Friday 30 October 2015

Original grave markers - Salisbury Cathedral

Colonel Frank Albert Symons CMG, DSO; Royal Army Medical Corps
Killed in action 30th April 1917

I happened to be in Salisbury today and popped into the cathedral to photograph its war memorials. What I did not expect to find were original grave markers brought back from the battlefields of the First World War. There are six in the cloisters and two more in the nearby military museum, The Wardrobe. I post all eight images here.

318 Gunner G A K Buskin, 1st Field Artillery Brigade, AIF
Killed in action 3rd November 1917

Captain Christopher Ken Merewether
1/4th Wiltshire Regiment. Died of wounds 20th December 1917
Captain Charles Basil Mortimer Hodgson, 3rd Queen's (Royal West Surrey Regiment)
Died of wounds 1st April 1918
Lieutenant John Philip Morton Carpenter, Royal Field Artillery
Killed in action 15th September 1916
There is a biography and photo of him on the Lancing College War Memorial site
Captain Guy Dodgson, Hertfordshire Regiment
Died of wounds 14th November 1918
Captain Edward Dugdale D'Oyley Astley, 1st Royal Berkshire Regiment
Killed in action 1st June 1918
This grave marker is inside a display case inside The Wardrobe Museum
Lieutenant Frederick Hicks, 2nd Wiltshire Regiment
Died of wounds 4th November 1918
This grave marker is also inside a display case inside The Wardrobe Museum

Thursday 15 October 2015

World War 1 - Free online course

I have been contacted by Alice Gill of the Digital Learning Team at the University of Leeds who writes:

"I’ve been looking at your blog and thought your readers would be interested in this free online course we are launching on 26 October 2015.
"It’s completely free to take part and we have designed the course in partnership with the BBC to help learners explore, discuss and challenge the ways in which World War 1 heroism has been remembered."
For further information, and to find out more about the course, please visit:

Friday 9 October 2015

10069 Cpl Alf Webb, 2nd Bedfordshire Regiment

In March 2009 I wrote about Corporal Alf Webb on my Army Service Numbers 1881-1918 blog. I'd bought a postcard which had been sent by Alf to his sister as he was preparing to embark for France. A relative contacted me some while later and now, today, the same relative has sent me photos of Alf. It seems like a good opportunity to update his story.

Alfred appears on the 1901 census living with his parents and six siblings at Wicken Road, Newport in Essex. His parents, Joseph and Susan, were both aged 41, and the children ranged in age between 16 and two years. Alfred was the youngest boy, aged seven, with two older sisters - Lily (11) and Elsie (eight) - and two younger sisters: Ethel (four) and Dorothy (two). Joseph and his two eldest sons, Arthur (16) and Charles (14) are all recorded as agricultural labourers, with Joseph specifically recorded as a "yardman on farm".

By the time the 1911 census was taken the family was still living at Wicken Road, with Joseph recorded as a stockman (labourer), Arthur as a farm labourer and Charles as a nurseryman (labourer). Alfred is recorded as a grocer's assistant while 14-year-old Ethel was a nursemaid and the two youngest daughters, 12-year-old Dorothy and nine-year-old Daisy, were both at school. The census also notes that Joseph and Susan had had twelve children in all, of whom two had died.

Lily Webb, born in 1890, married Albert Edward Hulatt the same year the 1911 census was taken and Alf can be seen in the wedding photo, sitting with his arms folded, far left. Their marriage was recorded in the second quarter of 1911. The following year, Alf would join the army.

Alfred Webb joined the Bedfordshire Regiment in July 1912, probably around the 29th of July because this was the date that the man with the number 10070 joined the regiment. He would initially have been posted to the regimental depot to undergo a period of 10 weeks' training before being posted to the home battalion, which was the 1st Battalion, stationed at Aldershot. It was normal for soldiers to then spend up to eighteen months training with the home battalion in readiness for posting to the overseas' battalion which, in the case of the Bedfordshire Regiment, was the 2nd Battalion. However, I think that Alf was probably posted a little earlier than this. The man with the number 10070 was posted to join the 2nd Battalion in South Africa in November 1913 and I think it likely that Alfred, who had joined at the same time, would have been part of that same draft. As I wrote in my original post,
"The 2nd Bedfords had been in South Africa when Britain went to war with Germany. The battalion was mobilized on the 10th August and embarked for England aboard HMT Kenilworth Castle at Cape Town on the 22nd August. It put into Table Bay the following day and sailed for England on the 27th.

After a short stop at St Helena, the battalion arrived in at Southampton on the 19th September and then moved to Lyndhurst where it joined the 21st Brigade in the 7th Division. As Alf wrote to his sister, the battalion moved in two trains to Southampton on the 4th October, half of the battalion then sailing to France the same day, the other half sailing the following day."
Alfred was a lance-corporal when he landed in France and may well also have had a chevron on his lower left sleeve indicating two years' good conduct. At some point over the next 12 months he would be promoted to corporal.

Alfred's great-niece writes, "When he left school he worked as an errand and stable boy until he enlisted. He was hospitalised in October 1914 (which was very shortly after his arrival) with shrapnel in his hand. He was discharged from hospital in December 1914 when he fought in the First Battle of Ypres. His battalion were then involved in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, The Battle of Festubert and Givenchy. He was shot by a sniper on 20th September 1915 as he patrolled between the lines at Vermelles." His death was recorded in the Biggleswade Chronicle on the 22nd October 1915.

The Soldiers Effects Register notes that the sum of £16, 9 shillings and 8 pence was sent to Alfred's on the 3rd January 1916 mother and she subsequently received a further sum of £7 as a war gratuity on the 26th August 1919.
Alfred Webb is buried in Vermelles British Cemetery. He is also commemorated on the Newport war memorial and, of course, through my blogs. Earlier this year, to mark the 100th anniversary of his death, his family laid poppies at Vermelles. Rest in Peace.
My thanks to Alfred Webb's family for sending me the photos that appear on this post, and also for additional information which has come to light since we last corresponded. Newspaper clipping courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive.

Drop me a line if you need help with your own family history research. I offer a fast and cost-effective military research service. Have a look at my military research page and contact me if you think I might be able to help.

Friday 2 October 2015

British Army recruiting, London 1895

There are some cracking publications dealing with army and navy life in Queen Victoria's army, and one of the best - in my opinion - was The Navy and Army Illustrated. First published in 1895 in fortnightly and later weekly instalments, these journals are packed with interesting articles and great photos.
As is suggested by the title, the publication gave equal weighting to the army and the navy. I have a number of original copies, including some still in their advertising wrappers, and also digital copies of the first seven volumes, courtesy of Your Old Books and Maps. If you're quick you can grab yourself a 50% discount and pick up all seven volumes for under twenty quid. Use the discount code YOBMOCT2015 at the checkout but be quick. This offer expires at the end of October.
Issue I, Volume I, published on the 20th December 1895 includes this great article by Lieutenant-Colonel F C Turner, late Recruiting Staff Officer of the London Recruiting District. The article sets the tone both for the quality of articles and photographs that would be published in future editions.
St George's Barracks, Charing Cross, the Depot of the London Recruiting District, is by far our most important centre of Army recruiting. Of course, a great number of recruits are obtained annually through Regimental Depots throughout the country, but as a matter of fact, when a man wants to enlist, he generally leaves his district to do so, the Territorial system notwithstanding. About one quarter of the recruits for the whole Army are actually enlisted at St. George's Barracks, and a considerable proportion of the remainder at Woolwich, Hounslow, and other neighbouring centres.
The machinery at Charing Cross for everything connected with recruiting is, of course, very complete, and attached to the barracks there is a contingent of special recruiters, a number of whom are daily in evidence within a few hundred yards of St. Martin's Church. These men are paid from two and sixpence to five shillings each for every recruit they bring in, the lower sum being the infantry rate while the five shillings is paid for Cavalry, Guards, and Artillery recruits. They get as much as from £2 to £5 for a Life Guardsman. Amongst Londoners the Cavalry, Highlanders (or Scotch Highlanders as the London recruit calls them) and the Rifle Brigade are in particular demand, the hardest recruits to get being those for Garrison Artillery, for which men of exceptional physique are required, while the branch is not particularly popular. With recruits for the Royal Engineers a special course is taken, as they have to be tested in their knowledge of a trade. There are certain workshops in London where this testing is undertaken for a fee, and as, even when a man has undergone this test he may still be rejected at Chatham; it will be seen that it requires genuine knowledge of a trade to become a Royal Engineer. In the case of the Royal Engineer, too, a certificate of character is required, and the same qualification is necessary in regard to the Army Service Corps and the Medical Staff Corps. But-with the line or cavalry recruit, provided there is nothing of a suspicious nature about him, such as a recruiting officer of experience can generally detect at a glance, a character is not considered a sine qua noti.

A good deal is heard from time to time about "special enlistments", that is, of undersized lads who promise to fill out to the required development. Personally, I am in favor of these, for the simple reason, that by taking these "growing lads" you secure recruits of a much better class than you can if you decline to take anyone under a hard and fast standard of measurement. I may mention, too, that many cavalry commanding officers have declared that these "specials" often turn out the best soldiers they have. In London the general rule as regards admitting recruits who do not come exactly up to the standard, is that they should make up in some way for their actual deficiencies. Thus, if a man is under height, he must have a specially good chest measurement, if his chest measurement is not quite what it should be, then both his height and weight must be fully satisfactory. My own rule has been always to attach importance to weight, and in the course of a long and varied experience, both in London and in the country, I have never passed a man whose weight was not what it should be, taking age and other circumstances into consideration.

The greatest drawback to recruiting in this country is undoubtedly the British mother. The average British lad has certainly no repugnance to the Army, and the average British father has very little objection to his son's becoming a soldier, or at any rate to his remaining one if he has already enlisted. But to the British mother—of the lower middle class more especially—it seems to come as a positive blow to find that her boy has not done the great things she expected him to do, and has, as she thinks, sunk to the level of a mere recruit. It seems to her such a terrible waste of the good education which the lad has had given him, and which ought to have produced such infinitely better results. The British mother, accordingly does her best to discourage military ambition, and when her son has taken the matter into his own hands and enlisted in spite of her, she will often try hard to get the lad back to civil life. When I was in charge at St. George's Barracks, I repeatedly had two and three mothers in one day making tearful enquiries after their sons, and begging me to help them to get a discharge. My advice in such cases invariably is, that the lad, if physically fit, should be allowed to give the Service a fair trial. In any case if he sickens of it he can be bought out for £10 within three months, with the certainty that he will never attempt the experiment a second time, while the chances are that if the youngster is worth anything at all, the Army will soon make a real man of him. I have known many cases in which parents have eventually been glad to admit the soundness of this advice and have come to be very proud of their smart soldier sons.

There is no question as to the improvement of late years in recruiting for the Army. Nor is there any doubt as to why this improvement has taken place. The condition of the soldier is altogether different from what it used to be, and the treatment he now receives throughout is whole service is wonderfully kind and considerate. Better food, better opportunities of recreation, a better system even of canteen management, are all advantages calculated to draw young fellows to the Service, that so much is being done to provide reservists and discharged soldiers with employment in civil life, and to remove the scandal caused by reservists tramping from union to union, the prospects of recruiting will continue to improve year by year.

But even now, I repeat, the British Army has little difficulty in getting recruits, and getting them, too, of the right quality.

I offer a fast and cost-effective military research service. Have a look at my military research page and drop me a line if you think I might be able to help.