hertford Bishop Hospital in Paris. Her release testimonial in July 1948 describes her Military Conduct as Exemplary and goes on to say:
She hasan excellent record and has had first class reports from all officers under whom she has served. A most efficient nurse, a conscientious nurse, and shows a keen interest in the comfort and welfare of her charges.
Her service in the military hospitals and further afield was acknowledged in the medals she was awarded at the end of the Second World War.
Emily deserves to be remembered, not merely for the mystery surrounding the man she loved, but also for the dedication and care she displayed in her nursing of wounded servicemen between, and during, two world wars. Often, as she tended them, she must have been reminded of ‘her’ Alec, who had not been killed instantly, but who had died after suffering grave injuries. Her service in military institutions and hospitals, nursing the injured and caring for those who had suffered life-changing injuries, was reflected and honoured in the nursing medals that her devotion had earned.
Emily was also a much-loved daughter, sister, aunt and great-aunt. She did not marry and died in Bromley, in 1965.
Ellen Reason of Ham(1880–1961) The Register of Soldiers’ Effects records “Miss Ellen Reason” as Alec’s sole legatee. After locating this document, my next question was what the relationship might have been between Ellen Reason and Alec Willows? By taking the line of Ellen Tracey, Alec’s ‘adopted mother’ back to her parents, and of Ellen’s father, William Reason of Ham, back to his parents, it became clear to me that Ellen Tracey was the elder sister of William Reason. Alec’s ‘adopted mother’ was the aunt of her namesake, the younger Ellen Reason.
In the photograph above, Ellen is in the centre of the back row. William and Eliza’s eldest three children, Ellen, Ada and Arthur were born in Ireland, where their father was stationed in the early years of the 1880s. William’s mother had died when he was a toddler, and he and his step-mother did not, unfortunately, get on. As soon as possible, William left the family home in Suffolk and joined the army. After 12 years’ service in India and Ireland, it was the recommendation of an officer that led to his finding work as a Coachman and Groom in Richmond, a move that ultimately brought the family to Ham. Numerous Army Officers had connections with Ham, and it would be interesting to know whether one of them was responsible for the family’s ending up at 3 Victoria Terrace, home to the Reason family for well over 60 years.
Ellen was so deeply affected by Alec’s death that she, like Emily, never married. She was to cherish a locket containing a lock of Alec’s hair, until the end of her life, more than half a century later. As Alec’s sole legatee, Ellen was the recipient of the letter from Alec’s Commanding Officer, which described Alec as “my very best Serjeant”. It was probably Alec’s closeness to his ‘adoptive’ cousins in Ham, and to his relationship with Ellen in particular, that resulted in his name being written on the Interim Roll of Honour in Ham’s Parish Church. When decisions were made as to who ‘belonged’ to the parish, Alec’s name was not, however, included with those inscribed on the permanent War Memorial.
Just skimming one more pebble…am I going to discover other women in Alec’s life, when their descendants type “Alec Willows” into a search engine?
Sources Edge, C.L., My sweetheart is somewhere in France, published privately. This is the story of Emily’s life. Her great-niece, Claire, has been researching her family for many years, her curiosity having been aroused at the age of eight, when she was told that her great-aunt’s fiancée had been killed in the Great War.
Museum and Library of the Order of St John, Correspondence with C.L.Edge, dated 18 June 1996, containing information on the wartime career (1940–1950) of Emily Spencer.
Acknowledgements To Christopher Reason and Claire Edge for sharing with me information about their respective great aunts, Ellen and Emily, and for their generosity in allowing me to include their family photographs in the relevant blog posts.
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 knowngrave. The cut-off date for this Memorial was the start of the German Spring Offensive, also known as the Kaiserschlacht. Tap on THIEPVALon 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 TIMELINEprovided 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 asSHOT AT DAWN.
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.
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 StanleyBenson 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:
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.
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.
Things were more than just ‘somewhat quiet’ on this blog in 2016, so here’s an update on what I’ve been doing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.