Thursday 20 January 2011

"F**k stables, I'm finished soldiering."

The Gloucestershire Regiment soldier staring out of various Find My Past campaigns is none other than my great uncle Bert Elam. He was my paternal great-grandmother's brother and a regular soldier who, as a 19-year-old, first joined the British Army on the 12th June 1894. Surviving records in WO 97 (available to view via the Find My Past website) show that he joined the Wiltshire Regiment in London. Just three months later though, on the 12th September, he was discharged on the payment of a bounty of £10. Whether he paid the bounty, or whether it was paid by his parents, is not stated, and it remains something of a family mystery. His soldiering though, was far from over. has 45 digitised pages from his service record in WO 364 which show that far from being deterred by army life, Bert joined up for a second time on the 2nd November 1894. This time he opted for the cavalry, joining the 20th Hussars on the 2nd November 1894 and being issued with a new number: 3819. For whatever reason he deserted the following April, but was apprehended and remanded in custody in May and subsequently spent 21 days in a military prison. Later that year, he was imprisoned on two further occasions for insubordination and, joy of joys, his records contain details of his crimes.

"... at Colchester on 18th July 1895, after having been ordered to stables, said to Squadron Sergt Major J Waldron, "Fuck stables, I'm finished soldiering" or words to that effect."

That earned him 14 days' imprisonment with hard labour. The following month, he repeated his assertion ("or words to that effect") and was rewarded with a similar punishment.

By 1897, and presumably now accustomed to military life, Bert was awarded his first good conduct badge, a second one following in November 1900. The following year, with service in the Boer War under his belt, he elected to extend his service with the colours to twelve years. He was discharged from the army on the 1st November 1906 having served overseas in India, Egypt and South Africa.

On the 1st September 1914, with Britain at war with Germany, Bert joined up for a third time, this time enlisting with the 5th (Special Reserve) Battalion, The Rifle Brigade (number Z/211). He was posted to the 1st Battalion of the Rifle Brigade, arriving overseas on the 7th October 1914 and thus qualifying for the 1914 Star and clasp. He received a slight gunshot wound on the 29th April 1915 but appears to have remained in France, only returning home on the 11th July that year due to eye problems as a result of gassing. He would spend 47 days in hospital in England with conjunctivitis.

Bert remained with the regiment until the 22nd July 1917 when he was transferred to the 17th Gloucestershire Regiment (number 34768) before finally transferring to the 300th Reserve Company, Royal Defence Corps (number 96495) on the 2nd November 1918. He was discharged from the army for the final time on the 25th February 1919.

The photo of him that appears in the Find My Past campaigns dates to 1917 or 1918 and shows Bert wearing his Gloucestershire Regiment cap badge and his 1914 Star ribbon.

Tuesday 11 January 2011

Pre WW1 records in WO 363 and WO 364

It's worth remembering that whilst Find My Past has the Chelsea Pensioners' records - that is, records of British Army Other Ranks discharged to pension between 1760 and 1913 - there are still plenty of pre WW1 records in the WO 363 and WO 364 series over at Ancestry. Even if your ancestor did not serve during WW1 therefore, but may have served prior to WW1, it's certainly worth running a name check on Ancestry - and also being a little sceptical about Ancestry's often far-from-accurate transcriptions.

The earliest record I've found in WO 364 is for Thomas Boland of Tipperary who joined Her Majesty's 94th Regiment of Foot at 8am on the 17th August 1850 at Clonmel, and who swore allegiance to the crown three hours later. Thomas later transferred to the 43rd Regiment of Foot and was discharged on the 28th March 1866 aged 33 years and seven months, having served a total of 15 years and 110m days.

However, and this is a big however, if you'd keyed in Thomas's estimated birth year, or indeed his enlistment date into the Ancestry search engine, you'd be sorely disappointed. Ancestry lists his estimated birth year as 1867 and his enlistment date as 1885.