Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Writtle war memorial

I was in the pretty Essex village of Writtle today, and not for the first time, spent some time looking at the names on the war memorial there.  I was explaining to my six-year-old daughter how every man remembered there was somebody's son, and may well also have been a brother, husband or father.  We started looking at instances where the same name was repeated and I took the photo below which shows three Everard men and four Brewster men.  I resolved to see if they were related and to see how much, in the space of an hour or two, I could find out once I reached home.

The first online resource I used was Soldiers Died in The Great War (SDGW). Both Ancestry and FindmyPast have this data-set as part of their online offering, (both licensed from The Naval & Military Press) but Ancestry's search is, for once, better than that over at FMP and so this is the version that I use. I also have the Naval & Military Press CD ROM of SDGW which is better still, but for this exercise, the online versions suffice.

SDGW can give a man's place of birth, residence and place of joining. It can also provide supplemental information such as a previous regiment served with and also distinguishes between killed in action, died of wounds, died etc.

SDGW is always only half of the picture however. To view details of where a man is buried and to see details of next of kin, a visit to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's Debt of Honour website is also essential. The CWGC details, whilst they may not always give next of kin information (this dependent upon whether it was supplied in the first place) may state a man's age or give supplemental information about the man's regiment. For instance, it was the CWGC which noted the Company that Robert Brewster (see below) was serving with when he died.

The information about when a man joined his regiment comes from my own research into army numbers and I have a separate army service numbers blog - and soon to be separate searchable website - devoted to this subject.  Here then, beneath the photo of the duck pond at Writtle on a glorious autumn day (memorial just visible on the right) are the basic military details of the Everard and Brewster men.


L/11300 Private Percy Edward Everard, 7th Battalion, The Queen's (Royal West Surrey Regiment). Born in Writtle, living in Writtle, enlisted at Chelmsford (as a career soldier) in Feb/Mar 1916.  Killed in Action on the 28th September 1916.  The son of Joseph and Margaret Everard of 4 Front Road, Oxney Green, Writtle, Chelmsford.  Buried in Connaught Cemetery, Thiepval (Somme), France.

88286 Private William Henry Everard, 25th Battalion, Machine Gun Corps, formerly 27294 Norfolk Regiment. Born in Writtle, living in Writtle, enlisted at Chelmsford. Joined the Norfolk Regiment in January 1917, transferred to the MGC in shortly afterwards (precise date unknown, but before May 1917). Died of Wounds on the 2nd May 1918.  The son of Frederick and Sarah Everard, of Writtle. Buried in Etaples Military Cemetery.

125412 Gunner Isaac J Everard, Royal Garrison Artillery. Joined the RGA in late 1916 or early 1917. Died 28th November 1918.  Buried in Writtle (All Saints) Churchyard.


13021 Guardsman Arthur Brewster, 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Guards.  Born in Writtle, enlisted at Romford in December 1906. Killed in Action on the 2nd November 1914. Commemorated on the Menin Gate at Ypres.

7591 Lance-Corporal James R Brewster, 1st Battalion, Essex Regiment.  Born in Highwood, living in Writtle, enlisted at Warley, Essex in June 1903. Killed in Action on the 28th April 1915.  Commemorated on the Helles Memorial, Gallipoli.

3/3536 Lance-Corporal Robert Arthur Brewster, 2nd Battalion, Essex Regiment. Born in Writtle, living in Writtle, enlisted at Chelmsford in the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion in November 1914; subsequently posted to the 2nd Battalion.  Killed in Action on the 1st July 1916 whilst serving with C Company. Aged 26, the son of Mrs A M Brewster of Oxney Green, Writtle, Essex, and the late J Brewster.  Buried in Serre Road Cemetery No 2.

T/31141 Driver William Thomas Brewster, Army Service Corps. Born in Writtle, living in West Croydon, enlisted at Warley, Essex. Enlistment date unknown. Died on the 12th June 1915.  Buried in Longuenesse (St Omer) Souvenir Cemetery, France.


Information provided by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission does not give a lot of information about next of kin. Percy and William Everard were certainly not brothers - different parents are noted - and Isaac Everard, dying late in 1918, gets no mention on SDGW and has no next of kin noted.  The 1911 census however, notes that he was Isaac John M Everard, a 25-year-old married bricklayer.  His wife was 27-year-old Rose Ellen Everard and the couple was living with others at the home of 60-year-old George Day at The Causeway, Writtle.  So Isaac would have been born in about 1886. A check of the Birth records reveals an Isaac John Everard whose birth was registered at Chelmsford in the September quarter of 1885.  The 1891 census in turn shows him living at Oxney Green, Writtle, the son of Samuel and Sarah Everard.

So, three Everard soldiers and three different fathers: Samuel Everard, Frederick Everard and Joseph Everard.  Were these men related? A Frederick and a Samuel Everard both appear as brothers (living in Writtle) on the 1861 census and 1871 census returns.  Percy Everard, the son of Joseph and Margaret, was born in 1897 and he appears on the 1901 census as a three-year-old.  Joseph, born in Writtle, was 34-years-old and so should appear on census returns from 1871. I couldn't find him on the 1871 census but he's there on the 1881 census along with his siblings including a brother.... called Frederick. 

So in summary, the Everard men on the Writtle memorial were not brothers but William Henry Everard and Isaac John Everard could have been cousins.  Then again, William could also have been the cousin of Percy.  It would seem likely that there was a family connection and we also know, as a result of determing Percy's age from the Birth, Marriage and Death records and the 1901 census that he joined the army as a 19-year-old.  The L/ prefix to his Queen's number tells me that he joined as a regular soldier, almost certainly signing up for seven years and five on the reserve rather than simply for the duration of the war.  I'll come to the Brewster men on another day.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Army Deserters 1828-1840

There are some great Army Deserter records over on findmypast; records that make a nice complement to the Chelsea Pensioner records in WO 97.

Thanks to the efforts of the Manchester and Lancashire Family History Society, it's possible to view the details of over 34,000 men who deserted the British Army between 1828 and 1840. At an average of 2,615 desertions per annum over the thirteen years that the database covers, that seems like a lot of men. According to figures published in Alan Ramsay Skelley's The Victorian Army at Home (Croom Helm, London, 1977) however, those numbers are par for the course.  In 1862, 2,895 men deserted (1.4 per cent of the British Army as a whole) and over the next thirty-six years, the figure never dropped below that 1862 level and in fact rose as high as 5,861 in 1872; 3.2 per cent of the British Army.

There are plenty of service records in WO 97, and in fact in the WO 363 and WO 364 series for the First World War which show men having deserted.  Many of these men however, were recaptured or returned of their own free will and went on to lead distinguished careers.  I have noticed during my own research, that most soldiers who did desert, often did so within the first year (and sometimes even days or weeks) of joining.  As Skelley suggests, talking about the number of soldiers of the Home Army in prison:

"... younger soldiers were more prone to commit offences or at least were more likely to be caught for doing so, than older, more experienced men who by the time they had served six or seven years would have beome accustomed to the demands of military life, would have had the maturity to cope with the demands and might have achieved greater responsibility and greater freedom with promotion."

Deserters, when caught, could expect to be flogged or branded.  Although flogging was later restricted by the Mutiny Act of 1868 to active service and to certain offences committed while under sentence in military prisons, and later still (1881, the Army Discipline and Regulation Act) restricted to military prisons only, it wasn't until 1906 that corporal punishment in military prisons was abolished altogether.

The image below, taken from the Army Deserters 1828-40 data on findmypast shows you the type of information you can expect to find.  The image at the top of this post dates to 1884 and shows a deserter having been apprehended.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Absent Voters 1918-1919

I've just updated the WW1 Absent Voters page on this blog.  There are a number of FREE Absent Voters Lists (AVLs) on the web, and others that are tucked away in lbraries and archives.  The AVL for Leeds used to be freely available but I see that this has since disappeared.  I suppose as Local Authority budgets become more and more stretched, we can expect to see more free resources being withdrawn and re-surfacing later as Pay-Per-View services, or included on Family History Sites like findmypast or Ancestry

Anyway, please check out my First World War Absent Voters page and if I've missed anything, do let me know.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Wildcard military search on Findmypast and Ancestry

I must have searched tens of thousands of military records online and so I write this post with some degree of authority.

I should say at the outset that I find both sites to be a fantastic resource. For the First World War enthusiast, Ancestry has the service records in WO 363, the pension records in WO 364 and the WW1 medal index cards. That's pretty much a full set of WW1 records for other ranks and is an invaluable research tool. Ancestry also has the UK Military Campaign Medal and Award Rolls 1793-1949 AND the UK Naval Medal and Award Rolls 1793-1972. Given such an extensive catalogue, it almost seems churlish to mention that the two medal roll collections DO NOT include the rolls for WW1 and WW2.

For its part, has the WO 97 Chelsea Pensioner records 1760-1913 and the militia records in WO 96 between 1760 and 1915. That latter end date should be treated with a degree of caution as I've yet to find a militia record for 1915, and in fact by 1915 the milita had been long dead, replaced by the Special Reserve in 1908. Nevertheless, these record sets are extremely valuable and complement the records on Ancestry very nicely. Findmypast has more related military records coming up soon and one presumes they'll be of the same high quality as those in WO 96 and WO 97.

So plenty there for the military historian and on both sites you can search across regiments without having to input the name of a soldier. Findmypast provides a handy drop-down list of regiments whilst on Ancestry you have to input the name of the regiment yourself. This can be handy, providing that your spelling is up to scratch, but it also means that if you type in "fusilier" in the regiment box, you'll get results for the Royal Fusiliers, Northumberland Fusiliers, Lancashire Fusiliers, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, etc.

However, the main search difference between the two sites is the wildcard facility on search. On findmypast, if you're looking for, let's say, a Coldstream Guardsman with the number beginning with 3, you simply have to type in 3* in the soldier number box. You can use the wildcard asterisk on any combination of numbers. So typing 35* would bring up numbers beginning 35; 356* would bring up numbers beginning 356, and so on. You can even type 3*7 which would bring up all those numbers beginning with 3 and ending with 7. The flexibility that this type of searching offers has to be a good thing.

For reasons known only to itself however, Ancestry does not allow wildcard searching on any number or letter search of less than, or more than, three numbers or letters. So if you knew that your Coldstream Guard ancestor's service number began with 3, typing in 3* would bring up page explaining why your search hasn't worked. That's a shame because it would appear that a simple change in the algorithm could give Ancestry searches the same flexibility that you get over on findmypast, and with many of the burnt documents in WO 363 displaying burnt or water-damaged numbers, we researchers need all the help we can get.

I'm not sure where the image comes from that I've used to illustrate this post but I'll be happy to acknowledge the source if the owner gets in touch.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

FREE medal rolls online

There is a wealth of medal roll material available on line, much of it FREE.  Ancestry has an impressive collection of medal rolls between the years 1793 and 1949 BUT excluding medal rolls for the First World War and Second World War.  You can search the UK Military Campaign Medal and Award Rolls 1793-1949 but you'll need to pay for the privilege.  What you get in return is film of the rolls and transcriptions; still well worth the investment in my book.

Specialist auctioneer and valuer Dix Noonan Webb have four medal rolls on their site.  All are free to search, but it's imporatnt to note that this is a searchable facility and not a browsable one.  The medal rolls are:

Military General Service Medal Roll (1793-1814)
Naval General Service Medal Roll 1793-1840
Army of India Medal Roll 1799-1826
India Mutiny Medal Roll - British Forces - 1857-1859

The first three rolls on this list were compiled by Colin Message, the India Mutiny roll by Kevin Asplin.

Kevin has his own, extremely useful, Asplin Military History Resources website and within this you can access the following medal rolls:

Nominal Roll for the Indian Mutiny medal 1857-1859 - a browsable roll but without medal clasp details.

Medal Rolls for the British Army's campaign in Burma 1887-1889.

Indian General Service Medal 1895-1902 - medals (and clasps) for the Punjab Frontier Campaign of 1897-98 which were awarded to the 2nd Battalion Highland Light Infantry, 2nd Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and the 3rd Battalion Rifle Brigade.

Long Service & Good Conduct Medal awarded to members of the Royal Artillery between 1902 and 1912.

In addition there is a sample from the full QSA and KSA medal rolls to the Lancashire Fusiliers and details on how to order transcriptions of medal rolls for the China campaign of 1856-1860.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Warfare Magazine - Pen and Sword

Pen and Sword Books have a free online magazine called Warfare. Click on the picture above or the text link, to read issue 3 now.

Friday, 7 October 2011

The War Graves Photographic Project - Latest News

I've just received the latest newsletter from The War Graves Project (TWGPP) and as one article mentions publicising the work of TWGPP, I thought I'd give it a mention here.

When I was living in India I did volunteer for the project and ended up taking quite a few shots of the memorial and graves in the Kirkee cemetery in Pune. However, my lack of travel opportunities whilst I was in India meant that I never did succeed in getting around very much, my forays pretty much limited to a few cemeteries in Bangalore.

But I heartily endorse the work of TWGPP and the excellent War Graves Photographic Project website which I refer to quite a lot. The project has already recorded over 1.6 million names and apart from anything else, is always a good bet for a name search when the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's Roll of Honour website is playing up due to a technical hitch. Unlike the CWGC site as well, you can key in a person's first name, not just the initials.

The War Graves Photographic Project website, like the CWGC site, is free to use although if you want to obtain a copy of a photo you'll need to pay £3.50 for an e-mailed version or £5.50 for a hard copy in the post. Run these sites alongside pay-per-view or subscription databases such as Soldiers Died in The Great War or the Army Roll of Honour 1939-1945 and you can build up an extraordinary amount of detail with just a few clicks.

Photo shows Ranchi cemetery, courtesy of James Day and TWGPP.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Victorian service in WO 363 and WO 364

It's a common misconception that WO 363 and WO 364 are the sole preserve of service and pension records respectively for First World War servicemen. They're not. There are thousands of pre-WW1 service records and Victorian Army service records to be found here and whilst some of the men may have still played some role during 1914-1918, or at least volunteered for service during the Great War, many did not.

Take one of my medal group men, Colour-Sergeant Charles Smith of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry, for instance. I've written Charles on my British Army Medals blog. He appears in a photo of D Company's football team after they'd won the Company Challenge Shield in 1895/1896. I first looked for him in the British Army Service Records 1760-1915 collection on Find My Past. There was nothing there. So I had a look over on Ancestry lo and behold, there he was, nine pages in the WO 364 Pension Records. I keyed in his number and as if by magic he appeared. There would have been no point searching on Shropshire for the regiment because Charles joined up in 1879, prior to the existence of the KSLI. Instead, he's indexed as belonging to the 53rd Regiment of Foot. Charles was discharged in 1908, six years before the the First World War began, but having served nearly 30 years in the Army.

And what about the man whose attestation paper I've used to illustrate this post? This particular document dates to 1850 and is the earliest attestation I've come across so far in the WO 364 Pension Records. This man would have been 82 years old in 1914!

So don't rule out the so-called First World War records just because your man had been discharged from the Army before then. There are plenty of Victorian British Army ancestors to be found in WO 363 and WO 364.

Digitisation of WW1 War Diaries

An email yesterday from the Federation of Family History Societies begins:

"The National Archives is looking for volunteers to help ensure that the pages within a popular record series (unit war diaries from the First World War, catalogue reference WO 95) are in the correct order before a conservation and digitisation project begins."

This is great news. When I was at TNA a decade ago, some of the war diaries were in a shocking state and in need of conservation even then. Not only were they being pored over by thousands of researchers, but the photocopying assistants employed by TNA were also extremely heavy-handed at times. In fact I often used to think that the silent stewards who pad through the reading rooms at TNA reminding you not to breathe too heavily on the archive, would have been better employed reprimanding their colleagues in the photocopying room.

I can't imagine that the digitisation project is one which Ancestry would be interested in, so assume that this is an in-house project for TNA and will augment the war diaries that they already have online.

Image courtesy of TNA and Jeremy Banning.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Dover War Memorial

Here's another nice tribute site which I'm happy to include on these pages: The Dover War Memorial Project. The photo is courtesy of John Latter and appears on the Panoramio site.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Chelmsford War Memorial

I'm adding pages of links to this blog - see the menu above - which will hopefully prove to be a useful resource.

A short while ago I was in my local church in Springfield, Essex and was somewhat taken by the war memorial there. I took photos, came home and after a bit of Googling came across a very impressive site commemorating the men of Chelmsford who died during WW1. It really does go into some detail and the site has been carefully and neatly constructed. A sister site commemorating the men and women of Chelmsford who died during WW2 is already underway and I wish it well. Both are fitting tributes to the men and women of Chelmsford who gave so much.

The Chelmsford WW1 War Memorial site is here (and the photo above is taken from this). The Chelmsford WW2 War Memorial site is here.