Saturday, 15 August 2009

Updates - week ending Saturday 15th August 2009

More enquiries this week from Ireland, Australia and of course, the UK; the majority of these concerning First World War soldiers.

It's a frustrating fact of WW1 research that service records for the majority of Great War Other Ranks were destroyed in a bombing raid by Hitler's Luftwaffe in 1940. Those that weren't destroyed by fire were often badly damaged by water from the firemen's hoses. These documents, collectively known as the Burnt Documents, are archived in the WO 363 series at The National Archives. A second series of (undamaged) pension records exists in WO 364 and there are also First World War records in various PIN series. PIN 26 is for men wounded and receiving a pension, PIN 71 is men invalided to pension and PIN 82 is the series for men who died as a result of war service and whose widows subsequently claimed a pension. If your WW1 ancestor was an officer, you stand a good chance of finding him in WO 374 and WO 339.

But if your ancestor's service record has been destroyed, DON'T DESPAIR! It's likely that we can still glean some information about when he joined up and possibly when he was discharged and where he would have served.

First World War medal index cards exist for men who were awarded medals or a silver war badge and we'll check any army service numbers against our extensive database of British Army numbers which extends from 1881 through to 1918. This, as far as we are aware, is a unique and invaluable reference resource which can provide vital clues about your ancestor's service.

Medal index cards refer to the actual medal rolls and if you don't know the battalion in which your ancestor served, these are certainly worth checking. Similarly, the Silver War Badge medal rolls will often give the date and place of birth of the recipient.

Armed with information from the medal index card, the medal rolls and our army service numbers database, we can then think about checking the war diaries. It's unlikely that your relative will be mentioned by name (unless he's an officer or - as an outside chance - a senior NCO) but the diaries are still worth checking. Some battalions buck the trend and mention Other Ranks by name, and in our experience you're more likely to find the name of your ancestor in the early pages of a war diary than for those written later in the war.

So, DON'T GIVE UP! We'll always advise you on our recommended approach and we'll access the relevant files for you. Drop us a line via our GET IN TOUCH page or leave a comment on any of these update posts.

The soldier pictured at the top of this post is Charles Sabourin of the East Surrey Regiment. Charles is a good example of a man with a badly damaged service record in WO 363 (see above) and also an Other Rank who is mentioned by name in the 1st East Surrey war diary. Charles, wounded on 23rd August 1914, is one of several men noted in the war diary as being missing in action. In fact he had been captured by the Germans and, minus his right leg, would be repatriated to England in February 1915. You can read more about Charles Sabourin on the Chailey 1914-1918 website.

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