Finding the wounded: re-cataloguing First World War pension files

In the First World War, over 1.5 million British personnel were wounded, many of them more than once. Many of these individuals were discharged from the services with some form of pension. Files concerning these pensioners were still in existence until the latter part of the 20th Century but the vast majority were destroyed many years ago. What survives is held at The National Archives in record series PIN 26.

The first 203 files in PIN 26 were selected for preservation in the early 1970s. The sample – which was described at not ‘representative’ – was taken from some 7,000 linear feet of records that were still held by the Department of Health and Social Security at the time. 1

The catalogue descriptions of these first files were not particularly informative. Apart from an initial and the surname of the subject individual, the reasons for their inclusion in the pension records were given in an alphabetical code: this required conversion using the paper catalogue.

Entry for Sergeant Arnold Loosemore, Duke of Wellington's (West Riding Regiment)

Entry for Sergeant Arnold Loosemore, Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment)

Over the subsequent years the series grew to 22,829 pieces. Although the vast majority of the records relate to army other ranks, there are a considerable number of nurses, army officers, naval, mercantile marine and overseas pensioners.

The biggest change from the first 203 files was the improved description concerning the nature or cause of disability. Although many of these new descriptions were given in full, the abbreviated ones were more difficult to find when doing a search on Discovery, our catalogue.

Entries for several First World War soldiers including details headed 'Nature of Disability'

Entries for several First World War soldiers including details headed ‘Nature of Disability’

In 2007, the PIN 26 pension records were first identified as a series that would benefit from improved catalogue descriptions. However, it was not until mid-2016 that we were able to dedicate a team of our volunteer editors to work on the catalogue descriptions.

Now, with an active group of very keen and able volunteers, the re-cataloguing of whole of PIN 26 was a realistic prospect and were were keen to include it as one of The National Archives’ First World War centenary projects. After some initial work carried out by my colleague James Fleming, I took over the management of the project in October 2016.

With a manageable supply of PIN 26 files delivered to us every Tuesday, a group of some 20 volunteers completely transformed PIN 26 from what had been little more than a list of names. It is now a catalogue of over 22,829 names which is searchable by full name (where known), regiment or service, rank, regimental or official number and even cause of death or disability.

Detailed entry for Sergeant Arnold Loosemore, including details of the nature of his disability

Detailed entry for Sergeant Arnold Loosemore, including details of the nature of his disability

Entry for Private David Brennan, including details of the nature of his disability

Entry for Private David Brennan, including details of the nature of his disability

During the course of the project, the volunteers came across numerous x-rays in various states of decay; they also found a small number of files which, although in the correct boxes, had never been catalogued.

Due to excellent teamwork by the volunteers and a number of colleagues in various teams, the work on PIN 26 finished some three months early. With all of the information concerning names and other service details available in full, it is now possible to find out much more about the personnel it references. For example, you can find files relating to one individual across a number of different military records series. This is especially true for officers of the Royal Flying Corps, Royal Naval Air Service and Royal Air Force, where a record exists in PIN 26. So for example, Donald Mulholland can be found in PIN 26/22185, ADM 273/13/192 and AIR 76/362/51.

Read our research guides relating to First World War records.

Notes:

  1. 1. PRO 57/2122 ^

18 comments

  1. Justine Mukhopaia says:

    I believe that my mothers cousin Jack Keating served in the 1914/ 18 war. I have a photo of him in uniform, I don’t know which regiment, also one at the wedding of my grandparents in 1913. I think he was born in England (probably Manchester) of Irish parents. I can find no records of him and wonder if it is possible that he died due the Flu outbreak soon after the war. Are there any records kept regarding such deaths? I think many soldiers in a reduced health condition would succumb to the Flu

    1. Liz Bryant (Admin) says:

      Hi Justine,

      Apologies, we can’t help with research requests on the blog, but if you go to the ‘contact us’ page on our website – https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/contact-us/ – then you’ll see details of how to get in touch with our records experts by phone, email or live chat.

      Best regards,

      Liz.

    2. Rachel Bowen says:

      I think the amount of the pensions needs to be mentioned somewhere and how inadequate many of them were. My Father’s elder brother, Ifor Dewi Jones Bowen was wounded very seriously, a large part of his ‘belly’ having been destroyed, emasculating him and leaving him scarcely able to work. He was left for dead in an abandoned trench and found by some German soldiers who got him to a hospital. He recovered, but was emotionally scarred as well as physically. His pension was ten shillings a week, certainly not enough to live on. His wounds would often give him trouble and pain. In one bout of pain he displayed his stomach to my mother and myself, it looked as though it had been stirred up before the surface healed. He was just seventeen when he was wounded. The German prisoner of war hospital taught him sevearl handicrafts, including embroidery – I still have the embroidery hoop they gave him, and model making.
      I have more details of his life both in the Army and afterwards.

  2. Sue Ashby says:

    Looking for my grandad Arthur Glenn Howard from Canada and was in WW 1, was shot down and looked after in Derbyshire.

    1. Liz Bryant (Admin) says:

      Hi Sue,

      We can’t help with research requests on the blog, but if you go to the ‘contact us’ page on our website – https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/contact-us/ – then you’ll see details of how to get in touch with our records experts by phone, email or live chat.

      Best regards,

      Liz.

  3. Andrew Lankester says:

    I see that several files contained x-rays that are in various stages of decay. Are these being restored? I suspect that early x-rays were made of nitrates, similar to early movie films. Could the British Film Institute (BFI) help to restore them?

    Secondly, I understand that the Ministry of Defence turfed out over a million index cards to these pension records some years ago. At that point, TNA didn’t want them, so they passed them over to the western front association who promptly locked them all away in a warehouse in an undisclosed rural area in the middle of Wales? If anyone want to see these they have to pay a large fee for some one from WRASS… to get them for them.
    If TNA are now able to spend resources on volunteers to re-write the PIN 26 catalogue , can the same volunteers be employed in cataloguing these index cards? Could the same be done for file series MH 106 Ministry of Health. These are a representitive sample of the type of wounds that men received.
    I am particularly interested in this as my grandfather was wounded in the war but luckily survived.
    I would be interested in any comments you wish to make please? Many Thanks AJ Lankester 10 November 2017

    1. T Honeyman says:

      AJ Lankester makes a good point. These pension records index cards belong to the nation and the people in it and giving them to an albeit worthwhile body which then does nothing with them is unethical. Furthermore from a user point of view giving some to FindMyPast, some to Ancestry, some to Forces War Records etc etc makes it expensive and difficult to research. Some of these are not even UK based organisations. Why can it not digitise them itself and then charge as it does for war diaries etc? Time for the National Archives to rethink its policy in this respect

  4. Joan Bourgeois says:

    Good Evening,

    My GFather died Dec. 30th 1914 in France.

    Above is all I can find.

    George Smyth
    Royal Irish Rifles
    #9001
    ANY help, and advice would be greatly appreciated.
    Thank you,

    Joan Bourgeois – Canada

    1. Andrew Lankester says:

      Joan,
      You need to look for the ‘Online records’ that are accessable from the TNA front menue(right hand side) . Initially search the records of the Medal Index Cards (MIC). This will cost you (£) £3.50 for each record you access [Searching is free, but the costs kick in when you down load the record]. A quick search turned up 9 records for George Smyth Royal Irish Rifles. You really need his service number to ensure you have the right man. Next look for the Medal Roll through Ancestry – a family history data base – Military Records. Then look for the War Diary of the RI Rifles for the period he died. THese are also on line. TNA also have online research guides for the Army Good Luck
      Andy Lankester
      10 Nov 2017

    2. Theresa Stroud says:

      As you have his date of death and his regiment, look for him on Commonwealth Graves Commission website. This will give his battalion, service number and cemetery or memorial where he is honoured. It may also name a relative. Look at medal index cards, might give the date he went to France and which medals his next of kin would have received. You can try service records but only about 1 in 3 survived the bombing in WW2. Ancestry have free military records this weekend. WW1 Soldiers Effects on Ancestry is helpful as gives name of next of kin, will name a parent of an unmarried soldier or wife of a married soldier who then received money on behalf of the deceased soldier.

    3. Liz Bryant (Admin) says:

      Hi Joan,

      I’m afraid we can’t help with research requests on the blog, but if you go to the ‘contact us’ page on our website – https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/contact-us/ – then you’ll see details of how to get in touch with our records experts by phone, email or live chat.

      Best regards,

      Liz.

    4. Theresa says:

      Commonwealth Graves Commission has George Smyth, 1st Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, service number 9001, died 30/12/1914, husband of E. Evans (formerly Smyth) 6 George St, Newtonlands, Co. Down, buried Royal Irish Rifles Graveyard, Laventie, Pas de Calais. This website is free to access and has map and reference number to his grave. Ancestry.co.uk has George Smyth, reg no 9001 medal card for his 14 Star, Victory & British medals, also has UK Soldiers Died in the Great War, giving his birthplace as Shankhill, Co. Antrim. There are several George Smyth so check for correct regimental number 9001. Ancestry also has Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects naming his widow as Elizabeth. You should be able to find him on the 1901 & 1911 Irish census available free on internet but finding the right George Smyth may be difficult as many men with the same name.

  5. Andrew Lankester says:

    Apologies, I see that MH 106 catalogue descriptions have been enhanced since ‘Discovery’ was first set up some years ago. The descriptions on the previous catalogue system was rather sparce.

    1. Rachel Bowen says:

      Andrew Lankester – Sparse , not sparce

  6. sheena learmonth says:

    My Guncle James McFetridge l/cpl 10th Btn Argyle&Sutherland Higblanders was wounded at Loos and is believed to have had a leg amputated on the Battlefield. He was discharged
    in Perth in 1916. I would be interested to know where he received treament . He was fron Thornliebank and died in 1949.

    1. Liz Bryant (Admin) says:

      Hi Sheena,

      Unfortunately we can’t help with research requests on the blog, but if you go to the ‘contact us’ page on our website – https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/contact-us/ – then you’ll see details of how to get in touch with our records experts by phone, email or live chat.

      Best regards,

      Liz.

  7. Wendy Moore says:

    I’m interested in the Xray films as well. Is there any indication as to which hospital they came from? I’m writing about Endell Street Military Hospital in London.

  8. Brian Hill says:

    Disappointing to see the Western Front Association criticised for saving the WW1 pension records from destruction. This was and is a costly exercise and retrieval from such a vast number of records is by hand and done by volunteers. If a number of individuals records are required at one time, then the fee per record is very reasonable. We would all like them to be digitised and more easily available, but someone has to pay the cost. Critics should be grateful that the WFA has acted when no other body came forward.

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