British Army WWI Service Records – “Burnt Series” – Case Study Albert Milner
The British Army WWI Service Records, the “Burnt Series” are in WO363. A little of the history behind this series was described in the last post. Here we will explain how to do a search at Ancestry.com and use a case study to show what the results might contain.
In searching I first select from the Search menu, specifically what I want – British Army WWI Service Records, 1914-1920. This allows me to search on a variety of fields, with the most frequent being last name and first name. But you also have the option of Keyword, Regimental number and Regimental name – the latter fields can be especially useful if you already know the number or regiment from other sources such as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website (discussed in earlier blog posts), or from the medal rolls (to be discussed in a future blog post).
For this case study we are going to search for Albert Milner. Nine results are provided. For some of the records the parish and county of birth are included in the index. The records themselves usually provide a parish of birth even if that information has not been included in the index. Helpfully for me the Albert Milner – full name Albert William Alfred Milner is identified, born about 1895 in Leeds in Kent. A total of 18 pages are included in the file.
The number of forms that survive in any given soldiers file varies greatly, and just in the nine soldiers listed here they range from 4 to 56 pages, though it appears there are multiple index entries for the same soldier.
One form that would have been in all soldiers files is his attestation form, created upon his enlistment. Ten different attestation forms are known depending upon the date of enlistment, period of service and terms of engagement.
In our example for Albert Milner he attests using Army Form B.2065 for Short Service (Three years with the Colours), however the fine print under question 17 states “unless War lasts longer than three years, in which case you will be retained until the War is over.” Albert is attesting into the Royal West Kent Regiment, with a regimental number of 4334. This form shows his full name as Albert William Alfred Milner, born in the parish of Leeds, nears Maidstone in Kent. He is 19 years 224 days old and a labourer. This is all completed on 9 November 1914.
Reading through the rest of the pages produces some valuable information about Albert William Alfred Milner.
He attested at the depot on the 9 November 1914, he joined the regiment at Maidstone on the 10 November 1914 and was posted to the 8th Battalion of the Royal West Kent on the 11 November 1914. He is reported as wounded and missing on 20 September 1915. He is presumed dead on the 26 September 1915. This information is confirmed by searching the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website where we learn he is commemorated on the Loos Memorial but no additional information is provided to further identify who this soldier is. This is an example of how using multiple records can pull the pieces of a soldiers life together and positively identify him.
Albert’s Medical History is recorded on Army Form B. 178. As on his attestation form we learn his age, place of birth and occupation. We now get a physical description – 5 feet 4 ½ inches, 119 lbs, a 37 inch chest with a 3 inch expansion. He is in good health, has no vaccinations marks, good vision, and needs some dental treatment. A later form in the file shows that in September 1914 he was inoculated twice.
There is in the file a Casualty Form D.P. issued 6 December 1916 addressed to the officer in charge of infantry records at Hounslow that for official purposes Albert W. A. Milner is to be regarded for official purposes to have died on 26 September 1915 and that papers are to be created to notify the next of kin if they have not already been notified. This is potentially a long wait for the family to learn anything about their son, and also a long time for the death to be reported in the newspapers.
A subsequent Memorandum form – Effects Form 118A, on which the written date has faded, provides an address of next of kin as Mrs. N. Milner, Back Street, Leeds, Kent. An additional address on the side of the form shows Mrs. N. Milner at what appears to be 36 Fasthorpe Street, Putney. Another similar form dated 14 March 1917 shows the next of kin as Mrs Nellie Milner, Priory Cottage, 23 Knightrider St, Maidstone. An extract from the Ministry of Pensions Rolls shows the name and address of the widow as 36 Fasthorpe St, Putney, confirming the faint address written on the memorandum form.
A F.3 – Form 50D, shows that on 29 June 1916, the widow of Alfred W.A. Milner, was awarded a pension of 10 shillings per week, effective from 10 July 1916 as Alfred had been reported missing.
His Casualty Form – Active Service – Form B. 103/1 repeats information found on other papers, confirms that he was wounded in the field, went missing and officially declared dead on the 26 September 1915 but the one new piece of information is that he embarked 30 August 1915
There is a receipt with the signature of Nellie Milner, dated 14 August 1921, acknowledging receipt of the A.W.A. Milner’s British War and Victory Medal and another receipt for the 1914-15 Star.
One of the last pages in his file is the Military History Sheet. This identifies where he was serving, which in this case was primarily at home in England, that he went to France on 30 August 1915 and died 28 days later on the 26 September 1915. It shows the medals he was eligible for, that he was wounded, and that his wife was Mrs. N. Milner at Priory Cottage, 23 Knightrider St. Maidstone. He married Nellie Kelly, a spinster on 17 July 1915, and she was widowed just over 2 months later. The place of the marriage should have been provided but it was not. For the name of the officiating minister it says Mar. Certificate, possibly implying that they were married in a registry office. Prior to the marriage Alfred’s next of kin, crossed out, was his mother Kathleen Sadler [?] of Back Street, Leeds, Kent.
To highlight the fact that the forms may not be in order, the last form in the file is the description form, completed upon his enlistment. We have his physical description as before on other paperwork but we also now learn that he has a fresh complexion, blue eyes, brown hair and is a member of the Church of England.
This file certainly shows how jumbled up the individual pages can be but by reading and extracting each piece of information about the soldier his life can be reconstructed, including parents and next of kin, a physical appearance, and some of life in the military.