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.