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63 comments

  1. David Underdown

    I can explain (or attempt to) the lance corporal/private discrepancy. In the First World War lance corporal was an appointment, held by a private, not a substantive rank. This meant for example, that it was much easier for a lance corporal to be deprived of that title than a corporal. A lance corporal could be reverted purely administratively, he was appointed by the regimental CO (or possibly his squadron or troop leader) and if for whatever reason it wasn’t working out it could be taken away again (it was effectively a trial period to see if a man was suited to being an NCO). Once you actually made it corporal the only way you could be reduced to the ranks was via formal disciplinary action (it gets a bit more complicated as the high casualty rate meant people were often acting in higher ranks, but that’s the gist).

    Some records show rank, others appointment.

  2. David Matthew

    Very interesting article especially on the medal card problems, family historians weren’t thought about at that time. Medal cards are not always what they seem, there is a medal card for one of my ancestors who died 20 years earlier!, not surprisingly he didn’t receive any medals.

    It would be nice if the Ministry of Defence could release the records of those soldiers who served after 1920 and who have not been transferred to TNA. Hopefully by 1918 TNA will have been able to get everyone properly listed with full names and trying to research online is not easy as there are often two or three alternatives for the same person and of varying page numbers.

  3. David Matthew

    There was of course no TNA in 1918 but in 2018.

  4. David Underdown

    There was an interesting news release from the Western Front Association about some further WWI pension administration cards which the MOD is gifting to them, http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-current-news/pension-records.html (The WFA previously took custody of the original Medal Index Cards)

  5. Caroline James

    Or of course, leave your stories here!

  6. Marilyn Kinnon

    A brilliant idea (My Tommy) and a brilliant post. A great help to early researchers who lack the skills of research and the knowledge of what’s out there. Eg how can you research a record or collection if you do not know it exists!
    This idea could save the precious time of TNA professionals who currently provide support to early researchers?
    Keep it coming!

  7. Ian Smart

    L/Cpl is an easy rank to lose, either through badness or because you are holding it temporarily, (probably even more so in those days) so he may have been up and down between that and private

    Also while you would not have to be horsey to be in a mounted unit (full instruction was provided) the working horse was quite common in urban areas in those days (eg many butchers had a horse for deliveries) and being able to look after a horse was even more useful as a foundation for a good cavalry soldier than being able to ride him.

    If you have the 1937 Army Manual of Equitation and Horse Mastership on your shelves you will get a very good idea of all the things he had to learn in the army.

  8. Bob Hobden

    My own Grandfather was in the trenches in WW1 had his foot blown off and was picked up by the Germans. They mended him as best they could, better than British doctors could have done the British admitted, then repatriated him with his new German made artificial foot following some while later. Nothing in the National Archives about it or even about him. I wonder if the Germans have anything on his injury and his repatriation?
    Then there is my wifes grandfather, last seen by a friend marching over Waterloo Bridge, he seems to have simply dissappeared, his wife remarrying in 1916, again nothing in the National Archives.
    Anyone got any ides where I go now to trace these two men.

  9. Virginia Batty

    Excellent bit of reading, whilst poignant too!! I would love to research my grandfather’s time in the Merchant Navy during WW1 but have not had a lot of success with it but loved your story…very engaging!!

  10. Edward Reid-Smith

    The “rank” of Lance Corporal wasn’t dubious only in WW1. My service record shows that I did my National Service full-time 1950-1952; in 1951 I was on the course for sergeant-instructor in the Royal Army Education Corps as a Private. Soon, I was a “Local Acting Unpaid Lance Corporal”wearing one stripe, before promotion to “Paid Acting Sergeant” — unpaid to paid A/Sgt on the same day. My official service record shows promotion from Private to Sergeant in one go, ignoring L/A/U Lance Corporal because of the “local”. I don’t know whether it is still th same today, but as David Underdown said in his first comment, it was an administrative appointment at will (or at whim?).

  11. Deirdre Wogan

    Thoroughly enjoyed your blog. My Wogan grandfather was killed on 9 April 1918 and he too came from Bethnal Green. My father was born on the Mile End Road. My father was a regular soldier for many years [demobbed 1946] and he used to tell us some very amusing stories about promotions and demotions he had experienced – demotions usually for what was called “dumb insolence”.

    One of the things that struck me was the effect on those left behind and on succeeding generations of the loss of so many men in WW! – my grandmother was left with four boys under 11 and no income. She went out charring to support the family and died worn out, before I was born.

  12. Peter Culligan

    Great idea. Not only an interesting story but I find the comments added just as fascinating. Thanks

  13. Peter McGuire

    It is very interesting to hear about the research others are doing. I have discovered that my great-uncle Thomas Keelty joined the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. I think he volunteered when he turned 18 in 1915. He was born in Golborne, Lancashire in 1897 but his parents were Irish immigrants and he obviously kept strong links with Ireland. He served on the Western Front and was killed on 14 October 1918. He is buried at Cement House Cemetery, Langemarck, Belgium. His gravestone shows that he was awarded the Military Medal but I cannot find any mention of this on his Medal Card. Unfortunately the regimental records were destroyed during the Second World War. I would love to discover whether there is any way I could find out more about his medal and why it was awarded.

  14. Monica Russell

    Your blog is a brilliant idea and very helpful to people like me who are just starting out and have no great knowledge of what is available. It might help if you could say which of the sites are free or have a fee to pay. I have a great uncle who was a prisoner of war of the Germans but have no idea how to go about finding out any more about his story. Are there German records available somewhere?

  15. Keith_H

    Hi Monica,
    Your Great Uncle will be listed on the WW2 German POW listing. This can be accessed via the Ancestry website. It will state his name, rank, service number & his last camp name. The database is called “UK, British Prisoners of War, 1939-1945″. The following TNA website should be of interest:
    http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/research-guides/prisoners-war-1939-1953.htm

  16. Keith_H

    I have a Great Uncle, George Goldsmith, who joined the army at Stratford around about 9 September 1907. (You can work this out from the regimental number). He appears in barracks during the 1911 census, along with a man named Robert Mayersbeth.

    George was killed in action on 18 September 1914. He has no known grave, and the account from the War Diary suggests that when his battalion was caught out in the open, and exposed to a modern artillery barrage, many of the casualties were blown to smithereens.

    The first line of his Medal Index Card states that he was a Lance Corporal, and the second line states he was a private. It is interpreted that when he landed in France, he was a Private, and he held the appointment of Lance Corporal when he died. (His “oppo”, Charles Mayersbeth, had died on 26 August 1914, so he may well have taken his place.)

    The “Soldiers Who Died in the Great War” info will advise as to where your deceased relative had enlisted. It may be worth paying a visit to the Tower Hamlets local history & archives centre, to see if an obituary had made it into one of the local newspapers. (They have microfiche of old newspapers)

    http://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/lgsl/1001-1050/1034_local_history__archives.aspx

    It would appear that he is on the memorial at St Matthews church
    http://www.bethnalgreenwarmemorials.com/page9.htm

    George’s name, and civilian address, are recorded at Bethnal Green memorial library.

    His older brother Thomas, living in Haggerston, was conscripted into the Army. Four years later, on 18 September 1918, he was killed in action. The date of 18 September must have been painful for their mother for years to follow.

  17. Vera Brown

    Fascinating. Thank you for sharing your story. My Father was in the Scots Guards and awarded the military medal and bar. Luckily he survived–or i would not be here. Good hunting

  18. Keith_H

    Hello again,

    I made mention previously of service numbers. Chances are that your ancestor’s service record did not survive, but you can try and track down records of men who joined at the same time. (This is how I believe that George Goldsmith enlisted on or around 9 Sept 1907)

    Paul Nixon is an expert, and I came across the following:

    quote
    line cavalry was to re-number by the three corps: Dragoons, Hussars and Lancers.

    I am unsure of the precise date when this Order came into effect. The lowest numbers currently on my line cavalry databases are .. 104 (Lancers on 12th February 1907). Men already serving with the cavalry line regiments were not re-numbered
    unquote

    source: http://armyservicenumbers.blogspot.co.uk/2009/03/cavalry-numbering-1906.html

    127 Private Charles Alfred Hunt, 12th (Prince of Wales’s Royal) Lancers.

    I reckon that he joined in 1907/8, joined the regiment in Sialkot, then went to the Transvaal, and then Norwich in 1913

    http://web.archive.org/web/20071218150917/http://www.regiments.org/deploy/uk/reg-cav/d12.htm

    regards

  19. Caron Stuart-Cole

    Hi Caroline

    Thank you so much for sharing your story and family photos. Somewhere on the group photo of the 12th Lancers is my father-in-law Charles Stuart Cole Service No 12999.

    Caron

  20. Keith_H

    Hi Caroline,
    To conclude, on the subject of service numbers:

    104 enlisted on 12th February 1907
    122 is for the 2nd March 1907

    So, it appears that he enlisted in March 1907. Presumably he was in the UK for a year, then went to Sialkot? The other question which springs to mind is whether he served for seven years, came out in March 1914, and was recalled from the reserves in August 1914.

    You think you have one question answered, only to find that other questions get thrown up!

    PS I see The “Soldiers Who Died in the Great War” list states he enlisted in London

    Best wishes, Keith

  21. [...] a pearl of wisdom from the fictional detective Miss Marple, which I will quote later. The second is a recent comment made in response to a colleague’s post on this blog: ‘how can you research a record or [...]

  22. Richard Miller

    Hi Caroline,
    Just had a look through some of my paperwork last night.
    Firstly, the officer in the photo looks to me like Frank Wormald, the Commanding Officer, so I would guess at that being a ‘group’ – maybe all the JNCOs (Cpls & L/Cpls)?
    Secondly your great great uncle. He was part of C Squadron. On the afternoon of 25th August two troops of the squadron went forward, dismounted, into the village of Mecquignies to round up what was thought to be a small German patrol in an orchard. Unfortunately they came across a rather larger German force which was advancing and No 1 Troop under Lt Dan Moore were surrounded and most were killed or captured. Your uncle, ‘Mick’ Hunt, was in Lt Leche’s troop (No 4 I think) and during the ensuing fight as B & C Squadrons tried to extricate Moore’s troop he was hit twice and subsequently died of his wounds (hence date of death of 29 August). You might have a look at WO95/1125/1 which is the Cavalry Brigade Field Ambulance’s War Diary. I can’t remember if he is listed there – I suspect not, but there might be a hospital record. A number of the wounded were left with locals as the Retreat was in full swing so it may be he never got that far back. L/Cpl Totman was one of Moore’s troop who also died of wounds sustained in the same action, so I’d guess that Grand Seraucourt was where the medical facilities were or where they were left. Also killed were Auker, Plant, Collar and Johnson. C Squadron went on to participate in the action on the 28th near Cerizy which involved their charge at Moy, but I’m afraid that your uncle was already out of it. His namesake, Private AD Hunt, also in Lt Leche’s troop, was killed there. Hope that is of use.
    Best
    Richard

  23. Caroline James

    Hi Richard.
    Wow! I’m so grateful to you for providing all of this information. It’s incredible and so detailed – including the nickname ‘Mick’ – I have no idea where this might have come from.

    I never imagined when I posted this blog that I would get so much information on Charles. I’ll definitely check the records that you recommend.

    To answer your first question, I think the group photo was taken in South Africa. There is a pith helmet on a table, which you can’t see due to the crop for the blog. The sign to the left of the group says ‘Corporals’ Room.’ Also the style of gates (that you can’t quite see) and building, point to somewhere other than Norwich!

    I would be happy to share a better quality version of this image with you. I have another group photo that you might be interested in too.

    I also have a few questions I’d like to ask you. If you are happy to, then I can be contacted through marketing@nationalarchives.gsi.gov.uk

    Thanks again for making my day,
    Caroline

  24. PATRICK BUREK

    I have traced the relative of a friend in Australia who was killed in WW1. I found out he was also in the Boer War serving with the Imperial Infantry. They were mounted infantry and not as ‘glamorous’ as the cavalry. He was an apprentice lighterman from Poplar. I asked myself the same question as you did. What was an East End boy doing riding a horse?

  25. Grover

    Many thanks for the some interesting thoughts in your article on My Tommy’s War: An Eastender in the Lancers | The National Archives blog..
    Cheers

  26. Norman McKay

    Absolutely fascinating blog. Thank you. I am going to use your online form in the hope that you or someone can clear up a mystery about one of our relatives who was lost in WW1.

  27. Dr Trevor Purnell

    Hello Caroline,

    Very interested in your story. I am researching ‘Shoeing Smith’ J Dummer 3666 also of the 12th Royal Lancers. I too found him in the 1911 Census residing with his regiment in the Transvaal. If the Boer War finished in 1902 and the Lancers did not land in France until 1914, what were the Lancers doing until 1914. Obviously they were still in the Transvaal in 191, but performing what function. Grateful if anyone can fill in the history of the Lancers during the missing years from 1902 to 1914
    Many thanks and regards.
    TJP

  28. Alan Davidge

    Fascinating! I’ve just discovered that my Great Uncle, Albert Fisher Davidge was also in the 12th Lancers. He too came from the East End and was a barman when recruited in 1905 (he left in 1920 as a captain). The family were pub landlords in the East End and I too wondered not only how he managed to join the regiment but how he was promoted to captain. I understand it was a field commission which presumably indicates that he was good at what he did rather than born to privilege. He also won the MC in 1918.

    Any information would be welcome. The 9th/12th Lancers HQ in Leicester have been an enormous help and forwarded me all his military records. From these I discovered that, despite surviving the war, he came to an untimely end in 1935 from injuries received falling down steps at his public house/hotel in Northampton and sadly his widow was not entitled to a continuation of his pension.

  29. Jerry Murland

    Your great great uncle Charles Hunt was one of two privates who served with 12/Lancers, and who both died of wounds. Both men are buried in the small cemetery near Bavay. Totman and Hunt were more than likely casualties of the cavalry rearguard which took place at Mecquignies on 25 August.
    I have described this fight and the later engagement at Cerizy/Moy in my book ‘Retreat and Rearguard 1914′ – available on Amazon or from the publisher Pen and Sword Books.

  30. [...] unearthed the story of one of her own relatives in the World War I diaries, a man named Charles Alfred Hunt. She says that experience changed her [...]

  31. [...] unearthed the story of one of her own relatives in the World War I diaries, a man named Charles Alfred Hunt. She says that experience changed her [...]

  32. Claire Stoyle

    I also have a great uncle who survived the transvaal tournament in 1912 , he was one fo the few to come out – I also have a poem of the treacherous charge and the way the germans surrendered to let them pass and then opened fire

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