Friday 27 January 2017

Western Front War Diaries - save £90 - BE QUICK!

 Naval & Military Press war diaries

War Diaries of the Western Front - British Infantry Battalions

Not for the first time, I have breathed a sigh of relief that I have the Naval & Military Press DVD-ROM version of the war diaries of battalions which served on the Western Front.

4,500 separate diaries, 1.52 million pages, and most pages indexed. Ancestry also publishes war diaries but finding them is quite another matter.

The N&MP DVD-ROM costs £450 but if you’re quick and buy it before the end of the month you’ll save £90. BUY IT NOW in the Winter Sale for £360. Furthermore, Naval & Military Press offers an easy payment plan so you can pay for this in instalments. Well and truly worth it.

Tuesday 17 January 2017

British Army Research to 1920

Here's a nice, unsolicited testimonial from a satisfied client:

"I have used Paul's services on a number of occasions now and find that his knowledge and attention to detail, whether requested for either advice or research, is second to none. His report content is very accurate, full of detail, lists source documents and references and includes scans and pictures where relevant so you, as the client, can see the sources that were used.  I wouldn't hesitate to recommend him for any aspect of your military research" 

Bob Broadway.

My pleasure, Bob, and happy to have been of assistance.

I research soldiers.

Saturday 14 January 2017

Northampton & Frome in the Great War


Having an unplanned and extended break over the Christmas period allowed me to at least catch up on some reading - at least until the school Christmas holidays began.

In retrospect you wonder why these books which focus on a particular community during the Great War, weren't published many years ago. Having added a few of these to my own collection - including a cracker for my home city of Chelmsford - I can say that they are a mixed bag, both in terms of the subject matter - cities on the one hand, small towns on the other - and in terms of the treatment meted out by the authors. The best examples, to my mind, are those books that strike the right balance between telling us something about the community during the war, and informing us about the men and women from that community who served King and Country.

Northampton in the Great War and Frome in the Great War would both, I suggest, be essential reading for anybody with an interest in these towns. The volume on Frome has more to say about the men and women from this Somerset community, and at 184 pages long it its page count be argued to represent better value for money than Northampton which weighs in at around 140 pages. But for the military researcher, both volumes - and for that matter probably - all of the volumes in this series will be worth having on standby.

Both books have good indexes - although Frome's is the better of the two - and both volumes also acknowledge local archival resources which is always encouraging to see.

Book Review: Victoria Crosses on the Western Front - Somme 1916

I have a bookshelf at home which is rapidly becoming a VC shelf. Having collected the Gerald Gliddon series when those books were published in the 1990s, I'm now adding to that with these newer 100th anniversary releases by Pen & Sword.

I should state, perhaps, that I do not have a particular interest in the Victoria Cross - although anyone owning a VC which they no longer require should not hesitate to contact me if they wish to give it away to a good home. The beauty of these books though is that the detail they give goes far beyond the individual actions which resulted in the award of this most prestigious of British gallantry awards.

I felt at the time that the Gerald Gliddon books were a terrific addition to military libraries, and I still think this. The Pen & Sword series, authored by Paul Oldfield, goes a few steps further, however, both in terms of the textual detail supplied and in the contextual detail. It is this latter information - and particularly the maps - which make these books so useful to those with a general interest in the First World War, or for that matter, a specific interest in an action or British Army unit.

As a case in point - and I am picking this example at random - take 3/5027 Private Thomas Hughes of the 6th Battalion, Connaught Rangers, who won his VC for his actions at Guillemont on the 3rd September 1916. Over seven pages in chapter four, the Battle of Guillemont between 3rd and 6th September is detailed, and there is a great map which puts the actions very clearly into context. My version of the map, below, hastily snapped on my phone, certainly does not do justice to this, but I would suggest that the maps are one of the most helpful features of this book.

It is also worth pointing out that these books double as guide books with, in this instance, instructions to "Leave Guillemont northwest on the D20 towards Longueval. After 300m park in the entrance to the silos on the left..." and so on. (I must say though, that at over 500 pages, I'd be taking the Kindle version with me to France, rather than the hardback book).

This book follows the same format as others in this series: actions described in the first half, biographies of the participants detailed in the second part. There are two pages, with illustrations and photographs of Private Hughes, much further in.

These books are well illustrated and well-indexed, which always gets a thumbs up from me. Furthermore there is also an extensive bibliography. The only problem I have is shelf-space, a dilemma I am solving today by buying another bookcase. Incidentally, the Gliddon books are still worth getting hold of. I checked what he had to say about Thomas Hughes and there are photos and illustrations included in his book which have not made it into Pen and Sword's more recent publication.

Alfred Iliffe comes home

Last month, I wrote a post on this blog called Finding a photo of your military ancestor. In that post I suggested that it was a good idea, as well as searching for photos yourself, to - as it were - get the photo to find you by creating a website or a blog asking for information. I had had success with this myself and, to illustrate this, had posted a photo sent to me of one of my Chailey 1914-1918 research subjects.

Last week, I was contacted by a gentleman - the term is entirely appropriate - who had recently won an auction on eBay. The auction he'd won had been titled "WW1 Officer Bedfordshire Regiment MC Military Cross 1915 Star medal ribbon" and showed a slightly larger than postcard-size full portrait of the Bedfordshire Regiment officer. A head and shoulders crop from that full-length photograph appears at the top of this post. That officer is my great grandmother's nephew, Alfred Eldred Iliffe, and the successful bidder on this item contacted me after his own online research found an earlier post of mine on my British Army Medals blog, requesting information about him. 

In that post I had published a photo of Alfred (above) under the heading "A/Capt Alfred Eldred Iliffe MC, Bedfordshire Regiment. I wrote, "Alfred Iliffe went to the Balkans in 1915 as 1630 Pte A E Iliffe with the 1/1 Suffolk Yeomanry. He was later commissioned into the Bedfordshire Regiment and would win the MC in 1918. I seek his 1915 Star (Suffolk Yeo), his British War and Victory Medals (Beds Regt) and his Military Cross."

As the successful bidder wrote to me, he had found my 2009 blog post as a result of a simple Google search: "... it is quite frankly a miracle that I was able to make the connection, having only searched 'Bedfordshire Regt Captain MC' into Google images and finding your blog photo within the first dozen images!" I am indebted to him for both contacting me and for offering to part with his recent purchase. I am so grateful - and also somewhat relieved that he was the high bidder on this photograph.

So the moral of the story is that publishing requests for information can work. In this case I had to wait eight years, and as I said in my December post, your chances of success may still be remote, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

And whilst I am it, let me add some more information about Alfred Eldred Iliffe and his family. The portrait of him that I originally posted was cropped from a family portrait of Alf with his three sisters in July 1917. From left to right they are Queenie Ethel Louisa Iliffe (1890-1977), Freda Grace Iliffe (b.1900), Alfred Eldred Iliffe (1894-1961) and Margaret Elsie Iliffe (b.1898). A fifth sibling, Samuel William Iliffe (1892-1916) had died the previous year. I have a separate photograph of Samuel which I will publish on another post. 

The siblings' parents were William Henry Iliffe (1867-1938) and Margaret Franklin (1865-1933). Margaret, was the elder sister of my maternal great grandmother, Anne Roberts (1875-1952). The Iliffe family were committed Salvation Army members and both Queenie and Samuel had been born in India when their parents were working there in the early 1890s as missionaries. The photograph above shows William and Margaret in their Salvation Army uniform, photographed at Hadleigh in Essex where there had been a thriving Salvation Army farm colony since 1892. It is possible, but unproven as yet, that William had returned from India in order to take charge of this colony. He was certainly back in the UK by December 1892, the Dorking Advertiser, published on the 3rd December, reporting on a talk given by him and helpfully mentioning that for the last five years Captain Iliffe had been "labouring in Ceylon, Madras, Bombay and other parts of India."   

The final photograph that I have of the Iliffe family shows a Salvation Army wedding group on the occasion of Queenie's marriage to Walter Rendall in 1917. Again, the internet helped me to identify members of the Rendall family when, many years ago, I connected with a descendant via GenesReunited.

The participants are, front row, seated left to right: unknown, Anne Roberts (my great grandmother), Adelaide Rendall (nee Bird, Walter’s mother), Walter Rendall (born c1890), Queenie Rendall, Margaret Iliffe, and William Henry Iliffe

Behind them stand, left to right, Frederick Rendall, Emma Rendall, unknown, unknown, unknown, Gertie Rendall (George Rendall’s wife), Unknown (ie small lady standing behind Walter) George Rendall, (Walter’s brother; standing immediately behind Walter and the lady), Unknown, Margaret Iliffe, Freda Iliffe (born 1900), unknown, Alfred Iliffe.

Third Row, left to right: May Rendall (Walter’s sister), Ellen East (nee Rendall, Walter’s sister, born 1882), then all unknown.

Back row, let to right: Herbert East (1869-1919 husband of Ellen Rendall), unknown, unknown convalescent soldier, unknown, Stanley Rendall (born c1895), Walter’s brother.

It goes without saying, of course, that I am still keen to connect with anyone who has information on, photographs of (or medals of) anyone featured in this post. In concluding, I would also like to publicly thank again, the successful eBay auction bidder who contacted me and subsequently sent me the photograph of Alfred Iliffe MC.

Saturday 7 January 2017

Allied PoWs in German Hands 1914-1918

This book turned up on my desk just before Christmas and I must say I've enjoyed flicking through it. I have a particular interest in the British PoWs of 1914 and have compiled a number of PoW databases, and so this book will be a useful addition to my library and will sit happily alongside another Pen & Sword title: Tracing your Prisoner of War Ancestors (below).

This is primarily a photographic essay which deals with both military prisoners and also civilian internees, principally those detained at Ruhleben. In as far as it goes, the book is fine, but to my mind it could have gone a little further. The bibliography is helpful, but would have been more helpful still had it pointed the reader to online resources for PoWs such as those on Findmypast and the reports in WO 161 which are held at The National Archives (and also published on Findmypast). It would have been helpful too to see more detail, particularly dates, against the photographs, although I appreciate that in many cases, that detail may not exist in the originals.

Personally, I would have liked to understand more about the men's uniforms - plenty of which are illustrated - the variation to those uniforms, the mix of nationalities in camps; more about the internment of men in Switzerland and the Netherlands, and the repatriation progress both during and after the war. As I say, as far as the book goes it is good enough and certainly worth the £14.99 investment (or £12 if you hop along quickly now to the Pen & Sword website), and as the title makes clear, this is more than just a book about British PoWs. Our allies, and in the case of the French, men from their colonies, are also well represented here.

Monday 2 January 2017

The King's Royal Rifle Corps regimental depot, 1899

There's a nice article in my recently purchased KRRC Chronicle for 1903 which details the workings of the KRRC regimental depot. The article deals specifically with the way in which the depot managed men coming into and leaving the regiment during the Boer War, and I thought it might make a nice opening blog post for 2017.

Traditionally housed at Winchester, and sharing their depot with the Rifle Brigade, a fire in 1894 completely destroyed the King's House and barracks which had been designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1685, forcing a re-location to Gosport. It would actually be ten years before the regiments moved back to their newly built barracks and depot in Winchester. I draw attention to this as this is referred to in the text below.

Notes on the Working of the Depot during the War

"The duties of the Rifle Depot are comprised under three heads. First the care and keeping of the records with all its attendant correspondence; second the receiving, clothing, partial training, and dispatch to the home battalions of recruits; and third, duties connected with mobilisation for war.

"As regards the first heading it need hardly be said that the necessity for accurately keeping all records is as paramount during war as in peace, but when the Reserves are called out all their documents, instead of lying idle on the shelves, are in active use. In addition there are innumerable letters received from relatives and friends, but perhaps the amount of clerical work will be better realised by stating that during the war roughly speaking, fifty-three thousand documents were received and dealt with, while certainly another six thousand must have been received by the commanding and other officers and which, being sent privately, were not entered into the registers. It will thus be seen that on mobilisation becoming imminent, or even probable, one of the first measures is to arrange for a considerable expansion of the office staff, and a carefully thought-out scheme of sub-division of work, in order that the additional clerks may be fully and usefully employed...

"... We come then to the third heading... The first step is the issue of the order for mobilisation, posting up the placards and sending out the notices to the reservists - the latter being done by the paymaster. Arrangements are then made for the housing of the Reservists on arrival, and drawing arms, equipment and ammunition. (This will be unnecessary when the Depot has returned to Winchester, as everything will be stored in the barracks). Then the mobilisation store has to be got ready , and the system which most happily was in force at the Depot was this. All clothing and necessaries were kept in bulk until required, the packages were then opened and the articles places in sizes for issue. There was no attempt to keep the things packed in kits, as lai8d down by regulation, for the good reason that there were no lockers for the kits, nor was there space available for any other system than adopted...

"... Then one waited for the coming of those for whom we had prepared. As a rule, one or two men appeared almost as soon as the notices were sent out and towards the expiration of the time, during which Reservists had to join, they began to come in small parties, but the large majority came only at the last minute. Needless to say this added enormously to the difficulties and militated greatly against the comfort of the men themselves. It is sincerely to be hoped that in future mobilisations the officer commanding the Depot will be permitted to exercise his discretion as to the times and numbers of men to join. To have a thousand men coming into barracks late at night - many suffering from the effects of kindness (?)  shown them during the journey by injudicious friends - meant an amount of discomfort and disorder not only prejudicial; to discipline but quite unnecessary.

"The Reservists having arrived proceeded to the guard room, where each man's name was entered on a roll, a sergeant of either regiment [ie the Rifle Brigade and The KRRC] being there for that purpose. The men were then sent to the companies (the first fifty to A Company, the next fifty to B, and so on). On joining the company each Reservist was given a card, on one side of which was a printed form for the Medical Officer's certificate of fitness or otherwise, and on the reverse a list of the articles of clothing, small kit etc the man had to receive."

I suggest that this same procedure was almost identically repeated at regimental depots up and down the country, not only in 1899 but again in 1914.

Pictured at the hesad of this post is Lieutenant, the Honourable Frederick Hugh Sherston Roberts VC, an officer of the King's Royal Rifle Corps, and only son of Lord Roberts VC of Kandahar, who died of wounds in South Africa in February 1900.

Happy New Year, evryone.