WWI Soldiers – Online Records – pt 2 case study Albert William Alfred Milner

WWI British Army Service Records 1914-1920 at Ancestry.com

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.

Attestation form for Albert William Alfred Milner from Leeds, Kent into the Royal West Kent Regiment

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.

Receipt for British War and Victory Medals with signature of Nellie Milner, next of kin for Albert William Alfred Milner, dated 14 August 1921

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.

Military History Paperwork for Albert William Alfred Milner, showing medals received by next of kin, plus details of marriage

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.

WWI Soldiers – Online Records – pt1 Introduction

Attestation Form for Attestation form for Albert William Alfred Milner from Leeds in Kent who in 1914 joined the 8th Battalion of the Royal West Kent Regiment – one page from a soldiers file in WO363 the ‘Burnt Series’

World War One Soldier’s Records

The easiest way to access the records that have survived for WWI soldiers (not officers) is on Ancestry.com. There are two collections entitled – British Army WWI Service Records 1914-1920 and British Army WWI Pension Records 1914-1920. Let me explain what the difference is between the two collections before we get into examples in later posts.

British Army WWI Service Records – “Burnt Series” – This collection is in WO363. The War Office records repository was on Arnside Street, Walworth and on 8 September 1940 there was a fire. The majority of the records in the repository were either totally destroyed or badly damaged by fire and water. What survived is approximately 25% of the original quantity and is now at The National Archives, in Kew. There are theories but it is not clear what records were at Arnside Street, or how they were arranged. The fire though was a major disaster for those researching WWI soldiers. Typically the files are for men killed in action, those who died of wounds or disease without being discharged from service, were executed, discharged without pension, or soldiers who were demobilized at the end of the war. The collection includes Regulars, Territorials, New Army volunteers and conscripts.

The contents of the files vary greatly but may include attestation papers, discharge papers, medical records, disability statements completed on demobilization, casualty forms, and regimental conduct sheets.

British Army WWI Pension Records – “Unburnt Series” – After 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 came from the Ministry of Pensions – thus this collection is commonly known at the British Army WWI Pension Records or the “Unburnt Records” – currently in WO364. It is important to understand that even though Ancestry.com calls these the Pension records they are not ‘pension records’ in the classic sense, just that the majority of the records came from the Ministry of Pensions. 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 original arrangement of the records when received from the Ministry of Pensions by the War Office is unknown, but the records have now all been alphabetized.

The WO364 records contain some anomalies. The records include some soldiers who were discharged as early as 1875, long before WWI. There are files for British men serving in the South African Infantry of Australian Imperial forces who were discharged in Britain.

These original records in these two groups occupy 44,000 boxes of material, much of which is too delicate to be handled. They have all been filmed producing 15,000 reels of microfilm. These films are available for use at The National Archives and at the Family History Library, but care is needed as all the names are not in alphabetical order, due to the number of cameras used in filming (WO363) or four different alphabetical sequences (WO364) . However, searching on Ancestry.com is so much easier, but again care is needed to ensure you have the correct soldier and all the records for that soldier.

What is not included in either set of records is information for any other rank who saw service after 1920, or any officer after March 1922, or who left the army before these dates but were recalled or re-enlisted for service in the Second World War.

Important Search Reminder – It is important to understand how these records have been put online. The pages of a file were first microfilmed in the order they existed within the file. They have then been digitized. An algorithm was then created to search for the attestation papers (joining) or discharge papers (leaving). Making a search then tells you how many pages are in a file, and when viewing an image will generally take you to the attestation or discharge page. This is the landing image and may or may not actually be the first image in the file. In examining the file you need to move back and forth reading earlier and later images in the supposed sequence to see if additional pages actually refer to your ancestors.

WWI – Finding the Dead – Commonwealth War Grave Commission part 3

Option to filter a search on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website

In the last post we started to discuss the search options for the advanced search screen of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website at www.cwgc.org.  We discussed ways to search  on Surname and Forename, so please do have a look at the last post. Let us take a closer look at some of the other search options and what they mean for your searches, and why you may want to use them.

Country – use this if you know where your ancestor is commemorated. France is not a good choice as there is hundreds of thousands who died there. But if you know that your ancestor died and is commemorated in Argentina, then you are in luck as there is only two options.

Cemetery or memorial – this is useful if you want to get a sense of context, or possibly see who else might be remembered in that location. If you start to type a place and there are multiple options a list will appear. For example, searching on Thiepval brings up four options, selecting Thiepval Memorial and searching on that location shows that 72,338 individuals are memorialized on this one memorial. These are the people for whom no identifiable remains were located to be buried. Corporal Robert Finnegan discussed in the last post is one soldier named on Pier 4D, face 5B.

War – this limits your choice to the First or Second World War

Date of Death – starting and ending – allows you to define a period in which your ancestor died, or to determine how many others died on a given day, possibly indicating if he died in a major battle or in a quiet time. For example, a search for the names of those who died on the 1 July 1916 names 18,708 individuals and obviously does not include those who died from their wounds over the following days. This was the worst day in British military history if you did not already know that.

Served with – lists the forces of the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India and South Africa. Be very cautious here as people from the United Kingdom may have served in any of the colonial forces, and many from the colonies did serve in the United Kingdom forces.

Served in – identifies the branch of service – army, air force, navy, merchant navy, civilian war dead and miscellaneous. The last category may need some clarification for this includes: munition workers, Red Cross members, Voluntary Aid Detachments, canteen workers, army cadets, ambulance drivers, war correspondents, etc.

Rank – as you start to type in this field a list of options appears from which to choose.

Thiepval Memorial with over 72,000 names from WWI

Service number – this search may be useful if you have this number from another source, such as a medal roll and want to identify where he is buried or memorialized.

Regiment – can be used to narrow a search, or used with dates to put a death into context. Again when you start to type a list of options appears. For example, searching on the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers for the 1 July 1916 shows that there were 833 deaths in this one regiment alone on this day.

Secondary Regiment – should be used with caution as the majority of records contain nothing in this field.

Awards – this enables you to identify those individuals who were awarded a medal (such as the Victoria Cross), or were Mentioned in Dispatches. Returning to the 1 July 1916, with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, and identifying Victoria Cross recipients we identify Eric Norman Frankland Bell of the 9th Battalion. The descriptive citation is provided, adding more color to the day Robert Finnegan died, for the 9th Battalion preceded the 11th Battalion out of the trenches moving towards the German lines.

Additional Information – can be any term but it would need to appear in the additional information part of the database. It might, for example, be used to identify others from your ancestor’s village or street.

There is a lot of material in this database and some experimenting with the search options will narrow your options to find your ancestor, at the same time additional information can be gleaned to put your ancestor into context.

WWI – Finding the Dead – Commonwealth War Graves Commission part 2

Finigan, Finnigan, Finegan, Finnegan
Commonwealth War Graves Commission website search for Fin*g*n

In my last posting I did a simple search to find my dead soldier – John Croudace. In this blog posting we are still working with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website at www.cwgc.org website but let’s examine the advanced search options a little more closely. To find the advanced search you can either choose it from the simple search box on the home page, or you can select “Find War Dead” from the tab bar. Either way you end up at the same advanced search box. Note that you only need one entry in any one box to do a search.

Let’s start with the first and second boxes for surname and forenames as these are the most commonly used. You can type in any surname and search. The default for the forename is initials and I on the first pass leave the space below blank. Only if I get too many options do I insert an initial. Inserting an initial will pick up the entries in the database that use only an initial as well as those forenames beginning with that initial.

With surname it gives you exactly what you ask for, there is no sounds like or Soundex option. However wild cards are allowed. So let’s look at an example and see what difference it makes. I want to search for the name Finnigan, but did the army spell it this way, or with one “n”, or did they substitute an “e” for the “i” in the middle. If searches are made on these variations, limiting it to WWI we get the following results:

Finigan 2
Finegan 9
Finnigan 63
Finnegan 27

John Finnigan Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
Details for J Finnigan, son of William Finnigan of 7 Back Hammond Street, Newcastle-Upon- Tyne

This gives me a total of 101 options. However, I prefer to get all my results at once. So searching on “fin*g*n” picks up all these and a few more for a total of 105. The additions are the names – Fingleton and Finighan. The results are presented in batches of 15 names.

With these numbers of results I tend to scan all to see if any are a likely possibilities, for remember you are also looking to trace the cousins, as almost every family in the United Kingdom was impacted by the war. In this search one entry jumped out at me on the first page – Finnigan, J – buried in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne (St. John’s Westgate and Elswick) Cemetery. Looking at the details in the illustration he died 10 July 1916 and most importantly he is described as the son of William Finnigan, of 7 Back Hammond Street, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. A supposition, later confirmed, was that John Finnigan was wounded on the 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, and that he was wounded severely enough to be evacuated back to England. He actually died on the transport ship returning to England, and was buried in his home town.

Details for Corporal Robert Finnegan, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers on Thiepval Monument

John was a private in “C” company, 11th Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Interestingly John has a brother Robert, and when the rest of the list is examined there is a Robert Finnegan, who is a Corporal in the 11th Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, killed on the 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. In this case though there is no data entered in the additional information section. From this source alone I cannot confirm if this Robert is or is not the brother of John.  He is, but other sources are needed to confirm that.

In the next blog posting I will discuss some of the other search options, why and when you might want to use them.

WWI – Finding the Dead – Commonwealth War Graves Commission part 1

Home Page fro Commonwealth War Grave Commission Website with simple search box in upper right.
Home Page for Commonwealth War Grave Commission Website with simple search box in upper right.

I said in an earlier posting that this year I was going to have a special focus on World War One research. I have had a couple of postings mentioning new resources, but now I want to start explaining how to use the existing resources to trace your World War One ancestors and to put them into context.

Let’s assume your ancestor did not survive the war. The place to start is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website at www.cwgc.org.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission ensures that the 1.7 million people who died in the two world wars will never be forgotten. The Commission is responsible for marking and maintaining the graves of those members of the Commonwealth forces who died. It therefore cares for cemeteries and memorials in 23,000 locations, in 153 countries. One of the sad parts of these numbers is that for many the person in the grave is unknown, and for many on the memorials no identifiable remains have been recovered.

Don’t lose hope though. For the family historian the important resource provided is the index to the 1.7 million who have died in the two wars. There are 1,059,642 names from the WWI and 649,489 names from WWII.

Let’s start here by defining for this database what period is being searched when WWI is selected. The first day deaths are recorded is the 4 August 1914 with four deaths, while the last day for recording WWI deaths is 31 August 1921 when 24 deaths were recorded in England, India and South Africa. Remember that the war began on 28 July 1914 with Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war with Serbia. England declared war with Germany on 4 August 1914 and so four members of the British Armed Services lost their lives on the first day of the war. England declared war later against Austria-Hungary on 12 August 1914; against Turkey on 5 November 1914; and against Bulgaria on 15 October 1915.

Let’s jump right in and do a search, partially because that is what most people are going to do. From the home page you can do a simple search using: surname; initials; service; and war. For this illustration I am doing a search on the name Croudace, and I choose WWI. I have seven results listed, and this is definitely one of the benefits of an unusual surname. In this case I can examine all seven results by selecting the surname on each line in turn.

John Croudace - Northumberland Fusiliers son of Andrew John Croudcae and Jane Croudace
Search results for surname Croudace on Commonwealth War Grave Commission Website

The soldier I actually need is John Croudace.  The results shown are in a standardized format. What you hope and pray for is data in the Additional Information field for without it you may or may not be able to positively identify your serviceman or woman. In this case we learn that John Croudace is the son of John and Jane Croudace, of 14 Bentinck Street in Newcastle-on-Tyne. I have John with his parents (A.J. – Andrew John and Jane Croudace) and siblings at this address in the 1911 census. I have my serviceman.

Details for John Croudace of the Northumberland Fusiliers, son of John and Jane Croudace

The standardized data fields are: name; rank; service number; date of death; age; regiment/service; grave reference, and the cemetery where buried or the memorial where his name is inscribed. There may also be the valuable additional information. The additional information was drawn from the soldiers paperwork where they often, but not always, named parents, or wives. This is especially valuable as many of those documents were destroyed by fire during World War II. I will come back to what has survived of these records in a later post. There can also be extensive information with photographs on the cemetery where the person in buried.

Presentation Memorial Certificate for John Croudace.

In the upper right corner of the casualty details box is a button for – view certificate. This is a very nice certificate to print to remember your serviceman or woman, and to insert into your research files. Please note that one key piece of information is missing from the certificate which would be vital if you are planning on visiting the cemetery or monument. What is missing is the grave reference number, or the panel number of the memorial.

We will take a closer look at this website in the next blog posting.

WWI: Operation War Diary – Your Help Wanted

Operation War Diary - Joint project between TNA, IWM and Zooniverse to index WWI Diaries
Operation War Diary – Joint project between TNA, IWM and Zooniverse to index WWI Diaries

WWI: Operation War Diary – Your help wanted

Operation War Diary is a new joint project between The National Archive (providing the documents), the Imperial War Museum (providing the historical expertise) and Zooniverse (providing the technology community software) is recruiting citizen historians to index these war diaries. The project is online at www.operationwardiary.org.

During WWI each unit kept a war diary. There are over 1.5 million pages within these diaries telling the stories of what was happening on any given day during the war. This is where you have the opportunity to put your soldier into context. The diaries originated as a result of Field Regulations Part II issued in 1909 and reprinted in 1913, stipulating the purpose of the war diary and how the diary was to be completed. However, every diary is different. The goal of this new project is to “classify each page of every diary”.  Indexing the war diaries will reveal questions about: military activity; people; weather; army life; and casualties.

The website provides a Field Guide to the diaries with examples of the different pages – cover, diary, orders, signal pads, reports and other documents (e.g. maps) and lists what is hoped will be tagged and indexed on each of these pages. There is a 10 minute tutorial on how to tag and index, which is very good. You will need to register first and then you can start tagging. Currently 31 diaries are online in various levels of completion. The site states that eventually everything from Operation War Diary will be available to everyone free of charge.

The stated purpose is to “classify each page of every diary”, however on the About Us page is states that The National Archives has digitized the war diaries of the units under the command of the British and Indian cavalry and infantry divisions on the Western Front. This makes me wonder if other Fronts such as Gallipoli or Mesopotamia will be included later. Personally I hope so as I have a soldier dying at El Kut in Mesopotamia and I would like to read that war diary.

There is also a discussion section where images can be posted of problem pages, help requests, or exciting finds. This is a very active section, for example 12 images with questions posted within the last hour.

I have read some war diaries in the past, but logging in and starting to tag the data really helps you appreciate the depth of details that are here about the lives of our soldier ancestors. The process was simple, fun and educational. If you have WWI ancestors, come join us in this worthwhile project.

WWI Centenary Preparations by Commonwealth War Grave Commission

Tyne Cot Memorial, Ypres, Belgium

WWI Centenary Preparations by Commonwealth War Grave Commission
I mentioned in my opening post for 2014 that this year I would be taking a look at some of the WWI military records available to family historians in detail. The Centenary is going to be a big event over the next five years as we recall what happened and the effect it had on our families. One of the institutions highly involved in the centenary is the Commonwealth War Gave Commission (CWGC). We will learn more about their records later.

The Commonwealth War Grave Commission maintains and cares for cemeteries, monuments and memorials in over 24,000 locations in 150 countries, all commemorating Commonwealth men and women who have died in a branch of the military service since the start

of WWI. The sites may be a single headstone or a large cemetery such as Tyne Cot at Ypres in Belgium with over 7,500 headstones. Visitors to these sites have been increasing and are expected to increase dramatically with the centenary.

To prepare the CWGC has identified five “iconic” sites in France and northern Europe. These are Tyne Cot (Ypres, Belgium), St. Symphorien (Mons, Belgium), Nieuwpoort Memorial (Flanders, Belgium), Menin Gate (Ypres, Belgium), and Island of Ireland Peace Park (Messine, near Ypres, Belgium). The preparations include: replacing and re-engraving of headstones; renovating and replanting borders and gardens; replacing panels and renewing paint in the engraved names on memorials, and much more.

More details about the preparations can be read in a story entitled “War Graves commission face major WWI challenge” from December 28, 2013 issue of The Scotsman.
The CWGC publishes a monthly newsletter keeping readers informed about what is happening around the world. One story in the January 2014 issue that caught my attention referred to a grave site being located for a British Airman – Second Lieutenant Philip Frederick Cormack, 204th Squadron, Royal Air Force who until now has been commemorated on the Arras Flying Services Memorial (meaning there is no known grave). He is in fact buried in the French Military Cemetery in Machelen, East-Flanders in Belgium. The CWGC continues to identify and locate the bodies of the fallen.

Thanks to Chris Paton at The British GENES Blog (Genealogy News & EventS) for bringing both these items to my attention.