It has been almost two years since we launched our My Tommy’s War blog series with My Tommy’s War: An Eastender in the Lancers, a blog about my great-great uncle Charles Hunt. I had no idea then of the personal journey I was about to embark on and how much I would discover about a man who had died in the opening days of the First World War.
The premise of My Tommy’s War is simple; to follow staff of The National Archives as they research their First World War ancestors during the centenary period, sharing hints and tips along the way. Like most people I began with sparse information about Charles, gleaned mainly from two medal cards and a handful of photographs. I shared the same frustrations as many of you at having no surviving service record as it was destroyed in the Second World War, leaving me to piece together Charles’s history from disparate and scattered information. As a result, my first blog was mainly a list of questions and ‘what if’s’ based on the history of his regiment – 12th (Prince of Wales’s) Lancers and the knowledge that Charles was from the East End of London.
What I have found out in the intervening 18 months has astounded me. In this follow-up blog I’ve tried to capture as much as I can of my journey to discover Charles, highlighting records and resources that might be most useful to anyone undertaking their own research. I’ve also given advice based on my experience of how to go beyond archives to find and piece together the history of a ‘Tommy’.
I cannot stress how important it is to explore all archives, records and resources in researching your ancestor and to share their story as widely as you can. There are many ways to do this, including IWM’s Lives of the First World War, The Royal British Legion’s Every Man Remembered and requesting that your ancestor’s name be read out in the Roll of Honour, part of The Tower of London Remembers series. I did this for Charles and his name was read out on 7 August 2014. You could also approach the regimental museum of your ancestor or get involved with your local Family History society to see what records they have and what activity they are planning to mark the First World War centenary.
As you read on, you’ll see that I’ve learned so much about Charles that I keep thinking it’s impossible to find out anything else. But each time I think that, something new comes along to surprise me. I can’t wait to find the next piece of the puzzle of the life of my great, great uncle Charles, a man who was so determined to join the army that he enlisted twice; a man who died trying to save his comrades; a man with childhood friends who kept his memory alive to their children; a man who was missed and mourned by his pals from his regiment and by his family back home. Importantly for me, Charles is the man whose story has put a human face to the First World War. For that I will be forever thankful to him.
I hope you find what follows useful and that it helps you find your own Tommy. Don’t leave them to languish in the anonymity of records. Find them, claim them and remember them.
They deserve it. Continue reading »