Friday, 9 June 2017

Birmingham Pals lapel badge

I saw this offered on eBay this week, a nice original lapel badge issued to the Birmingham Pals. This one is up for £100. That might be a tad optimistic, I have no idea really. I probably would pay £100 for an original badge like this, but the condition would need to be better still, with no enamel missing and no alterations to the reverse. I'm fussy like that.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Book review: Harrogate Terriers

From the colourised photograph of a Harrogate Terrier on the dustwrapper, to Zillebeke (Ypres); the final entry of an extensive index, this is a superb study of a Territorial Force battalion (the 1/5th West Yorkshire Regiment). 

The battalion's genesis was the 1st Volunteer Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment and the author dedicates early pages to this Volunteer Force unit and its subsequent metamorphosis into the 5th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment in 1908. The later re-designation as 1/5th W Yorks, and the reserve 2/5th and 3/5th Battalions can often be confusing to many, and John Sheehan explains when these reserve battalions were formed and when the battalion titles changed to reflect the re-organisation.

But of course, it is the stories of the men - the boys in many cases - and the battalion's war service which is the strength of this work. This is a heacy and densely packed volume; 350 pages long and packed full of photographs - many of these unseen before - and touching strories. Over a hundred years on, these stories still never fail, with this reviewer at least, to bring a lump to the throat and moisture to the eye. How would this country react to such enormous losses today? I've often wondered what the response today would be. Let's pary we will never know the answer.

For those who went before, this is a fitting memorial. The author has even attempted to pull together a nominal roll of officers and men who served with the battalion and I suspect that even though this book has now been in print for a few months, there will be further names that the author has uncovered which did not make the cut.

Essential reading for anyone with a specific interest in this battalion, Harrogate Terriers will also be a boon to researchers; a quick and easy reference to be read alongside the official battalion war diary, service records and newspaper reports. Well done, John Sheehan and well done Pen & Sword on another cracking battalion history.

Book review: The Journey's End Battalion

Michael Lucas has written a cracking book here which must have taken months if not years of painstaking research. For me, to use a hackneyed phrase, this book ticks all of the boxes:
  • it is well researched
  • it is well-written and hence, readable
  • there are extensive notes
  • there is a good bibliography
  • there are appendices
  • there are maps and photographs

All of the above may be blindingly obvious essential requirements for a military historical work of fact and yet it is surprising how many books fall down on one or more of these check-box points. A good researcher may not necessarily make a good author; a good author might be a sloppy researcher, and so on.

The 9th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment was a New Army battalion and also home to R C Sherriff who would later write Journey's End. The play's title, and a nervous-looking R C Sherriff, appear on the dust-wrapper of this volume.

Unless you're a die-hard 9th East Surrey's historian, you may not want to read the book from cover to cover; apart from anything else, the relentless casualties soon make for depressing reading. Nevertheless, this is a terrific tool for the First World War researcher and it earns a place on my bookshelf because of this. The book is published to the usual high standard we've come to expect from Pen & Sword.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

3/3105 Cpl John Tippins, 2nd Essex Regiment

I came across the article above, published in The Times newspaper on the 23rd December 1914, and thought I would try and find out a little more about this man.

A quick Google search reveals that there is a huge amount of information on this man on the Manningtree Museum website, including the photograph below which, was originally published in De Ruvigny's Roll of Honour:

De Ruvigny's states that John Tippins had previously served in the 2nd (Volunteer Force) Battalion, Essex Regiment, the 5th (Territorial Force) Battalion, Essex Regiment, and the 8th (TF) Battalion, Essex Regiment. It also states that he "... joined [the] 2nd Battalion as private, 18 September 1914, in order to get at once to the Front, and was appointed corporal and left for France the following day."

In actual fact, his regimental number, 3/3105 belongs to the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion and it was this unit that John joined - according to my database, on the 16th or 17th September 1914. His medal index card shows that he arrived in France on the 22nd September 1914; a remarkably quick transition from home to the Western Front, and all the more remarkable given that men joining the Special Reserve were supposed to undergo six months' training before they were sent as drafts to the regular battalions. Perhaps, given John's previous military experience with the Volunteer Force and Territorial Force, and given his proficiency with a rifle, it was felt that the rules could be waived.

John Tippins was killed in action on the 26th November 1914 and is buried in Calvaire (Essex) Military Cemetery, 16kms from Ypres. The Soldiers' Effects' Register notes that his father, Luke Tippins, was sent the sum of £5, three shillings and five pence after John's death and, later, a war gratuity of £6. There is an impressive brass plaque to him in Mistley church, Essex which pays tribute to his skill as a rifleman, and his former membership of the church choir.

I research soldiers!

Saturday, 29 April 2017

The King's Certificate

I have four variations of this certificate handing on walls at home, and am looking for more. Designed by Bernard Partridge (later, Sir Bernard Partridge) this certificate was awarded to soldiers, sailors and later, airmen, who were disabled in the Great War. The example above, which is certainly the most common version seen, was awarded to British Army NCOs and men. In this particular case, the recipient was R/33979 Rfm Frank Guest of the King's Royal Rifle Corps who had previously served with the Gloucestershire Regiment (15855). Frank had enlisted on the 8th September 1914, arrived overseas on the 9th August 1915, and was discharged on the 9th May 1918.

This was the version issued to Royal Navy ratings, in this case to J46338 Arthur Newell Hercock, born in 1896, who was "slightly wounded", according to his service record, in Mesopotamia. He died in 1974. 

Harold Butler presumably coloured this certificate himself. He was a career soldier who originally joined the Northumberland Fusiliers (3722) in January 1914.and arrived in France on the 6th March 1915. His name appeared in a Times casualty list on the 6th August 1915 and after recuperating he was transferred to the Labour Corps (256342). He was discharged from 499 Company on the 14th November 1917 aged just 21.

This last certificate, poorly rendered in this image, is for an officer, Lieutenant Charles Wilfred Elliott of the 5th Leicestershire Regiment. Officers' certificates were different from those of other ranks and had the words "Invalided from the Service..." rather than "Honourably discharged on..."

I research soldiers!

Friday, 28 April 2017

Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902 - newspaper coverage

Did your British Army Ancestor serve in the Boer War? If he did, it's possible that he was mentioned in a local, or even national, newspaper.

Some while back I created a list of British and Irish newspapers which had been published online by the British Newspaper Archive and Findmypast and which covered the years 1914-1918. Each week, as more and more pages are published, I add to this list.

I have now created a similar list for newspapers which cover the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902. There are over three hundred titles on this list and as with the 1914-1918 newspapers, I shall be adding to this whenever new material is published.

The British Newspaper Archive continues to impress and at the time of writing has published close to 19.3m pages across 756 titles. New content is being added at the rate of around 100,000 pages per week. It is, quite simply, a tremendous resource.

The links above will take you to my newspaper lists. Click on the link, if optimised, or simply go to the British Newspaper Archive or Findmypast and browse through the pages yourself. Here are those links to my pages again (which you'll also see in the menu above):

The superb illustration on this post is taken from the Illustrated London News.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

6477 Rfm Samuel Morter Smith, Rifle Brigade

Here's a great photograph of a boxing and wrestling champion who served with the Rifle Brigade between February 1899 and November 1911. The write-up that accompanies this photograph in the Rifle Brigade Chronicle for 1908 notes that Samuel was born on the 13th March 1881 and served with the 4th Battalion Mounted Infantry during the Boer War. He was later posted to the 2nd Battalion in India and won several boxing and wrestling tournaments. The final paragraph of the shirt editorial reads:

"He frequently displays feats of strength, both in the barrack room and on the stage of entertainments, one of which is to make a bridge of himself, and in this position supporting seven men (equivalent to 1,087 lbs). He is entirely self trained and is popularly known as "Sandow Smith".

As well as notching up various wins in the ring, Samuel also amassed quite a good collection of tattoos. His original attestation papers survive in WO 97 and the distinctive marks' section on page two simply mentions "scar on left eye-brow" and a "patch of hard skin, back of left hand". 

We can be certain therefore, that all of the tattoos on display here were acquired after he joined the army. The tiger and palm trees on his chest was presumably inked some time after his arrival in India in February 1906.  There is what appears to be rifle on his upper right arm, above the crossed swords motif commonly rendered as a badge for army gymnastics instructors. On his left arm there are two flags, possibly Rifle Brigade standards, and other motifs which are unclear. Who knows what was rendered on his back.

Samuel Smith remained in India until 1911 but returned home in November and was discharged "free after 12 years' service" this, despite having re-engaged at Fort William, Calcutta in February 1911 to complete 21 years.

If he served in the First World War, I have yet to find evidence of this. He certainly worked as a policeman, however, and on the 1939 Register is listed as a retired police constable, married to Rosie L Smith (born 20th July 1894). There are also four probable children noted, as well as three closed records:

When the 1939 Register was taken, Samuel and his family were living at Broad Street, Depwade Rural District, Norfolk. I have not yet identified when and where he died.

Friday, 24 March 2017

The Ambulance Drivers - Hemingway & Dos Passos

Most English literature students in this country will be familiar with the work of Ernest Hemingway, less so with the work of John Dos Passos. It was nearly a hundred years ago, that the two budding authors embarked for Europe from America to do their bit in the Great World War. This new book by James McGrath Morris charts the two men's journeys - both in the literal sense, as they travelled across France, Italy and later, Spain; and in the developmental sense as they launched successful careers as authors.

The Ambulance Drivers (both men served in this capacity in the First World War) charts the development of the two authors and, later, their falling out. 

This is a good re-telling of two stories, with a particular focus on the years 1918 to 1937. Unhappily, and ironically given their First World War roles as ambulance drivers, both men had unlucky - and in John Dos Passos's case, tragic - relationships with motorised vehicles. In 1930 Hemingway ran his car off the road, with Dos Passos in it, and 17 years later, Dos Passos, temporarily dazzled by the sun, crashed his car into parked truck, killing his wife instantly and blinding himself in his right eye. Nevertheless, these incidents do not dominate the narrative which instead, and rightly so, focuses on the men's early years, their relationships with those around them, and their relationship with each other.

As well as a compelling narrative, there are some great photos in this book: the handsome lady-killer looks of Ernest Hemingway contrasting with the more geeky John Dos Passos.

This is a well-researched book made all the more helpful by copious notes and a good bibliography. For Hemingway and Dos Passos fans, this will be a must-read. For others, like me, who knew little (or nothing in the case of Dos Passos) about these two men, the book is a compelling examination of an at-times frail, turbulent and broken friendship.

The Ambulance Drivers is published by Da Capo Press at $27 or less. Read more here on the Da Capo Press website and order here from Amazon.

Monday, 20 March 2017

The Last Queen's Guard - January 1901

The photograph above originally appeared in the Rifle Brigade Chronicle for 1901. It shows one officer and thirty-one NCOs and men of the Royal Rifle Reserve Regiment who formed the Queen's Guard at Parkhurst in December 1900 and January 1901. Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, died on the 22nd January 1901 and these men were therefore part of the last Queen's Guard.

The Royal Rifle Reserve Regiment, then quartered at Parkhurst, was one of several reserve regiments formed in 1900 of time-expired soldiers. In the case of this last Royal Guard - a complete contingent of two officers and forty-four NCOs and men - all men with the exception of Lieutenant Okeover who had served with the militia, had originally served with the Rifle Brigade.

The following men are all named in The Rifle Brigade Chronicle as having formed part of the last Guard of Honour, all of these men being awarded the Royal Victorian Medal (above, courtesy Science & Society) which had been instituted by Queen Victoria in 1896. Their regimental numbers are those of the Royal Rifle Reserve Regiment and date to March 1900.

Surviving Rifle Reserve Regiment records are few and far between and, where they do survive, are not generally held with the man's earlier papers. Nevertheless I did find records in WO 97 for some of the men in the list below, most of whom had left the Rifle Brigade by the early 1890s and were therefore old soldiers in the true sense of the word. Where I have uncovered additional information, I have expanded the man's forename and also added in his previous Rifle Brigade regimental number and years of service.

932 Colour Sergeant T Lewis
203 Sergeant H Gilbert
978 Sergeant G Blackman
933 Corporal Ernest Martindale; formerly 5571; 1883-1895
1275 Corporal G Taylor
123 Corporal J Clark
407 Acting Corporal B Wells
529 Acting Corporal R Gilmour
1013 Acting Corporal J Rhodes
422 Acting Corporal T Kilshaw

404 Bugler E Mallet (presumably the man above)
532 Rifleman J Ballard
424 Rifleman G Charles
539 Rifleman J Currall
389 Rifleman A Day
419 Rifleman G Fisher
538 Rifleman J Foster
988 Rifleman Joseph Gartshore; formerly 8274; 1886-1898
997 Rifleman J Logan
996 Rifleman Thomas Lynch; formerly 5970; 1883-unknown
999 Rifleman John Pitchford; formerly 6104; 1883-1895 
410 Rifleman T Naylor
846 Rifleman J Edmonds
394 Rifleman M Richards
391 Rifleman J Smith
527 Rifleman C Street
1003 Rifleman T Sweeting
411 Rifleman J Tiff
434 Rifleman William Tiffin; formerly 4188; 1880-1892
400 Rifleman Thomas Wagerfield; formerly 1861; 1877-1889
534 Rifleman J Waller
814 Rifleman J Woodward
1556 Rifleman R Fidoe
499 Rifleman J Fishlock; formerly 6348; 1883-1895
674 Rifleman A Piket

Some of the men listed above with common names may also have surviving service records in WO 97 but it would be impossible to pick them out, particularly as their Royal Rifle Reserve service is almost certainly not indicated on their original papers. That's one of the reasons that published lists such as this, even though it is small, is so important. For some of the men listed above, this single listing in a half-forgotten Chronicle published by the Rifle Brigade over 100 years ago may be the only surviving evidence of their army service.

Apart from the Royal Victorian Medal, five men wear the India General Service Medal 1854-1895. Clasps are visible on some of these medals and these are almost certainly the clasps for Burma 1885-7 and Burma 1887-89, as illustrated below. The corporal sitting on the ground on the left wears the Sudan Medal and Khedive's Star, evidence of campaigning between 1882 and 1889.

Ernest Martindale is one of the India General Service Medal holders although he was only entitled to the clasp for Burma 1887-89. He later re-enlisted in the Rifle Brigade in 1914 at the age of 48 and saw service in the UK with the 15th Battalion before being discharged in 1915. John Pitchford served in Gibraltar, Egypt, South Africa and India during his original stint with the Rifle Brigade but still came away with no campaign medals; a case of being in the wrong location at the wrong time. 

I research soldiers! 
Contact me if you need help with your military ancestor. 

Sunday, 19 March 2017

A final family portrait

I bought this postcard of a Gordon Highlander and his family the other week. Unfortunately, there is nothing on the card to identify who the soldier and his family are, but his name will undoubtedly appear in Commonwealth War Graves records somewhere, and probably on Soldiers Died in The Great War. His wife probably received a widow's pension, and there is probably a record recording both the husband's and wife's name in the Soldiers' Effects Register.

Because the sad fact of the matter is that this is a sitting assembled after death. It doesn't require much close examination to see that the sitters have all been cut and pasted into a family grouping. The little girl on the right may have originally appeared in a solo portrait, and her father's photo may have been taken in a studio close to where he was camped or billeted in the UK; it could even have been taken in France and posted back home. In a pre-digital age it would have been difficult to get the perspective right, which is why the soldier appears, ironically, a little larger than life.

This photo, quite possibly, was the only group photo that ever existed of this family. Depending on when the father was sent overseas and when he was killed, the infant on his wife's lap may have never seen her father - and he may never have seen his bairn. All the more reason then to re-construct a family sitting, and a reminder for the children in years to come that their father had been a soldier, and died for his King and Country.

I research soldiers! 
Contact me if you need help with your military ancestor.