Monday, 31 December 2018

Radley College archive


When researching a man for my British Army Ancestors Facebook page I stumbled across the Radley College archive which is a collection of digitised photographs and books relating to Radley College in Oxfordshire. There are specific collections of portraits of former students in army uniform but there are also many servicemen to be found in photos like this one, in this case prefects photographed in 1907.

The majority of these men would have gone on to serve as officers in one or more of the British military arms and, blessed with uncommon and therefore easily searchable names for the most part, it doesn't take too much detective work to quickly uncover further detail.

In the image that I have posted above, a quick search on my British Army Ancestors website shows, for instance, that M A (Maurice Astley) Knatchbull-Hugesson served as a second lieutenant with the Grenadier Guards and was KiA in 1916, whilst C W (Cyril Walter) Holcroft served as a captain with the Worcestershire Regiment and was later awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). The archive has been indexed and OCRd as appropriate and will be an invaluable resource, and a free one at that. Well done to Radley College for taking the decision to digitise its archive.





Sunday, 30 December 2018

G/8382 Pte Apsley Arthur Stevenson, 1st Queen's (Royal West Surrey Regt)


One way or the other, there's quite a lot of information that survives for Apsley Stevenson whose medals I bought last week. He was born in Kingston, Surrey in 1893 and baptised at St John's Church, Kingston on the 16th July that year. The son of Benden Apsley Stevenson and Sarah Ann Stevenson, Apsley appears on the 1901 and 1911 census returns living with his family at Portland Road, Kingston. By 1911 his widowed mother was the head of the household, earning a living as a dressmaker, whilst Apsley - recorded as Arthur Apsley - was working as a grocer's assistant.

Surviving papers in WO 363 reveal that Apsley enlisted on the 29th January 1916 and that he was mobilised on the 2nd March 1916 and posted to the 3rd Battalion, Queen's. Three months later on the 9th June he was sent overseas, joining the regular 1st Battalion in the line, and less than a month later, on the 3rd July 1916, he was killed in action, almost certainly blown to smithereens in a front line trench.

The battalion was in trenches at Cuinchy and the war diary entry for the 3rd July reads:

"A quiet morning. 'Minnie' very active in left and right company frontages in afternoon and evening. Casualties: 4 killed and 2 wounded. At 10.30pm were relieved by 1st Middlesex and proceeded to billets in Le Quesnoy."

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records that four men from the 1st Battalion, Queen's died that day. Private Frederick Killick, Lance-Corporal Mitchell and Apsley Stevenson were all killed in action. Frederick Stevens, a career soldier with the battalion, died of wounds and would be buried in Bethune Town Cemetery. Lance Corporal Mitchell would also be buried in nearby Cambrin Military Cemetery but both Apsley and Frederick Killick are commemorated by name on the Loos Memorial. Apsley was originally reported missing and Frederick Killick's death was officially accepted on the 15th July 1916.

Apsley Stevenson is also commemorated on the Kingston-on-Thames war memorial.



Saturday, 22 December 2018

22158 Pte Albert Edward Godsafe, 4th Battalion, Grenadier Guards


Give me a choice and I'd always take an original ribbon - no matter how tatty, dirty and faded it is -  over a later replacement. I've never particularly rated the Victory Medal, for that matter, but this is one of the nicest examples I've come across and it also has quite a story behind it; far more than I could have imagined it when I bought it at a secondhand market two days ago.

The medal is named to 22158 PTE A E GODSAFE G GDS and would originally have been accompanied by the 1914-15 Star and the British War Medal. This is his story.

Albert Edward Godsafe was born in Latchingdon, Essex in 1884, his birth registered at Maldon in the third quarter of that year (Vol 4a, page 424). He appears on the 1891 (Stanford Rivers) and 1901 (Widford) census returns living with his parents and siblings. His father was an agricultural labourer and, judging by his siblings' places of births, probably moved across the county (and into Kent) seeking work:

1891 Census return; Little End, Stanford Rivers, Ongar, Essex


1901 Census return; Siding Cottages, Widford, Essex


On the 23rd March 1907, Albert married Alice Porter at Stapleford Tawney, Essex and they quickly produced seven children over the next eight years: Alice Mary Godsafe (13th May 1907), Albert Charles Godsafe (1908), Thomas Charles Godsafe (27th September 1909), William George Godsafe (21st June 1911), Beatrice Maud Godsafe (6th December 1912), Albert John Godsafe (22nd March 1914) and Ethel Frances Godsafe (8th June 1915). The 1911 Census extract, below, shows Albert working as a domestic groom and gardener. Alice would have been pregnant with William, but their eldest son, Albert Charles, had died in infancy in 1909.

1911 Census return; 2 Bells Cottages, Stapleford Tawney, Essex


In January 1915, with Alice expecting their seventh child, Albert responded to his country's call and volunteered to join the army. Aged 30 years and six months, he attested on the 15th January 1915 and joined at the Grenadier Guards depot in Caterham four days later. In June that year, his daughter, Ethel, was born, and the following month, possibly as a result of complications during the birth of her child, Alice Godsafe died at the Stanford Rivers infirmary.

With Albert in the army, care of the children appears to have been handed to Albert's mother, Eliza. In November 1915 Albert sailed for France and this was almost certainly the last time that he saw his family and that they saw him because on the 25th September 1916, aged 32, he was killed on the Somme whilst serving with the 4th Battalion, Grenadier Guards. Albert has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

In November 1916, Eliza Godsafe completed Army Form B.104-77 which was the "Declaration to be made by the Guardian of the Motherless child or children of a deceased soldier in support of a claim to Pension". In it, Eliza - living at Shalesmore Cottage, Stapleford Tawney - acknowledged that she was the guardian of the six orphaned children, although it is not clear what the final award amounted to. The following year, in the March quarter of that year, baby Ethel Godsafe's death was registered. 

Eliza Godsafe received £5, 7 shillings and 10 pence as money owing to her son at the time of his death, and later a war gratuity of £7 and 10 shillings. She died in 1948 at the grand age of 96, having seen her surviving grandchildren make it to adulthood, albeit her grandson Albert, like his father before him, had been killed in a world war.

As well as being remembered at Thiepval, Albert Edward Godsafe's name is also recorded on a memorial tablet at the parish church in Stapleford Tawney, Epping (photo courtesy High County History Group).









Friday, 21 December 2018

5098, later 322311 Pte Benjamin Balding 2/6th London Regiment


I rarely buy single medals, and yet researching these is no less satisfying than researching a complete group. Indeed, I am coming to the conclusion that researching these - in some cases - single, last-surviving relics of a man's military life can be even more rewarding than researching a group.

I bought this medal and another one like it, yesterday, on impulse. It is named to 5098 Pte B. Balding, 6th London Regt and at the time of buying it I knew nothing about its owner. This is what I have since found out.

Benjamin Balding was born in East Ham in 1896 and was baptised there on the 22nd April that year. He was the second eldest child of George and Martha Balding, brother to George (one year his senior), and Jane (three years his junior). In 1901 and 1911 the family was living at 65 Wellington Road, East Ham. The street has seen many changes over the years but No. 65 is still standing; a typical Victorian terraced house that these days sells as a 2-bedroomed property for around £350,000. In the Google-view below, number 65 is the middle property of these five.


In late 1915, Benjamin married Maud Garbett, one of seven children born to Thomas and Rebecca Garbett of Custom House, south of West Ham. Their marriage was registered at West Ham in the fourth quarter of 1915. 

The 1901 and 1911 census returns record Maud as being 6 and 16 years old respectively and so she would have been about the same age as Benjamin. At this point in time I do not have a precise date for their marriage but I believe it could have been in the second half of December 1915. Benjamin would join the 2/6th (City of London) Battalion, The London Regiment in January 1916 and I think it possible that he attested under the Derby Scheme in December 1915 and was then mobilised in January 1916. Born in 1896 he would have been in Group 2 of that Scheme if he was single when he attested, or Group 25 if married. Group 2 men were mobilised on the 20th January 1916 but Group 25 men were not mobilised until the 7th April 1916. In other words, if he did attest under the Derby Scheme, he must have done so as a single man in order to have been mobilised the following month.

Benjamin would spend the next year training in the UK and on the 27th July 1916, a daughter, Maud Rebecca M Balding (named after her mother and grandmother) was born to the young couple. On the  26th January 1917, Benjamin arrived in France, part of the original contingent of the 2/6th London Regiment.

No service record survives for Benjamin but the war diary for the 2/6th London Regiment will provide the detail of what happened next. The condensed version is that Benjamin served for the next six months with the battalion before he was killed in action on the 20th July 1917, one week before his daughter's first birthday. His death was reported in the war office weekly casualty list published on the 26th August 1917. Interestingly, whilst Soldiers Died in the Great War records Benjamin's place of residence as West Ham, the casualty list notes Custom House:


Benjamin is buried in the British extension at Metz-en-Couture Communal Cemetery, south of Cambrai. His young widow would later be sent the £2, five shillings and three pence owing to him at the time of his death and, much later still, a war gratuity of £6 in respect of his rank and length of service. An employee of the Gas Light and Coke Company in peacetime, Benjamin is commemorated on that company's war memorial at Twelvetrees Crescent, Bromley by Bow, E3 3TE:


Benjamin's daughter, who of course would have been too young to know her father, would marry Cyril F Page in 1935 and go on to have two daughters of her own, Jeanette E Page, born in 1937, and Pamela M Page, born in 1940. Both girls' births were registered in West Ham and Maud Page would die as recently as 2005, her death registered in Newham.





Wednesday, 19 December 2018

The Armistice & The Aftermath - The Story in Art


The Story in Art

John Fairley

Pen & Sword Books Ltd £25

If you're quick enough and follow the link on this page you'll be able to buy this book for £20 rather than the £30 published price. This is a good 'coffee-table' art book and the format of it permits many of the paintings inside to be shown as full-colour portraits that occupy an entire page. 

If I have criticisms, they are that the ordering of the artwork is a little haphazard and I would also have been more inclined to say less about the artwork and let the art itself do the talking, filling those extra pages with more art. Some of the photography could have been better - I'm thinking of the section devoted to Lutyens and his work - and for that matter not all of the paintings in this book would have made it past my selection criteria. Just because a piece of art depicts scenes from, or personalities connected with, the First World War does not automatically make it good art. 

At the end of the day this is an interesting pot pourri that should probably be in every school library and every civic library, assuming that there are any of the latter left.



Shooting the Somme - Review


Bob Carruthers

Pen & Sword Books - £25

Actually, the vast majority of this book is a re-print of Geoffrey H Malins's "How I filmed the War". The only original content here is Section 1 which takes up a mere 44 pages of the 344 page total. So somewhat disappointing that there is so little background to what has become regarded as iconic footage over the years; and of that background there are a number of pages taken up with an overview of the Battle of the Somme itself. 

If you didn't already have a copy of Malin's book then this would be worth buying. Other than that, much of the information contained in section one - and more besides - could almost certainly be gleaned online.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

The Soldiers' Peace - Book Review


The Soldiers' Peace
Michael Senior
Pen & Sword Books Ltd, £25

Just when you thought that there could not possibly be another book on the Great War that sheds new light on that awful conflict, along comes one that does. The Soldiers' Peace ticks all the boxes for me, every single one of them: 

  • it covers a topic that has not been done to death
  • it is written in an engaging and free-flowing style that is easy to read
  • the events described follow a logical and chronological path
  • there are useful appendices that augment the text that has gone before
  • there are clear footnotes laid out by chapter
  • there is a useful bibliography
  • there is an index
You'd be surprised at how many of what I regard as these basic must-haves are missing from works of historical fact. Not in this book. Michael Senior has researched his topic well and he writes authoritatively about it. It's a fascinating subject too, dealing with the demobilization of the British Army at the end of the First World War. As the dustwrapper informs us, "In November 1918... the British Army numbered 3.75 million. One year later that number was reduced to 890,000." The Soldiers' Peace tells you how that was achieved.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Remember our dead in Silesia


An appeal to help remember our British Army dead. I am happy to pass on the following information which has been sent to me by Jim Powrie. Jim writes: 

"In 1921/1922 the 1st Bn Durham Light Infantry (DLI) sent a detachment to Upper Silesia in a peacekeeping role mandated by the League of nations. The DLI were formed part of a larger British force. During the deployment a total of 41 British soldiers died as a result of violent action, accident, illness or suicide. Of the 41, four were serving with the 1st Battalion DLI.



  • Sgt John Thomas Waknell who died of his wounds on 15 July 1921, was shot (accidently) by a French soldier in a scuffle in a cafĂ© in Oppeln during an arms raid. The official report says a Polish insurgent shot him, but evidence from the National Archives suggests it was a French soldier. The French Commander of the force awarded him, posthumously, the Croix de Guerre. His funeral cortege is pictured above.
  • Pte. Lewis Sawyer died in a road traffic accident on 20 August 1921
  • 2nd Lt. Harold Wynn died of pneumonia on 26 September 1921. The photo at the top of this post shows the Honour Guard at Lt Wynn's funeral. His interment is shown in the photo below
  • Pte. William George Raffan died in Lublintz on 17 Jan 1922 as a result of a 35’ fall from a window.

"All four men were buried with military honours in the British Military section of the municipal cemetery. The two who died before 1st September 1921 were considered to be ‘war dead’, and in 1924 their bodies were exhumed from the plot in Oppeln and re-interred in the Berlin Southwestern War Cemetery at Stahnsdorf where they lie today in impeccably maintained surroundings.



Oppeln Cemetery 1931

"The other two men however didn’t fair so well. Today they remain in the cemetery in what is now Opole in Poland (it became part of Poland after WW2) lying neglected and abandoned in unmarked graves along with the 28 other men who died after 1st Sepember 1921."



The same plot in modern day Opole in 2017.

The 30 men still buried at Opole are:

Pte. Frank PORTER, 6192593, 3rd Bn. Middlesex Regiment died 15th September 1921

Pte. Frederick Arthur MARSH, 6192598, 3rd Bn. Middlesex Regiment died 21st September 1921


Signaller Edward Albert IGGLESDEN, 2308631, Royal Signal Corps died 23rd October 1921


Lieut. Harold WYNN, 1st Bn. Durham Light Infantry died 26th September 1921


L/Cpl. Alfred Edward EMONS, 7178715, 2nd Bn. Leinster Regiment, died 26th November 1921


Farrier/Staff Sgt. Harry SMITH, 536333, 14th Hussars died 2nd December 1921 


Pte. Patrick BARRY, 7178489, 2nd Bn. Leinster Regiment died 12th December 1921


L/Cpl. Alfred Edward EVANS, 4437204, 1st Bn. Durham Light Infantry died 14th December 1921


Pte. Martin Francis FRANKLIN, 7110764, 1st Bn. Royal Irish Regiment died 15th December 1921


Pte./Actg. Cpl. Frank Thomas DAVIES, S/8651, Royal Army Service Corps died 18th December 1921


Bmbr. Henry POWRIE MM., 1026458, 62nd Battery Royal Field Artillery died 21st December 1921


Pte. Nathanial MURDAGH, 6973193, 2nd Bn. Royal Inniskillin Fusiliers died 27th December 1921


Pte. John MURRAY, 2744806, 2nd Bn. The Black Watch died 6th January 1922

Pte. William George RAFFAN, 4435084, 1st Bn. Durham Light Infantry died 17th January 1922


Pte. Michael FORAN, 7111257, 1st Bn. Royal Irish Regiment died 11th February 1922


Pte. James KEATING, 7110968, 1st Bn. Royal Irish Regiment died 11th February 1922


Pte. Martin Joseph MURPHY, 7110952, 1st Bn. Royal Irish Regiment died 11th February 1922


Pte. Patrick SHALLY, 7109064, 1st Bn. Royal Irish Regiment died 11th February 1922


C.Sgt. Maj. Harry Fraser JEBSON, 6188423, 3rd Bn. Middlesex Regiment died 21st February 1922


Pte. James LIGHT, 7178629, 2nd Bn. Leinster Regiment died 19th March 1922


L/Cpl. Andrew KELLY, 6973846, 2ND Bn. Royal Inniskillin Fusiliers died 24th March 1922


Pte. John POWER, 3377056, 2nd Bn. Connaught Rangers died 2nd April 1922


Pte. Alfred Allen SEXTON, 6190250, 3rd Bn. Middlesex Regiment died 7th April 1922


Pte. Digory SALTERN, 5431013, 2nd Bn. Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry died 17 April 1922


Sapper Frederick George CREETH, 1854714, Royal Engineers died 25 April 1922


Actg. Sgt. Joseph William Goulding STORER, 6451065, Royal Fusiliers died 5th May 1922


Farrier/Cpl. Charles THOMAS, 536331, 14th Hussars died 6th May 1922


Pte. Reginald GRANT, 5176415, 1st Bn. Gloucester Regiment died 17th June 1922


Sapper James HUNTLEY, 1849413, Royal Engineers died 4th July 1922


Pte. Arthur William FARRELL, M/19911, Royal Army Service Corps died 6th July 1922.


Jim is campaigning to encourage the MoD to remedy this situation and has set up a petition on change.org to kick this off. Please consider signing the petition here: 

https://www.change.org/p/ministry-of-defence-provision-of-headstones-for-30-british-soldiers-lying-in-unmarked-graves-in-poland

All photographs on this page are reproduced with Jim Powrie's permission.


Thursday, 22 November 2018







Snake oil? Some think it is, others have used their DNA results to drill down and look for others with similar profiles. Findmypast, a recent entrant into the Genealogy market, has teamed up with Living DNA to offer its own testing kit, and if you're quick you can grap one now for £59.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

1918 - The Decisive Year... Richard Van Emden


1918 - The Decisive Year in Soldiers' Own Words & Photographs
Richard Van Emden
Pen & Sword Books; £30

You can't blame Richard Van Emden for having one last Big Push with First World War non-fiction. Now that the centenary commemorations are drawing to a close, the opportunities to monetise the war will also dwindle. For that matter, Richard VE has authored some cracking books over the years, picking up the mantle where Martin Middlebrook and Lyn MacDonald left off, and cleverly interleaving veteran narratives with his compelling re-telling of the events. He does that very well and he must count himself fortunate to have spoken to so many veterans while there was still time.

For those familiar with Van Emden's work I don't think there will be a lot to be learned from the narrative. Many of the veterans' names will be familiar from other works, and there are also familiar accounts from long-published works by the likes of Stephen Graham, Aubrey Smith, Rudolf Binding, Lancelot Spicer... Admittedly, it takes skill to weave these narratives together and Richard is a past master at doing so.

So much for the words, it is the photographs that really stand out for me in this volume. Just as those of us whose interest was kindled in the Great War decades ago are overly familiar with War Letters to a Wife and A Medico's Luck in the War, so too are we used to seeing those same images of stretcher bearers struggling through mud or a skeleton with its arm across its skull at the bottom of a trench. Thankfully, those images do not get a re-run in this volume. What we do have are many photos that have been published for the first time and that show images not just of allied troops but of German soldiers as well. For the most part these are photographs that were "taken by soldiers on their own illegally held cameras" and they are wonderful - if occasionally shocking - to behold.

There will be those who buy this book for whom this is an entry into the Great War, and for those people this will be a terrific introduction: top authors, previously unseen photos, first hand veteran accounts and a skillful narrator in the shape of Van Emden. It has it all. I'm only giving my copy away because after four and a half years I feel somewhat battle fatigued. I can't wait for Peace to descend.


Sunday, 4 November 2018

The Badges of Kitchener's Army - David Bilton


The Badges of Kitchener's Army
David Bilton
Pen & Sword Books Ltd
£30 / $60 US

Just when you thought that after four and a half years of relentless publishing, there couldn't possibly be anything new to be said about the First World War, along comes David Bilton with The Badges of Kitchener's Army. I suspect that this book will quickly become a classic.

I remember correspondence with the author back in the mid-eighties. I had already interviewed a lot of Great War veterans and David was also trying to meet men in order to ask them about the cloth badges they had worn. We exchanged details and I corresponded with men David had met, and he corresponded with men I had met. I remember thinking at the time that he had set himself a difficult task; time was running out and  many of the veterans I had met had already died. Nevertheless, looking at the roll-call of veterans referenced in the book, he obviously spectacularly succeeded.

This is a book that has been many years in the researching and it will be an extremely important reference resource for anyone with an interest in the Great War and in particular those pedantic individuals like me who want to analyse every last pixel of a military photo.

Chapter by chapter the author dissects the Kitchener units, detailing known instances of insignia specific to the unit in question. The book is comprehensively illustrated and the author has referred to multiple reference sources on what has, up until now, been a little-understood topic. In fact he has written THE reference source on this subject and I hope that there will be revised editions in future once additional information has come to light.



This is a book that earns its place next to titles about regiments, uniforms, cap badges and collar badges and mine is already handily within arm's reach. Well done, Dave Bilton, on producing a real cracker - and thanks for the acknowledgement on page 345.


Sunday, 28 October 2018

The Territorial Year Book 1909 & 1910


Some years ago I bought the Territorial Year Book, published in 1909. The Territorial Force, of course, came into being in April 1908, and the year book, published the following year, ran to nearly 300 pages and chronicled the birth of the new Force and published details of those were running the county associations and details about the various Territorial Force units. As a reference work of the Territorial Force at that particular time, it is unmatched. The book is also uncommon and I think I bought mine from a bookseller in Australia or the US, I can't quite remember now. I subsequently had the book re-bound in green cloth (to match the original green soft cover wraps) and it sits within arm's reach on one of my bookshelves.

This week I was fortunate enough to pick up the volume for 1910 which has 100 fewer pages than its predecessor but which nevertheless follows the same format and gives useful information about the TF in that year. In due course I may digitise both volumes which will undoubtedly increase their usefulness.


The image above is from the 1910 volume and shows the type of information recorded. This is also a rare opportunity to see part of my left thumb.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

MoD references on medal index cards


I've been meaning to write this blog post for a while. What follows may not be rocket science but because the information scrawled on medal index cards is important, I thought I'd draw attention to two of the particular annotations here.

The medal index card above is 'busy'; lots of information here concerning the regiments that James Murray served with, his medal entitlement, the award of his MM which was gazetted on the 19th November 1917, and the re-issue of these campaign medals in 1934. What I want to draw attention to though is the dates that appear in the remarks section. There are two dates here: 24/1/64 and 14/12/53. These are the dates on which an enquiry about this man's service was received by the MoD at its Hayes office in Middlesex. I don't have any background on the 1953 enquiry but I do have a copy of the response that was returned in 1964. Here it is:


This particular response was returned on the 5th February 1964, quite a quick turnaround considering the enquiry had only been received on the 24th January 1964.

And so the first point to note is that the dates expressed thus, are the dates on which the enquiry was received by the Ministry of Defence (MoD):


The second point to note, ruefully, is that in 1964 this man's records were still extant. The information about his enlistment, transfer and discharge can only have come from an attestation paper (or similar document), whereas the entitlement to medals could conceivably have come from medal rolls. At some point after 1964 therefore, the MoD finished what the Luftwaffe had started in 1940 and destroyed James Murray's records.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

The Skinner brothers of Wimpole


Last Saturday was such a beautiful day that we decided to pop over to Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire. Within the estate grounds is the Anglican parish church of St Andrews and in the churchyard, very close to the entrance is a family grave that contains the mortal remains of Charles Skinner, his wife Ellen, and two of their grandchildren.

The headstone must have been erected when Charles died in 1926, but the focus is very much on Charles and Ellen's three sons, all killed in action during the First World War whilst serving with the Suffolk Regiment. I suspect that their names were added at the same time as Charles' details, a suitable gap left between to accommodate Ellen in due course. Note too, the Suffolk Regiment cap badge at the top of the stone.


13644 Pte Frank Skinner, standing on the right in the photograph above, was the first of Charles and Ellen's four boys to die. He was killed in action on the 1st July 1916 whilst serving with the 11th Battalion and is buried in Gordon Dump Cemetery, Ovillers La Boiselle. Just over five weeks later on the 9th August 1916, his elder brother, 15628 Pte Edward Skinner was killed in action whilst serving with the 7th Battalion. Edward, seated right, has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval War Memorial. Finally, on the 5th April 1918, 23312 Pte Harry Skinner, also serving with the 7th Battalion, was killed in action. He too has no known grave and is commemorated on the Pozieres War Memorial. Harry is the man standing in the centre of the photo which dates to about 1912.

Juging by their regimental numbers, Frank Skinner joined the Suffolk Regiment in September 1914, Edward in October 1914 and Harry, who would only have been about 17 when Britain went to war, in November 1915. All three brothers were volunteers.

The photograph I have used on this post comes from Wimpole Past, a local history and genealogy site for Wimpole in South Cambridgeshire. It shows Charles and Ellen Skinner in happier times with their six children I have added this photograph to the brothers' pages on my British Army Ancestors website. 

Sunday, 30 September 2018

King's Royal Rifle Corps - Chronicles for sale


For sale, King's Royal Rifle Corps chronicles 1901 to 1920 (missing 1915 and 1919). These books are essential reading for anyone with an interest in this regiment (and worth the investment if you have an interest in British Army regiments generally). I am downsizing my book collection hence the reason for selling these now. More details here: Military books for sale.

UPDATE. These books have now all sold but there is still a complete run of Rifle Brigade Chronicles 1901-1920 up for grabs.

The chronicles that cover the First World War period will be of particular interest to anyone who is studying that conflict as they give good (summary) detail on battalion activities as well as officer casualties. The 1914 Chronicle also gives other rank casualties to November 1914, detailing those killed, wounded and missing or prisoners of war. Maps and photos of some officer casualties are included.

For those whose interest is in pre-1914, the earlier editions detail where each battalion was located at any given point in time and included reports on sporting successes, often giving names - and sometimes photos - of team members. The team photo below, for instance, shows members of the 4th Battalion obstacle team which was published in the 1907 Chronicle. All men are named and for some, this may be the only surviving evidence of their service in the British Army. For others, it will be possible to match their faces to names in service records or medal rolls; something I'll be doing in due course on my British Army Ancestors site.


The photograph at the top of this post was published in the KRRC Chronicle for 1904 and shows the scenes in Winchester when the regiment returned to the town after the new barracks had been opened.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

1st Cadet Battalion, The Essex Regiment


I came across this headed paper this morning whilst researching a soldier who had served in this cadet battalion. I was not aware of this particular battalion, although the detailed headed paper itself makes its affiliation quite clear.

Headquartered in Canning Town, the "London-over-the-border" stipulation was obviously quite lenient. Chelmsford (home of the battalion's bank) is 34 miles from Canning Town and would have seemed like the back of beyond in the early 1900s. Ingatestone is only marginally closer at about 29 miles.

The 6th Battalion, Essex Regiment was headquartered at West Ham, with A to G companies drawing recruits from West Ham, and H company drawing men from Prittlewell. There was a drill station at Grays. The man who is referred to on this paper is George Ryan who would later serve in the Royal West Kent Regiment and die as a prisoner of war in January 1917 just three days after his 18th birthday. You can see a photo of George on my British Army Ancestors website.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Prisoners of War 1914


You'll find a number of research resources linked from this particular Army Ancestry Research blog, but if you have an interest in First World War prisoners of war you'll need to visit my Army Service Numbers 1881-1918 blog.

Some while ago I transcribed various lists of men held by the Imperial War Museum. These form part of a collection of lists of men who were all captured before Christmas Day 1914 and therefore missed out on Princess Mary's gift tin. Thankfully, these lists of men survive in digital format. The digital quality is not the best in the world but you'll be doing better than me if you can manage to persuade the folk at the IWM to give you access to the original documents.

I'm nearing the end of this particular publication schedule and will have posted all transcriptions by Christmas 2018.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Search 9 billion records on Findmypast

Online family history website, Findmypast, has just launched a handy little widget which enable you to quickly search its impressive database of 9 billion records. Included amongst these, I see, are nearly 31 million indexed military records; indexed mind you, there will be plenty of other records that have not been indexed, not to mention British newspapers as well.


If you haven't already used Findmypast, now could be the time to do so. Just enter the basic details in the box on the right. I searched for my grandfather, Walter Leonard Nixon, who was born in 1893 and I got 530 results! Better still, my grandfather appeared in six results on the first page of results.

Go on, give it a try. Searching is FREE!


Saturday, 15 September 2018

British Army Ancestors - 17th Lancers identified


About a year ago I launched British Army Ancestors, my initiative to provide a vehicle for people to upload army photographs and so, in time, build a useful free resource for others. This week I've been adding my own discoveries and I want to use this post to talk about two of these.

Under the caption, " A dismounted Lancer at a skirmishing display" this photograph first appeared in the The Navy & Army Illustrated that was published on the 6th March 1896.  The article notes "Here we have a picture which will serve to remind many of our readers of the Military Displays at the Agricultural Hall, and to others will explain the kind of fighting which Dr Jameson's troopers made with the Boers at Krugerdorp. It is a pretty idea, teaching a cavalry horse to lie down and serve as a living screen, from behind which his rider can fire in safety, and moreover, has its use in warfare. In the present instance the dismounted horseman (Rough-rider Corporal Long, of the 17th Lancers) is one of a line of skirmishers ordered to use their carbines on foot, against an enemy whom they are unable to get at owing to the nature of intervening obstacles."

The Corporal Long in question can only be 3000 Cpl Henry Long who joined the regiment in December 1885, transferring to the 16th Lancers in November 1905. He was discharged in December 1906 having served 21 years and was entitled to the QSA and KSA for service in South Africa, as well as the Long Service & Good Conduct Medal with gratuity. His character on discharge was recorded as "Exemplary". 


The second photos is actually quite well-known and was subsequently rendered as artwortk for a ciagrette card (see below). This photo originally appeared in The Navy & Army Illustrated which was published on the 21st February 1896. The caption underneath the photo ran,
"Her mother was shot in Cashmere, eight years ago, by Prince Adolphus of Teck, who brought the cub to Lucknow, where the regiment was stationed, and gave her as a present to his troop. Shortly after this the cub was lost for a year. Then one day a man came round with a performing bear, which was recognized as " Lizzie " Since then "Lizzie" has remained with the 17th, with whom she came to England in 1889. She is a great pet with all ranks, for her own part reciprocating the affection, specially in favour of Corporal Baker, her particular guardian, who is shown in the illustration..."
I looked at medal rolls and service records for 17th Lancers corporals called Baker and the only possible candidate is 2881 Shoeing Smith Cpl Thomas Baker. In this photo, the clincher is the horseshoe, just visible on his right arm which marks him out as a shoeing smith. His service record confirms that he held that rank between July 1894 and February 1896 when he was promoted to sergeant farrier.


I am delighted to have identified these two men but was only able to do so as a result of understanding the regimental numbers for the 17th Lancers and, fortuitously in both cases, finding surviving records for them in WO 97.
If you've not already done so, do check out British Army Ancestors. The site is free and evenm if you don't want to upload photos, you can quickly and easily search 11.6m records.

Friday, 17 August 2018

Measuring success in 1917


I've just completed a research project and was struck by the following passage in the battalion diary which covers the actions during which my research subject was killed.

"Z Day, The Raid. A most successful undertaking... Casualties: Captain J E Day (died of wounds), Lieutenant Williams (wounded), 2nd Lt R E W Burke (wounded), 6 killed, 7 missing, 66 wounded. Whole battalion greatly elated at our success..."

Thus was success measured in April 1917. The extract is from the war diary of the 6th Royal Irish Regiment on the 5th April 1917 and I've manipulated the information somewhat because after "successful undertaking" the diarist had written, "21 prisoners of the 4th Grenadier Regiment, from whom inestimable information was gained."

We must take the diarist at his words and hope that it was of some comfort to the relatives of those who died that day. My research subject was one of the seven men missing. His body was never found and he is commemorated by name on the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres.

The image comes from the Vimy Foundation website and shows Canadian soldiers from the 78th (Winnipeg Grenadiers) surrounding a rather forlorn looking German captured during a trench raid.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Rifle Brigade Chronicle


I mentioned the other day that I have added a Books for Sale tab to my Army Service Numbers 1881-1918 blog, I am currently selling a large number of Rifle Brigade Chronicles - and they're going fast - bit it did prompt me to pay more attention to the covers of these books and note the changes in the regimental badges as published on these volumes.

The image above was what graced the cover of the first volume, published in 1890. The crown is the St Edward's Crown with the hunting horn below. This image only appeared on the first published issue and was replaced with the image below on the 1891 edition.


The following year there was a further change, with the badge being rendered in silver rather than gold, quickly reverting to gold again for the 1893 edition.


This version was then used until 1910, replaced that year with new battles honours for the Boer War, and The Tudor Crown which had been introduced by King Edward in 1902.


The 1916 edition saw the crown devoid of the detail within it which had appeared on previous crowns. 


But by1917 that detail had re-appeared bigger and bolder than before:



And by 1929 the battle honours for the First World War finally appeared:


The final change that I'm aware of appeared on the 1955 edition and harked back to an earlier time:


At the time of writing, editions of the Rifle Brigade Chronicle from 1902 to 1932 are still available for sale.






Embarkation Table, 1914


I was looking through the war diary for the 1st Battalion, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders earlier today, and came across some fascinating detail concerning the battalion's embarkation from Southampton in December 1914.

The 1st Battalion had been stationed in Dinapore, India in August 1914 and didn't arrive back in the UK until the 17th November 1914. It was one of the units recalled from the British Empire's far-flung outposts and was assigned to the 81st Brigade in the newly-formed 27th Division. The embarkation notes and table in the battalion war diary give a fascinating insight into the way in which troops were organised.


I suppose I'd never thought about how the actual embarkation would have been organised, but of course it makes perfect sense to have allocated serial numbers to units and to mark up everything with those numbers. The four infantry battalions in the 81st Brigade were the 1st A&S Highlanders, the 1st Gloucestershire Regiment, the 2nd Cameron Highlanders, and the 1st Royal Scots, and again it is interesting to note that they each sailed on different ships, presumably a cautionary measure to guard against an entire brigade being sent to the bottom of the English Channel by a German U-Boat.


The extract above, whilst included in the War Diary for the 1st A&S Highlanders, also includes similar levels of detail for other brigades; as I say, completely fascinating.

I was checking the war diaries on the Naval & Military Archive which offers access to millions of records and over 4.500 individual war diaries for as little as £10. Photo above, showing British troops embarking at Southampton in 1915, is from the Alamy website.