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.
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.
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.
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.
- 1. PRO 57/2122 ^