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:

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, 

Friday, 23 June 2017

Free British & Irish records - BE QUICK!

Midsummer Madness! Findmypast is offering all of its British and Irish records free of charge until the 26th June. The promotion launched yesterday and you'll have until Monday to make hay while the sun shines. You will need to register in order to access the records but that's it - no credit card details required, no tricks, no gimmicks, just millions and millions and MILLIONS of completely FREE records. Just as well the heatwave has ended because now there is every excuse to be indoors and glued to a computer. CLICK THE LINK to register.

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. 

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