Sunday, 5 November 2017

The British Army's component parts


This post will aim to give a concise overview of the component parts of the British Army between, for the sake of convenience, 1881 and 1918.

The Regular Army
Until July 1881 the majority of infantry regiments had been designated as Regiments of Foot but by July 1881 these designations had been swept away and replaced with 'territorial' or county titles. This was all part of Secretary of State for War Edward Cardwell's army reforms, carried through in 1881 by his successor, the then Secretary of State for War, Hugh Childers. 

The first 25 Regiments of Foot were all two-battalion regiments but the Regiments of Foot from the 26th Foot onwards were all single battalions which were now paired with another battalion. Thus, for example, the 26th (Cameronian) Regiment of Foot was paired with the 90th Regiment of Foot (Perthshire Volunteers) to form The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles). This was a logical pairing of two Scottish regiments whereas the pairing of the 27th (Inniskilling) Regiment of Foot with the 108th (Madras Infantry) Regiment of Foot to form the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers made no sense at all to many an outraged retired colonel.

Men joining the army enlisted for 12 years in total, this term comprised of colour service and reserve service. The periods of colour and reserve service varied according to the corps the man signed up with, and according to when he signed up. Typical terms of enlistment with the infantry were seven years with the colours and five years on the reserve. A man served his first seven years in army uniform but when he was transferred to the reserve he handed in his uniform and returned to civvy street, albeit with the liability to be recalled to the colours if his country needed him. Men were recalled from the reserve in 1899 and in 1914.

Regular regiments typically had two battalions, one serving at home in the United Kingdom and one serving overseas. However, this being the British Army there were exceptions to every rule. The Cameron Highlanders was a single-battalion regiment until 1897 whilst there were a number of regiments which had four battalions at different points in time.

The Militia 
The militia was seen by many young men as a good testing ground for military life. By 1881 each infantry regiment had between one and three (in Ireland) militia battalions comprised of men who committed to serve a term of six years in total. The militia trained with and shared a depot with the infantry regiment and both the militia and the regular battalions were funded and governed by the War Office.

Militia commitment was very much a local and a part-time affair. New recruits signed up to serve in the county in which they were resident and typically drilled for 49 days on enlistment before returning to their civilian lives. Their only commitment thereafter was regular training and an annual two-week camp. 

The militia could be embodied for war service and this happened in 1899, forty militia battalions being approached to volunteer. 

The Militia Reserve
The militia reserve was a reserve for the regular army. It consisted of militia-men who, in return for a bounty of £1 a year, committed to remain with the militia either six years or the whole time of their service. In the event of war they were to enter the regular army on the same terms as men on the army reserve men and could be sent anywhere in the world and assigned to any regiment to which the army deemed it fit to send them.

The Volunteer Force & Territorial Force
The Volunteer Force (VF) was established in 1859 and quickly grew as a citizen army managed and funded by local worthies rather than the War Office. In 1908 the VF was superseded by the Territorial Force (TF), run by County Associations which, nonetheless, had no jurisdiction over their operational deployment. Men joining the TF did so for four years, and for service in the United Kingdom only, although they could also volunteer to serve overseas. Ireland had no Territorial Force battalions. As indicated, the TF was organised on a county level although some battalions found themselves being administered by more than one county association. The 5th, 6th and 7th Battalions of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, for instance, were each administered by two different county associations. 

The Special Reserve and Extra Reserve
The Special Reserve replaced the militia in 1908, just as the Territorial Force replaced the Volunteer Force in the same year. Men joining the Special Reserve enlisted for six years' service but with the understanding that in the event of war they could be sent out as part of draft to replace casualties in the regular battalions. The Special Reserve attracted men who had no prior military service and, later, men who were time-expired regulars. See this post of mine detailing the Special Reserve attestation form to be used. 

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Photographing the Fallen: Ivan Bawtree and the GRU


Ivan Bawtree had a very different Great War. Working with the Graves Registration Unit of the Royal Engineers, and calling on his pre-war photographic expertise with Kodak, Ivan photographed the graves and cemeteries of France and Belgium. His work survives today as The Bawtree Collection at the Imperial War Museum, and the photograph that appears above is part of that 600-image collection.

Pen and Sword have just published a book about Ivan Bawtree's work, written by his great nephew, Jeremy Gordon-Smith, and it's a cracking read, packed full of Ivan's photographs and augmented by Ivan's diary entries and Jeremy Gordon-Smith's own research.  For me personally, with a growing interest in the work of the Imperial War Graves Commission and men like Lutyens and Baker whose architectural excellence can be seen in hundreds of cemeteries and memorials in Britain and on the old Western Front, this book adds some incredibly useful information. 

Obviously inheriting some of his great-uncle's photographic skills, there are some cleverly manipulated shots which merge contemporary views with Ivan's original photographs, and there are some great archive images of those early growing cemeteries as well as lighter moments snapped with comrades.

This has to be one of the more profusely illustrated of Pen & Sword's books, published to the usual high standards and including useful notes, a bibliography and index. Better still it is well-written and a fitting tribute to the man behind the lens. If I didn't already have a copy, this would certainly be on my Christmas list. 

Photograph © Jeremy Gordon-Smith. Readers may also be interested to know that Ivan Bawtree's service record survives in WO 363. Clicking on the link will take you to it.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Tropical group; named but undated


Here's another recent eBay purchase. The men are all named as follows:

Back row, left to right: Sapper Doane, Sapper Biggs, Signalman Dorling, Sapper Rudd, Signalman Field, Sapper Allen.
Front row, left to right: Lance-Corporal Ayling, Sergeant Ricketts,  Major A F Day, Captain L G Butler MC, Corporal Effland, Sapper Eastmead

With all of these things, an element of detective work is necessary and in this case I started with the officers.  

Major A F Day is possibly the same captain and quartermaster A F Day whose promotion to major (and quartermaster) took place on the 10th February 1947. He could also be the same Lieutenant A F Day who was interned in Holland on the 29th December 1917 and repatriated on the 21st January 1919.

Captain L G Butler MC is Captain Leolin George Butler who was promoted captain on the 14th November 1926.  He was born in Bristol  in 1893 and his death was registered at Weston-Super-Mare in 1986. In 1911 he was working as a civil engineer for a ferro-concrete engineer. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant with the Wessex Divisional Engineers on the 10th October 1915.

There is a variety of medal ribbons on display. Captain Butler's MC is clearly visible, so too his British War and Victory Medal ribbons. Signalman Field wears a 1914-15 trio; Major Day could be wearing Boer War ribbons; Sergeant Ricketts and Corporal Effland both look as though they are wearing ribbons from the second world war.


So where was the photo taken? Somewhere tropical judging by the helmets. And whilst we're at it, what about those helmets? Is that Royal Artillery on the left and Royal Engineers on the right? As for a date, I'm going with post Second World War. I welcome further thoughts on this photograph.

25th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers


This was a nice discovery for me this morning; a website dedicated to the 25th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers. I don't have a particular interest in this battalion but I had just finished a research project on a man who served with the 25th and then stumbled upon this website. I would suggest that this is probably essential reading for anyone with an interest in this particular battalion and it looks well-researched. There are also transcripts of the battalion war diary which is an incredibly useful bonus.

Well done to Steve Eeeles the owner of this website and for whom the research must have been - and probably still is - a true labour of love.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Royal Scots Fusiliers - name those soldiers!


I bought this photo last week and now I'm trying to put names to the faces.

There are eight men: seven colour sergeants with the regimental sergeant major seated in the centre. The men all belong to the Royal Scots Fusiliers and they're all wearing khaki. Oddly, with so many years' service between them, there's not a single medal ribbon to be seen.

This leads me to surmise whether these men belonged to the 1st Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers. The 1st Battalion had last earned campaign medals for the Crimea in 1855. They had been stationed in the UK since 1882 but in 1896 they sailed for India, arriving in September. They would remain in India until 1910 when they embarked for South Africa.

In this photograph, the men wear the 1896 pattern frock; the Indian version with the scalloped collars. Could this photograph have been taken shortly after their arrival in Sialkot?  In 1897 the battalion would take part in the Tirah campaign and those men who participated would later be awarded medals.  

The senior NCOs listed below all received the India Medal with clasps for Punjab Frontier 1897-98 and Tirah 1897-98 (and Colour-Sergeant Smith also received the clasp for Samana 1897).  Do any of these men appear in my photo above?

1448 RSM F W Lees
541 William John Bailey
2331 Col Sgt James Craig
1164 Col Sgt William Smith
2026 Col Sgt J Walker

Judging by their regimental numbers, William Bailey would have joined the regiment in 1883, Lees and Smith in 1885, Walker in 1887, and Craig in 1888. None of these men went on to serve in South Africa during the Boer War and all would have been time-expired by 1914 (although William Bailey re-enlisted in 1915 aged 52!)

Of course, the men in the photo could also have belonged to the 1st Battalion, RSF which would go on to see service in South Africa between 1899 and 1902. Known senior NCOs of the 1st Battalion in 1901 are listed below:

RSM J H Steele
289 Col Sgt G Manley
958 Col Sgt R Taylor
1375 Col Sgt J Forrest
1481 Col Sgt A Ferguson
1558 Col Sgt A Angus
1647 Col Sgt J Young
1701 Col Sgt W Kimberley
1789 Col Sgt W Lodge
2512 Col Sgt J Allchin
2772 Col Sgt R Smith
4425 Col Sgt W Brettargh

If anyone can assist with the identity of these men - or even confirm the battalion, I'd be very pleased to hear from you. Leave a comment or drop me a line via the Research tab.


Sunday, 6 August 2017

Naval & Military Press, summer sale


Huzzah! It's that time of year again; the Naval and Military Press summer sale! Grab a 20% discount on all orders placed by 6pm on Tuesday 29th August 2017. This includes discounts on already heavily discounted titles such as the Your Towns and Cities in the Great War series. In my opinion these are a mixed bag. There are some cracking, highly-readable accounts as well as some mundane and poorly written volumes. Mind you, at just £2 a throw during the summer sale period, even the mundane titles are worth a punt for the photos alone.


Personally, I'll be adding to my collection of the British Red Cross & Order of St John titles (which would be more useful still if they had been indexed and published online). Now there's a thought...


Friday, 21 July 2017

M2/156830 A-Sgt Fred Harwood, Army Service Corps


How can I find a photograph of my British Army Ancestor? It's a question I get asked a lot, and something I have been putting my mind to of late. Watch this space for further developments on this topic.

In the meantime though, here's a photograph of M2/156830 Private Fred Harwood of the Army Service Corps who, according to text scribbled on the reverse of the photo, served with 603 Company, Mechanical Transport, Army Service Corps in Floriana, Malta.


He certainly served overseas during the First World War and by the time he was issued with the British War Medal (his only entitlement) he was a corporal and acting sergeant. This photograph pre-dates that time, when Fred was a private, proudly standing by his lorry, presumably somewhere in the UK. 


I'd be interested to hear from anyone who is related to Fred Harwood, and so would the current custodian of this photograph.



Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Reasons to be cheerful - Findmypast gives away 10%



Here's a nice offer from Findmypast, 10% off the price of a UK or World subscription.

Fortunately, I don't have ancestors - at least, not many - who ventured to Canada, the US, Ireland or Australia, and so the UK sub suits me just fine. I use it pretty much exclusively for military records these days: the worldwide British Army indexes for 1841, 1851, 1861 and 1871, the British Army Service records (far more indexed on Findmypast than at Ancestry), The Scots Guards, the HAC, Tanks, Artillery... it goes on. I begin my day with Findmypast, usually between 5am and 6am, and I return to it in the evening. Personally, I consider a full-price sub to be a bargain, but it's even more of a bargain when there's 10 PER CENT OFF!

This is a time-limited offer which starts at 12.01am GMT this evening (ie one minute past midnight on the 19th July) and ends at 11.59pm GMT on Sunday 30th July.

So what are you waiting for? Grab yourself a bargain by following the links on this page. This offer is not being promoted other than through partners like me!


Wednesday, 5 July 2017

1817 Pte Clarence Pygott, 1/4th Lincolnshire Regiment


Thirty-one years ago I met and interviewed a veteran of the 1/4th Lincolnshire Regiment, Donald Banks. You can read transcripts of my interview with him on my World War 1 Veterans' blog by clicking on the link on Donald's name. As a sixteen-year old, Donald was badly wounded at Lake Zillebeke on the 2nd September 1915 when the dug-out he was in received a direct hit. His friend, Clarence Pygott, and other 1/4th Lincolnshire Regiment men besides, were killed when the shell landed, and Donald was temporarily blinded.  As Mr Banks told me, 

"I carried a bible in my pocket and there was a certain Lance-Corporal Pygott with whom I formed a friendly association and he saw me take this out and said, “let me have a look at it” and he opened it at the text of one of St Paul’s epistles, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans VIII, 38-39."

After Clarence Pygott was killed next to him, Donald Banks wrote a small In Memoriam piece in his diary and, some years after I had interviewed him, I visited Pygott's grave at the Railway Dugouts Burial Ground near Ypres and recited the verse from ROMANS. He lies buried next to Sergeant Preston and other Lincolnshire men killed that day.

Today, in anticipation of meeting Donald Banks' grandson in a couple of weeks' time, I decided to search the British Newspaper Archive to see if there was any mention of Clarence in a newspaper roll of honour.  What I found, in The Lincolnshire Chronicle on Saturday 18th September 1915, far exceeded my expectations.  Not only was there an article but also photos of Clarence and an older brother. The article reads:

KILLED IN HIS DUG-OUT
Lce-Corpl C Pygott

News of the death of Lce-Corpl Clarence Pygott was received with much regret by his many Lincoln friends this week. Lce-Corpl Pygott, whose home was at 20 Grafton Street, Lincoln was well-known in the West-End of the city and had been in the Territorials three years. When hostilities started he was called up and went to France in February. No official news of his death has, as yet, been received, but the following is the letter from the Major of his regiment, conveying the sad news to Mrs Parkin, sister of deceased:

Dear Madam

I am very grieved to have to tell you that your brother was killed on the 2nd September, by a shell whilst in his dug-out. That afternoon we were badly shelled whilst in support. All; was done for the safety of everybody, and it was the luck of war that he was taken. Your only consolation is that he was killed instantaneously. He had only been under me for a short time, so that I can't say that I knew him very well. He is buried alongside his comrades who were killed the same afternoon and not far from the place where he died.

All my sympathy is with you and your in your bereavement.

Yours Truly

F Eric Tetley

Prior to mobilisation the deceased worked at Ruston's. The last letter received by his sister was written on the day of his death. In it he said he was going in the trenches that day for five days. 

Herewith we also give a photograph of deceased's eldest brother, Sergt Jack Pygott, who is training in England with the Lincs Yeomanry, prior to going to the Dardanelles. He is the husband of Mrs Pygott of Spa Street, Lincoln. He was a member of the old Volunteers, and among those who, under Col Ruston, volunteered for service in Africa. Before enlisting he was employed on the brass gallery at Ruston's. He also possesses a Long Service medal.

There is another brother who is also in the army. He is in the 3/4th Lincolns.

...........

Clarence Pygott was born in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire on the 11th October 1895 but was not baptised until the 25th May 1901. By then, he was living at the home of his elder sister, Amelia Parkin; the Mrs Parkin referred to in the letter above. Clarence's father, George Henry Pygott, had died in 1898 at the age of 47 and his mother, Annie Pygott, may have re-married or also died. I have been unable to find a trace of her.


Amelia and her new husband (they had married in 1897) took in six of the Pygott siblings and they all appear together on the 1901 census. Some of these older children were probably Clarence's half-siblings. His mother is recorded as Annie on his baptism certificate but on the 1891 census return (below) it is Mary A Pygott who is recorded as the wife of George Henry. 


The family address in 1901 was 10 Britannia Terrace, Gainsborough. Amelia and Herbert Parkin must have lived there at least since 1899 as Clarence appears on an admission register for Gainsborough Holy Trinity school that year and it is this home address which is given. 

By 1911 though, now aged 16 and working as a cardboard operator / photo mounter, Clarence was living at the home of John Thomas Hart and Mary Elizabeth Hart. He is recorded as the brother of John Thomas Hart although this is surely incorrect; the brother of Mary Elizabeth Hart may be more likely.

I could find no entry for Clarence Pygott in the Soldiers' Effects Register although I presume his next of kin would have been Amelia Parkin. She would have been sent Clarence's medals and, in due course, a memorial plaque and scroll. If anyone knows of the whereabouts of these, assuming they are not held by the family, I would be happy to purchase them.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

14184 Pte David Johnson, 15th DLI - KiA 1st July 1916


Around the top edge of the colossal Lochnagar crater at La Boiselle on The Somme, there is a modern-day duckboard track. And screwed into this track are small brass plaques bearing the names of men who lost their lives on the Somme.

I stood at Lochnagar a year ago today, on the 100th anniversary of the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, and I took a photo of the area around my feet where I was standing. Looking at those photos again today, I see that one of the men commemorated there was David Johnson of the 15th Durham Light Infantry who had been killed in action on the 1st July 1916.



On this day, the 101st anniversary of David Johnson's death, and that of nearly 60,000 of his fellow soldiers on that awful day, pause to remember their sacrifice, and reflect on the individual lives lost.

David enlisted at Jarrow on the 7th September 1914. Born at Hebburn, he was 18 years old, the son of Robert and Sarah Ann Johnson of 14 Oak Street, Jarrow. He remained in the UK, training with the 15th Battalion (a K3 Kitchener battalion)  until the 10th September 1915 when he sailed with the battalion, part of the original contingent, for France. The battalion formed part of the 64th Brigade in the 21st Division and David's first action would have been at the Battle of Loos when the division sustained nearly 4,000 casualties for negligible gain. David came through this action unscathed but his luck ran out on the 1st July 1916. 

Soldiers Died in The Great War records that 137 men of the 15th DLI lost their lives on the 1st July 1916. David at least has a known grave and is buried in Gordon Dump Cemetery, not a million miles from where I was standing a year ago. The Google map below shows that he literally does lie in the corner of some foreign field. Note the chalk outlines of old trench lines, still scarring the landscape a century later. 


David does have papers which survive as badly water-damaged pages in series WO 363 (available to download from Ancestry and Findmypast) and these show that his mother accepted his medals and memorial plaque. It's clear that David had also spent time in hospital in April 1916 but was obviously fit enough for front-line service by July. His name would later appear in a list of men killed in action; this from The Newcastle Journal, published on the 16th August 1916.


The same day his name also appeared in a roll published by The Times newspaper which listed the names of 4733 men.

If a photo survives of David, it does not appear to be in the public domain, but he is remembered at Lochnagar, at Gordon Dump, probably in a local church at Jarrow and now, 101 years after his death in action, here on this blog.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, 
WE WILL REMEMBER THEM.