Sunday 31 July 2016

Royal Artillery gunner - efficiency prize-winner

Here's a nice photo which I bought the other day and which shows an artillery gunner with the crossed cannons and five pointed star which indicate that he won second prize as the most efficient gunner in his battery or company. Had he been the most efficient gunner, he'd be wearing a crown in place of the star.

There is no date on this photo but it must be 1902 onwards as the worsted badges were not introduced until this year. This man also wears a good conduct chevron indicating two years of 'undetected crime' and carries a swagger stick as part of his 'Walking Out' dress.

Friday 15 July 2016

Albert Franklin, an Oxfordshire volunteer

My thanks to Jennifer Madden in the USA, for sending me this superb photograph of men of the 4th (Territorial Force) Battalion, Oxfordshire Light Infantry. Along with this photo there was also the certificate of service, below, which was issued to Albert Owen Franklin of the 2nd Volunteer Battalion, Oxfordshire Light Infantry.

The Volunteer Force ceased to exist from 31st March 1908 and the following day the Territorial Force came into being. Certificates like this were issued to men who had served with the Volunteer Force, and we can see quite clearly that Albert had originally joined on the 9th January 1908 and had served for eighty-three days by the time the VF was wound up at the end of March.

But what of the man? I checked various online resources which lead me to conclude that Albert Owen H Franklin was born in Banbury, Oxfordshire on the 23rd July 1890. He appears on the 1891 census as an eight-month old baby, the son of Owen Franklin (aged 28, a tailor) and Cecilia Franklin (aged 23, his wife). At the time the census was taken, the family was living at 21 Queen Street, Neithrop, Banbury.

Ten years on and the family had expanded. The 1901 census shows Owen and Cecilia living at 6 Milton Street, Neithrop, with Albert by now ten years old, and accompanied by a sister, Ethel Franklin, aged eight.

Ten years on again and by now, Albert, aged 20, is also working as a tailor and still living at home - given as 9 Castle Street West, Banbury - with his parents and Ethel (working as a fancy box maker), as well as another sister, Kathleen Franklin, aged 18 months.  The census also notes that Owen and Cecilia had been married for 22 years and had had four children, one of whom had died. This was probably another daughter, Florence Edith Franklin, who was born in the first quarter of 1905 and whose death was registered in the same quarter.

By the time, the 1911 census was taken, Albert was almost certainly a member of the 4th Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, the regimental name having changed on the 16th October 1908. I am assuming that the photograph at the top of this post was taken within a year or two of the battalion's formation in April 1908 and as Mike Briggs points out, none of the men wear Imperial Service badges (introduced in 1910) and so the photograph almost certainly pre-dates this.  I was unsure whether this photograph showed men of the VF or the TF but again, as Mike points out, the men wear metal shoulder titles and not the cloth titles commonly seen on VF uniforms.  The shoulder title would have looked like this (courtesy of British Military Badges):

There are a number of other interesting points of note on this splendid photograph.  For a start there are 83 men pictured. We known that Albert was based in Banbury and so this suggests that the photograph shows men of C or G Company, 4th Ox & Bucks, which were the two Banbury companies. 

Seven men in the photograph wear efficiency stars on their lower right sleeves:

Each star was awarded for four years' service which means that the youthful looking chap on the left had served at least eight years in the TF/VF whilst his companion on the right had served at least four years. Some men, like this partially out-of-shot private, had served even longer:

The only officer in the group looks as though he's about fourteen years old. On his right sits a colour-sergeant instructor and Boer War veteran. On his left sits another colour-sergeant. This second colour-sergeant also has at least one efficiency star which is partially visible.

Apart from the badges of rank, there are also skill-at-arms badges visible. The sergeant seated to the Boer war veteran's right has the crossed musket's denoting a marksman's qualification:

whilst the man in the centre of the group below, had qualified as a signaller, hence the crossed flags on his lower left sleeve:

One of the men in this photograph is presumably Albert Owen Franklin, but which one? It is impossible to tell. The photograph was taken by Norman Taylor of Oxford but there are no other marks of identification on this photograph.

If Albert went on to serve in the First World War, I have yet to find him. He does not appear on First World War campaign medal rolls for the 4th Ox and Bucks and there is no surviving service or pension record for a man of this name born in Banbury.  Joining the TF in 1908 and attesting for four years' service, he would have been discharged by 1912 and may not have re-engaged for further periods of service. If he did serve in the First World War - and I would think it likely that he did so - this part of his life is a mystery to me.

Albert appears on the 1939 Register, still single, still living with his parents and two sisters, and still working as a tailor. When the Register was taken, the family was living at 9 Castle Street West, Banbury.

Albert Franklin died in 1974, his death registered at Banbury in the first quarter of that year. He is presumably buried in Banbury. How his photograph and Volunteer Force certificate ended up in North America is currently a mystery, and I shall be pleased to hear from anyone who can shed more light on this man and his life.

Saturday 9 July 2016

New military releases on Findmypast

Findmypast has recently made some major changes to its military collection.

For a start, the two service record collections which were previously known as British Army Service Records 1760-1915 and British Army Service Records 1914-1920 have now been merged into a single collection called simply British Army Service Records. This is a great improvement a) because the British Army Service Records 1914-1920 collection contained records going back a good way before 1914 anyway, and b) because it is now possible to see men who have files in more than one WO category.

Furthermore, Findmypast has also added to its store of WO records. New releases launched at the same time include the following series:

WO 76 - Regimental records of officers' services 1775-1914
Information varies but usually contains brief details of service. I found this particularly useful when I was looking at officers who had served in the Scottish Rifles.

WO 339 - Officers' services, First World War, regular army and emergency reserve officers 
This series is presented on Findmypast as index-only. The transcripts were created from records and correspondence related to officers in the regular army and the emergency reserve during the First World War. These records have not yet been digitised but can be viewed in their original state at The National Archives, Kew, London.

WO 374 - Officers' services, First World War, personal files 
This is an index of men who served as officers in the British Army during the First World War. Original papers for these men can be viewed in their original state at The National Archives, Kew, London. 
WO 400 - The Household Cavalry 1801-1919 
The Household Cavalry comprised the 1st Life Guards, 2nd Life Guards and the Royal Horse Guards. During the First World War, a fourth regiment, The Household Battalion, was also raised, and this collection contains the service records of non-commissioned officers and men who served with all four regiments. 

Findmypast also has also indexed WO 363 and WO 364 more comprehensively than Ancestry, although you'll still need Ancestry for medal index cards, medal rolls, soldiers effects register and war diaries (if you can find what you are looking for on their perplexing index, I might add).

I say it again and again, but there probably has never been a better time to be a family (or military) historian - and next week will probably be better still. And to think I used to have to trek up to Kew thirty years ago. The youngsters today, they don't know they were born!