History 4 All
how to trace YOUR family tree.
Newsletter No.6 – March 2007.
Family Tree Maker UK Edition 2006
Welcome to our newsletter from
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Featured Article –
Soldiers Who Served in the 1914-18 Great War
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British Soldiers Who Served in the 1914-18 Great War
Ian R Gumm
This article is
brought to you by
In the footsteps BATTLEFIELD TOURS
At In the footsteps BATTLEFIELD TOURS we occasionally receive enquiries
about how to trace the records of British soldiers who served in the
1814-18 Great War. We do our best to help when such a request is made, but
our resources are limited and we are conscious that our best is often very
slow and not always that conclusive. To help those wishing to research
records of British Soldiers who served in the 1914-18 Great War we thought
that it would be useful if we put together some notes on the basics of how
to research this information.
During the Great War of 1914-1918 Britain's Regular Army was tiny by
European standards and was quickly supplemented initially by Reservists
and the Territorials. Kitchener's Army of volunteers were rapidly trained
and sent to the front and by 1916 it was necessary to introduce
Conscription to make up numbers.
The casualty lists continued to grow at an alarming rate largely because
of the very nature of trench warfare. The modern military innovations and
communications that we know today simply did not exist and the 1914-18
Great War had developed into one of attrition. As a consequence, the
British Army sustained massive fatal casualties averaging around 450
officers and men per day.
The Commonwealth War
The first place to begin your search is the Commonwealth War Graves
Commission (CWGC). They have the most complete record of soldiers (and
others) that died in the 1914-18 Great War. This record is available
on-line in their ‘Debt of Honour Register’ at
The information contained in the Debt of Honour Register includes the
location of the soldier’s grave (or his commemoration, if he has no known
grave). It will usually give details of his service number, rank, unit,
date of death (if known) and place of burial or commemoration. Other
information may be available, but this is dependent on material supplied
(or not supplied) by relatives during and after the war. It should also be
noted that whilst the CWGC make every effort the Register is not entirely
free of errors.
The 1921 Compilation – Soldiers
Died in the Great War 1914-19.
An excellent resource for locating those who died in the war is Soldiers
Died in the Great War 1914-19. Originally published in 1921 the
compilations consist of 80 volumes for the soldiers with a separate volume
for officers. Each volume deals with individual Regiment or Corps, and
lists those who died, giving dates, locations, army number. It is not 100%
accurate, but an excellent record that was based on regimental records.
These volumes give information that the CWGC does not for example, place
of birth, place of residence, place of enlistment and any former regiment
being the most common.
A full set of the Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-19 is available for
the general public to reference in the Birmingham Central Library. Other
Central and/or Reference Libraries may also hold copies, but check before
going as they often only have the volume relating to the local regiment.
This work can also be obtained from the Imperial War Museum as a
searchable CD-ROM and is also available from:
http://www.naval-military-press.com/. The CD-ROM has the advantage
that the casualties can be searched and sorted, which is a great benefit
if you are researching a unit or what happened to a group of friends.
Inevitably it does contain some transcription errors - but then again the
originals have errors too. Overall, this is an excellent though very
expensive resource. Many branches of the Western Front Association have a
copy, as do some libraries - including the one at the National Archives.
Military-Genealogy.com the Naval & Military Press’ website for military
historians and family history researchers has computerised these records,
along with similar records relating to the Second World War, and offer a
pay-per-view service to search them. These works are also available as a
searchable CD-ROM, published by the Naval & Military Press. For further
Another pay-per-view service is provided by findmypast.com that has made
it possible to search for soldiers who died in the 1914-18 Great War
on-line. It is also possible to access the registers of war deaths via
http://www.findmypast.com/HomeServlet. In addition to their
pay-per-view service they operate a voucher system whereby vouchers can be
purchased from UK stockists or mail order, see their website for details.
Rolls of Honour
Many businesses, organisations, schools and towns created Rolls of Honour
after the war. Many of these are now available on-line and can be accessed
by searching Google then clicking on the appropriate search result.
In addition to these dedicated Rolls of Honour sites is a particularly
http://www.roll-of-honour.com/ that is striving to list details of the
various War Memorials in the UK. This also has a useful search facility
that will interrogate the records they have in their databases.
Soldiers Personal Files
All British soldiers who served in the 1914-18 Great War had a personal
file. Around half of these personal files were destroyed in the first
German air-raid on London in the Second World War on the night of 7th/8th
September 1940. The records that survived the Second World War were
released to the UK National Archives: The Public Record Office at Kew in
November 1996. Their website can be found at
http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/. The original documents are now so
fragile that only microfilm is available for inspection and whether an
individual soldier’s file has survived is entirely random.
Officers’ files had a higher survival rate and about 216,000 were released
to the National Archives in February 1998. The criteria for release were
that the officer had served in the British Army between 1914 and 1920 and
that he had left the Army before 31st March 1922. It is often possible to
locate an officer’s file on line, by typing the surname into the National
Archives Catalogue accompanied by a record class number. Officers’ files
are mostly contained in record series WO 339 or WO 374 (especially
The Medal Index and Medal Rolls
Besides a soldier’s (or officer’s) personal file the other major source of
information is the Medal Card Index, also in the National Archives. This
is the most complete listing of British service personnel in the First
World War. The National Archives has now completed the digitizing of the
Medal Index. The on-line version is available at
Most soldiers who served with the British Army in the 1914-18 Great War
qualified for campaign medals, normally the 1914 (or 1914-15) Star, the
British War Medal and the Victory Medal. The Army Medals Office recorded
soldiers’ medal entitlement in lists known as rolls. The Index Card
available on line provides the reference to where the soldier is listed on
the Rolls, which are organised by regiment or corps. The information found
on the Medal Card will include the soldier’s name, rank and serial number,
his regiment or corps, sometimes his unit (e.g. battalion or Field Company
RE), his date of death (if he died during the war), the campaign medals he
was awarded and the reference numbers that allow the soldier to be traced
on the Medal Rolls, which are not available on line.
It is important to check the actual Medal Rolls because they can give
extra vital information about a soldier, such as his battalion, that
allows further research to be undertaken. This is particularly true of
soldiers who served in the cavalry, yeomanry and infantry, but much less
so for the larger corps, such as the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers and
Army Service Corps.
Unit War Diaries
Once a soldier’s unit has been identified it is possible to find out more
about it. All units from battalion level (and the battalion’s equivalent
in other corps, such as a Field Artillery Brigade) upwards were required
to keep War Diaries on active service. These diaries are preserved in the
National Archives: The Public Record Office, Kew, in record series WO 95.
War Diaries rarely mention ordinary soldiers, but they do provide a
detailed account of the unit’s movements and activities.
Nearly all infantry regiments and battalions have published histories.
These can usually be purchased through that Regiment’s PRI or through most
reputable bookshops. On-line bookshops such as Amazon will also have these
We hope that the information contained within this article has been of
assistance and will help you trace the records of the soldier you are
interested in. If you feel that we can be of assistance please email us at
email@example.com and we will try to help. Please bear in
mind however our opening paragraph, as our resources are limited and we
are conscious that our best is often very slow and not always conclusive.
Ian R Gumm
20th January 2007
In the footsteps BATTLEFIELD
If you are interested in following “in the footsteps” of an ancestor,
relative or particular unit we can put together a bespoke battlefield tour
proposal for your consideration. The proposal is without obligation as we
do not undertake any preparatory work until an order is received.
We also offer a range of commemorative certificates that can be purchased
from our website. These decorative certificates are designed to
commemorate the military service of service personnel in a readily
displayable format, they are not meant to be facsimiles of official
Visit our website at:
In the footsteps BATTLEFIELD TOURS for further details.
About the Author:
A Divisional Director for a large UK magazine printer and retired Army
Major. Run a part time battlefield tour business that is my hobby and
passion. Have two websites: -
www.inthefootsteps.com - In the footsteps BATTLEFIELD TOURS offers a
bespoke battlefield tour service for those wishing to follow in the
footsteps of an ancestor, relative or unit. They tell me who you want to
follow, where and when and I research the details and design an itinerary.
Once the itinerary is agreed we tour the battlefield.
www.battlefieldtours-4u.com - Battlefield Tours 4u offer a range of
set itinerary tours to a selection of First World War and Second World War
NW European battlefields. The dates of the tour and standard of
accommodation are flexible. In both cases the tours are geared towards
individuals and small groups (up to six) and are normally private
battlefield tours restricted to a single party. This facilitates the
comfort and personal attention so important to get the most out of the
3. Latest News from
INDULGE YOUR PASSION IN HISTORY
Over the last three years, ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ has inspired a new
generation to trace their ancestry to join those who are already well on
their journey towards uncovering their personal heritage.
Following this unprecedented success, Who Do You Think You Are is
launching a National History Show, giving more people than ever before the
opportunity to learn about their roots.
Do You Think You Are? LIVE, sponsored by Ancestry.co.uk, takes place at
the National Hall, Olympia, London on May bank holiday weekend, 5th – 7th
May 2007. More here...
Ancestry.co.uk is very pleased to announce the launch of the first release
of the British Army WW1 Records
This initial release focuses on Pension records and specifically those
covering surnames beginning with A and B whilst a further release covering
all remaining surnames in the Pension records is scheduled for early
autumn 2007. Start searching these records now.
British Army WW1 Records
Ancestry is pleased to announce the arrival of the second release of the
British Phone Books Collection 1880-1984. Be one of the first to visit
Release 2. British Phone Books 1880-1984
It's now five down, two to go, as we release the latest in our series of
Scottish Censuses adding the 1871 (
1871 Scottish Census Online
) and 1891 ( 1891 Scottish Census Online
) censuses for Scotland to our collection. With 1841-1871 and 1891 now
available there’s only 1881 and 1901 still to go.
Family History For All – Website update.
We’ve added a few pages including ‘Ancestry.co.uk
News & Offers’ and ‘Family
team from Family History For All, get along to as many ‘Events’ as we can.
nice to meet some of our readers and website visitors at the Merseyside
and Cheshire Family History Fair, 11th March, held at Port
Sunlight on the Wirral.
Next month’s main article:
Name Meanings - Surnames.
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