Today I want to remember two of my great-uncles Corporal Robert Finnegan and Private John Finnegan. Robert Finnegan died 100 years ago today on 1 July 1916, during the first day of the Battle of the Somme. He is remembered on the Memorial to the Missing at Thiepval, the largest of such memorials on the Western Front, with over 72,000 names. His brother John Finnegan was wounded on 1 July 1916 and died on the hospital ship returning to England and was buried on 10 July 1916 in Elswick Cemetery in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Northumberland.
For readers who know little about the first day of the Battle of the Somme, it is regarded as the worst day in British military history. At the end of one day the British Army suffered nearly 57,000 casualties, with nearly 20,000 killed, the rest were wounded or captured.
The British were attacking along an eighteen mile front stretching south from Gommecourt, where sections of the Third Army were to make a diversionary attack, south to Maricourt where the British joined the French army. The main effort was made by the Fourth Army under the command of Sir Henry Rawlinson. At 7:30 a.m. on July 1, 100,000 soldiers went over the top to be followed shortly afterwards by a second wave of men.
Both Finnegan brothers were in the 11th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, part of the 36th (Ulster) Division. They were part of the second wave, coming out of the trenches following the 9th and 10th Battalion’s Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. By then the Germans knew the attack was underway and the machine guns were working hard. The result was very high casualty rates which included the Finnegan brothers.
The image with this blog is a newspaper photograph of John Finnegan from the Illustrated Chronicle, a newspaper from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. I am still searching for a photograph of Robert Finnegan.
There is a lot of material online, in print and in film about the Battle of the Somme. If you would like information about some good documentary films and original footage from the Battle have a look at Genealogy a la carte for June 29, 2016 for an excellent blog posting by Gail Dever, a Montreal based researcher.
Today is Remembrance Sunday, the second Sunday in November each year. It is the day originally to remember all those who died in World War One.
Following is a list of my own relatives on my family tree who I know to have been killed during World War One. I would like to remember these brave soldiers. I have many others who served during the war but who survived.
• Finnegan, Robert – Corporal in 11th Bn. Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Died 1 Jul 1916 – First day of the Battle of the Somme. Commemorated on Thiepval Memorial (Memorial to the Missing on the Somme)
• Finnigan, John – Private “C” Copy, 11th Bn. Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Wounded 1 Jul 1916 – First day of the Battle of the Somme, died 10 Jul 1916 on hospital ship returning to England. Buried Newcastle-Upon-Tyne (St. John’s Westgate and Elswick) Cemetery, Northumberland.
• Finnigan, William – Lance Corporal in 8th Bn. West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales Own). Died 26 Jul 1918 and Buried in St. Sever Cemetery Extension, Rouen
• Croudace, John – Private in 12th/13th Bn. Northumberland Fusiliers. Died 21 Mar 1918. Commemorated on Pozieres Memorial (Somme Battlefield, 6 km. north of Albert)
• Crowhurst, Bertie Walter – Private in 2nd Bn. Dorsetshire Regiment. Died 18 Mar. 1916. Buried in Kut War Cemetery (modern day Iraq)
• Hayes, Herbert – Sergeant in 178th Siege Bty. Royal Garrison Artillery. Died 7 Jul. 1917. Buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery (Poperinge, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium – 2nd largest Commonwealth Cemetery in Belgium)
• Doran, William Henry – Private in 1st Bn. Border Regiment. Died 5 Jul. 1915. Buried in Twelve Tree Copse Cemetery (near village of Krithia, Turkey – Gallipoli battlefield)
• Doran, Bernard – Private in 5th Bn. Border Regiment. Died 4th Feb. 1916. Buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery (Poperinge, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium – 2nd largest Commonwealth Cemetery in Belgium)
Yes, if you have a connection to any of these soldiers I would like to hear from you.
Index to my Military related Blog Posts – On Friday of this week I am doing a three-hour workshop on tracing your British Army ancestors at the British Isles Family History Society of Great Ottawa conference in Ottawa, Canada. In preparation for that I wanted to pull together an index for the blog postings I have had on the site so far dealing with British military resources and news. Most of the postings have focused this year on World War I, but there are additional items of military interest. Some of the posts explain in detail how to use or interpret the results found in a military resource, some deal with a search process that by choice has a military example. The list is an index for blog postings so far.
Tracing Your Dead World War One Ancestors
Highlights how to trace your ancestors who did not survive the war, looking in detail at the Commonwealth War Grave Commission site, published lists in “Soldiers Died in the War”, and what the soldiers left behind (Scottish wills)
WWI – Finding the Dead – Commonwealth War Graves Commission part 1 – case study John Croudace
WWI – Finding the Dead – Commonwealth War Graves Commission part 2 – case study John and Robert Finnigan
WWI – Finding the Dead – Commonwealth War Grave Commission part 3 – advanced search fields
Searching “Soldiers Died in the Great War” Scottish Military Wills – Tips for Searching, Using the Results and Workarounds
News Release: Historical Wills of Scottish Soldiers Go Online
Soldiers Died in the Great War and Officers Died in the Great War are two sources to use for those who died during the war, after one has done a search of the Commonwealth War Grave Commission site, explained in three earlier posts (part one for John Croudace – this same soldier, part two and part three).
Soldiers Died in the Great War consists of 80 parts, published in October 1921 by the War Office and printed by His Majesty’s Stationary Office. They have been reprinted by J.B. Hayward. They have been transcribed and issued on CD-Rom and are also available online, and I will return to this later. The original 80 parts cover all British Regiments, Artillery, Engineers, Machine Gun Corps, Service Corps, Labour Corps and miscellaneous units. The people not included in these volumes are the sea soldiers (Royal Marines, Royal Marine Light Infantry or the Royal Naval Division) or the airmen other than the officers of the Royal Flying Corp and those attached to the Royal Air Force.
The part for each regiment is divided up into battalions with the casualties listed alphabetically by battalion, with the exception of the Worcester Regiment which arranges its section with all the A’s by battalion, followed by all the B’s by battalion.
The information listed includes: surname; first name(s); place of birth; place of enlistment; place of residence (in brackets); regimental number; rank; how died (d.=died; d. of w.=died of wounds; killed= accidentally killed; k. in a.=killed in action; d. at sea=died at sea).
Officers Killed in the Great Waris the companion volume to Soldiers Died in the Great War and may give more details on how they died (e.g. as prisoner in German hands, killed by his bearer, murdered by tribesman, etc).
Searching Online – can be carried out on both FindMyPast and Ancestry. The database on both sites is the Soldiers Died in the Great War, but it actually includes Officer Killed in the Great War. Both online indexes use the same dataset provided by Naval & Military Press Ltd, thus you are not likely to get any difference in results when searching on one site verses another.
– Spelling errors – any printing errors in the original publications, such as in the example Crondace instead of Croudace, will be picked up in the online indexes.
– Casualties in Italy may be labelled as Italy or more likely to be labelled F&F (France & Flanders) so compare with burial site on the Commonwealth War Grave Commission website.
– The lists commonly show France & Flanders but you need to check the Commonwealth War Grave Commission website to see if the soldier died in France or Flanders (Belgium).
– Most regiments only record death up to Armistice Day (11 November 1918) thus do not pick up soldiers who were dying of wounds received or who were still fighting in the later campaigns.
– Usually for soldiers only one regiment is identified and this is most likely the one in which he enlisted – which may be different from the one he was attached to when he died. With officers multiple regiments may be identified.
– The rank identified is the highest achieved overseas while on active service and may be a temporary rank.
These short stories are told by twelve familiar British authors: Jeremy Paxman – HMS Audacious sunk on 27 October 1914 yet spent the whole war on the official complement of the Royal Navy throughout the war; Michael Morpurgo – who after talking with two old veterans decided to write about the war from the perspective of a horse, creating the book War Horse, later turned into a popular movie; Sebastian Faulks – the horrors seen by the soldiers; Margaret MacMillan – Britain declaring war in the “proper manner” , Richard Curtis – discusses the comedy in the War leading to the writing of the sitcom Blackadder Goes Forth and the power of the final minutes of the sitcom; Terry Pratchett – How the soldiers became known as “Tommies”; Pat Barker – the humanizing of the wounded soldiers in the pastels of Henry Tonks a surgeon and illustrator; Richard J. Evans – the surrender of German officer in New Guinea after the end of the war; Max Hastings – the bloodiest day of the war – 22 August 1914 when the French lost 27,000, the bloodiest day for the British was the 1 July 1916 with 20,000 fatalities; Antony Beevor – tells of the divided views of how historian’s view the war, but ends with the personal diary entry of his grandfather-in-law winning the DSO; Douglas Newton – discusses the behind the scenes maneuvering by British politicians that led to its commitment to war; and Helen Dunmore – explains a game of Bomb Ball to be found in an official pamphlet on games, which is in reality an understanding of the rules for handling grenades.
This is a long piece by newspaper standards but worth reading for the fascinating vignettes told about the war.
Naval and Military Press has just released a Special Great War Catalog with over 400 titles in this one publication. It provides a full range of Divisional Histories all at 50% off. There are numerous Regimental and Official Histories, contemporary memoirs and more.
Some of the databases sold can be found online at some of the commercial websites so be careful. But this is a goldmine for readers wanting to know that a particular book even exists, or for those wanting to fill in the gaps in their personal library, or wanting to know more about the regiment or division in which their ancestor served, or learn specifics about the battles in which they served or died.
If you have an interest in World War One do download a pdf of the catalog, linked here. One of the benefits of downloading the pdf, or opposed to getting the newsprint version of the catalog which I was also sent, is that you can search it for any regiment, division, battle or word which is very handy in this packed catalog.
Here is a good newspaper article in today’s Online Telegraph by Jeremy Paxman looking at “The Path that led from the Playing Fields to Flanders Fields”. It especially examines the role of the public schools in England the role they had in providing officers for the military, and the effect on the schools and their staff – think lots of women coming into teaching for the first time.
Let’s take a closer look at the Scottish Soldiers wills so proudly announced as being available on ScotlandsPeople in the last post I made so we understand how and why the records were created, collected and how to search them – without wasting lots of money.
What’s there? – There are 32,932 wills in this collection. Approximately 26,000 wills from ordinary Scottish soldiers who died in WWI, another 5,000 from WWII, several hundred from the Boer War and the Korean War, with others from conflicts between 1857 and 1964.
How did they get there? – When a soldiers estate was settled by the Effects Branch of the War Office their wills were no longer required. All documents were then passed along to H.M. Commissary Office in Edinburgh under the Regimental Debts Acts of 1863 and 1893. Later they were deposited with the National Records of Scotland, now in SC70/8.
The majority of the wills, especially those from WWI were the page(s) removed from the soldiers Pay Book (Army Book 64), or an equivalent Army form. Other documents might include personal letters from soldiers, a testimony by witnesses, both of which could be accepted in lieu of a will. The majority of the wills were written by men below the rank of officers, who were domiciled in Scotland. The example is for Peter Trainer of the Queen’s Own Highlanders who died 25 Apr 1918 leaving everything to his father Robert Trainer of 88 Gloucester Str, Glasgow. The will is one of four images in the file, which is common, the other images being of the army’s sheet for the will, plus two envelopes (inner and outer).
It is estimated that this collection of wills represents approximately 20% of Scotsmen who died during WWI and about 17% of those who died during WWII.
The records begin in 1857, but there is only one will for 1857 and that is for Private Roderick Alexander of the 71st Regiment of Foot [71st (Highland) Regiment of Foot (Light Infantry)] and his will is signed 19 Jun 1857 and importantly it is not the date he actually died, that is not stated on the document [SC70/8/7/1].
Performing a Search
You have the options of searching on surname, forename, date of death – from and to, service number, rank, battalion, regiment, theatre, and cause of death. The reality is most of us are going to use surname, in possible combination with forename if we get to many results.
Date of Death – this is a key searching point. If you know you are searching for someone killed in WWI then change the dates appropriately. Generally I would recommend leaving the defaults at 1 January 1914 and 31 December 1948 and it will search everything in the database and include them in the results, even when the event occurs outside these parameters or the date of death is not stated. Change either date and it does limit the search to the period chosen.
Let’s do a search for Hunter without adding or changing anything. I get 134 hits. Viewing the search results is free, so I could look at all 183. Instead I want to limit my options and I type ‘Jo’ (without ‘’) in the forename field and select ‘forenames that begin with’ from the adjoining menu. Now I have 18 options and that is a more manageable number, so I look at the results. Quickly scanning the list shows that I have found multiple Johns, a John Alexander, two Josephs and a Jonathan.
I have 15 John’s, or which 13 John’s died in WWI. At ₤2.50 or 10 credits for each will downloaded that is too many to just randomly pick. So use other options to eliminate some of the other choices. The best place to start, which is free, is the Commonwealth War Grave Commission website and search for the records of each of these soldiers. You are looking to see if there is mention of family members and or place of residence in the comments field. Look at my earlier blog posts for examples and explanation of how to do this (WWI – Finding the Dead – Commonwealth War Grave Commission – part 1 – part 2 – part 3)
Workaround for Results with Missing Dates –
In our results table you will see Jonathan Hunter, rank unstated, of the 91st Regiment of Foot, who died, with no date or place given. We know that regimental numbers were no longer being used by WWI, so we can safely guess that this is a pre-WWI soldier. That however is still a potentially big time period 1857-1914. So how can we narrow down our options to see if it is worth spending the money on getting the will?
Go to the free website of the National Archives of Scotland at www.nas.gov.uk and select Catalogues and Indexes from the top menu, then NAS Catalogue, then Search. You have three search fields – in the search for field type the name of the person you are seeking (surname or both forename and surname if too many results) – in the reference field type SC70/8 plus select the ‘starts’ button and this will search the collection of Scottish military wills – leave the date from field blank.
In my case I am going to search for Jonathan Hunter in SC70/8. I get one matching record which I can display. The full reference is shown SC70/8/2/3 with a title of “Will of 3938 unstated Jonathan Hunter, 91st Regiment of Foot, cause of death: died” all of which is given in the search on ScotlandsPeople. The one additional piece given is 20 Apr 1864, which is the date his will was signed. If this was your ancestor you could then return to ScotlandsPeople and download a copy of the will with more confidence that it matched the time frame for your ancestor.
Will of Jonathan Hunter.
The will on Form of Will, No.1 states “to be used by a Soldier desirous of leaving the whole of his Effects to one person. Jonathan Hunter No. 3930, of the 91st Regiment of Foot, do hereby revoke all former Wills by me made, and declare this to be my last Will. After payment of my just Debts and Funeral expenses, I give to my wife, Isabella Hunter of No. 5 Waterton Street, Mile End, Glasgow, absolutely for her sole and separate use, her receipt being a sufficient discharge; the whole of my Estate and Effects, and everything that I can by law give or dispose of.” The will is then duly signed by three witnesses.
At the bottom of the form there is a Declaration of the Medical Officer. “I declare that I was present at the Execution of this Will and that Jonathan Hunter, the Testator was at the time in a fit state of mind to execute the same.” Signed by a member of the Medical staff.
On the reverse, which is actually the outside of the document when it is folded is a summary – The Will of Jonathan Hunter of the 91st Regt. Of Foot dated 20 April 1864. W.O. Form No. 897.
Written faintly in ink on the side of the form, upper left, is the NAS reference number SC70/8/2/3. Interestingly this is the only place to find it. The reference number is not printed out on the image header. You can however figure it out from the full reference if you save it with full ScotlandPeople reference.
The last wishes of Scottish soldiers at the Front: The National Records of Scotland release Soldiers’ Wills from WW1, WW2, the Boer War, Korean War and other conflicts between 1857 and 1964
The wills of 31,000 Scottish soldiers are being made available online by the National Records of Scotland as part of commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. The poignant documents include the last wishes of 26,000 ordinary Scottish soldiers who died in the Great War.
The new records contain the wills for ancestors of some famous Scots. For instance, John Feeley, the great-great-grandfather of the Paisley musician, Paolo Nutini, is included. Private Feeley served in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and died of wounds sustained during the Battle of Arras on 23 April 1917. Feeley left all of his property and effects to his wife, Annie, who lived until 1964.
Researchers at the National Records of Scotland have also discovered the will of Andrew Cox, the uncle of Dundee-born actor, Brian Cox. A rope-worker before the war, Private Andrew Cox served with the Highland Light Infantry and was killed in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, aged 22 – sadly, his body was never identified. Like many unmarried soldiers, Andrew Cox left all of his possessions to his mother, Elizabeth.
The records are drawn from all the Scottish infantry and cavalry regiments, as well as the Royal Artillery, Royal Army Medical Corps, Royal Army Service Corps, the Machine Gun Corps and other units, and a few who served in the Royal Flying Corps and the RAF. Almost all the wills were written by soldiers below officer rank, but some wills for commissioned officers are also included.
In addition to the wills from the Great War, there are almost 5,000 from Scots soldiers serving in all theatres during the Second World War, several hundred from the Boer War and Korean War, and wills from other conflicts between 1857 and 1964.
Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs in the Scottish Government, said: “These small but powerful documents are a testament to the sacrifice in wartime made by thousands of Scots, not only the soldiers themselves, but also their families and loved ones.”
Tim Ellis, Registrar General and Keeper of the Records of Scotland, said: “We are privileged to be marking the centenary of the start of the First World War by making these remarkable records available. They give us a unique insight into the service of Scottish soldiers during the First and Second World Wars, but also in other conflicts before and since.”
Annelies van den Belt, the CEO of DC Thomson Family History, who enable the ScotlandsPeople website on behalf of the National Records of Scotland, said: “We’re very pleased to add this new set of records to the ScotlandsPeople site. These fascinating documents make for poignant reading and we’re sure that anyone who views the wills will feel a strong emotional connection to those who lost their lives in these conflicts.”
The Soldiers’ Wills are available at www.ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk, at the ScotlandsPeople Centre in Edinburgh, and at local family history centres in Glasgow, Kilmarnock, Hawick and Inverness.
British Army WWI Pension Records – “Unburnt Series” – WO364. This set of records is incorrectly called the pension records for they are not pension records in the classic sense. After the destruction of many of the Army records during the Second World War the War Office needed to find a way to supplement the records that had survived in what is now WO363. An appeal was made to other government departments that might hold records of service. The largest collection, but not only collection, came from the Ministry of Pensions – thus this collection is commonly known at the British Army WWI Pension Records or the “Unburnt Records
The records typically relate to regular soldiers serving in the army prior to the war who were discharged at the end of their service, those receiving a war pension who had since died or whose claims were refused, or men who later claimed a disability pension from either wounds or sickness. The collection does not include soldiers who signed up for the duration of the war unless they received a pension on medical grounds since such a soldier was entitled only to a gratuity upon demobilization.
The image shows part of the results of a search for William Milner. I am looking for the William Henry Milner from the Hundred of Hoo in Kent with 8 pages in the file. This is a good example though of the problem with landing pages which I touched on in the first blog posting in this series. An algorithm was used to find the attestation papers and discharge papers in the file. However, in this case there are two sets of attestation and discharge papers for the one soldier in the file. The entry below, again William Henry Milner does not show a place of birth, but is actually the same soldier and this can be confirmed from the details in the files.
Let’s examine some of the pages in the file and see the value of what is in the records.
William Henry Milner, No. 93560, attested on 18 October 1892 (yes 1892), joining the next day the Royal Artillery at Dover, Kent. At the time he was 20 years 8 months, born in the Parish of the Hundred of Hoo in or near the town of Rochester, Kent. This is all on Army Form B. 265. At the time he is 5 ft. 6 ¼ inches, weighs 126 lbs, with a chest measurement of 35, expanding to 36. He has fresh complexion, brown eyes and hair and by religion is a Bethel Congregationalist.
Thankfully William has a Military History Sheet in his file. This shows that he was home (i.e. serving in England) from 18 Oct. 1892 to 8 Feb 1894. He then went to India from 9 Feb 1894 to 11 Dec 1896, then on to Aden 12 Dec 1896 to 29 Mar 1901. Back to England from 20 Mar 1901 to 20 Apr 1902, then went onto active reserve being finally discharged 17 Oct 1904. He served a total of 12 years but only had 9 years 185 of pensionable service. The same form shows that his next of kin was his father Henry Milner, Isle of Grain, Kent. However the form also shows that he married Elizabeth Lorden on 6 Nov. 1901.
So why is William’s record to be found in WO364 for World War One? The simple answer is he attested again on 25 November 1915 into the RGA – Royal Garrison Artillery as a gunner with a regimental number of 7491. He is by now 43 years 403 days old, and living at Lower Street, Leeds, Kent. The new attestation form mentions his earlier discharge after first period limited engagement. His religion is Wesleyan. His next of kin is his wife Mrs. Elizabeth Milner of Lower Street, Leeds, Kent. This form adds to their marriage date of 6 Nov 1901 the place of Lower Stoke, Kent. They also have two children Ruby born 14 Aug 1902 in Gillingham, Kent, and Violet Grace born 20 Apr 1914 in Leeds, Kent.
William was discharged from the army on 16 Dec 1916 as medically unfit. His cause of discharge is described – “originated 1900 in England. Suffered from bronchitis every winter since 1900. Is frequently laid up. Has a severe bronchial cough, + for his age, is much debilitated. Eyesight weak. Not result of, but aggravated by military service. Permanent. Prevents ¼.” He was admitted to pension on 6 Dec 1916 and awarded 5 shillings per week. On 11 July 1917 his award was increased to 8s. 3d. and 2s. 9d. for two from 4 Apr 1917 to 16 Jun 1917, then 50 Pounds gratuity. The gratuity is 25 pounds for permanent disability and 25 pounds for 10 years of service.
Some points to note. Because William Henry Milner did not during WWI serve overseas he will not appear in the medal rolls. He did not die in service so will not appear on the Commonwealth War Graves website. This may be the only mention of his WWI service. However, he was in the army prior to the war and therefore when a search in WO97 Soldiers documents for pre WWI soldiers his records of service are found there.
Searching for a soldier is always a matter of exploring what records may have been created by your soldier and searching to find which of them may have survived.