Remembering our Tommies

You may not have noticed, as you pass through the reception area here at The National Archives, that we actually have two war memorials on site. One is, admittedly, a photograph of the original Public Record Office (PRO) memorial which still graces the walls of our former Chancery Lane premises. The other is the original memorial, brought here when the staff of His Majesty’s Stationery Office (HMSO), as it was known at the time, transferred. These memorials were erected by colleagues of the men who had died during and just after the First World War, and list the names of around fifty men.

A group shot of HMSO staff at the Government Forms Dept staff at Salford c1916-18, catalogue reference: STAT 20/290

A group shot of HMSO staff at the Government Forms Dept staff at Salford c1916-18, catalogue reference: STAT 20/290

Over the years, and particularly in recent months, staff here have been working to research the men listed, and we have been largely successful. We’ve identified all but a handful of the men and have gathered this information together in a list which you can download. This list is a summary of what we have been able to discover so far about the names on our two war memorials. Each man’s entry indicates whether he worked for the PRO or HMSO.

Help us find their descendents

Now that Remembrance Day is approaching, we’d like to track down descendants of these men, or others with a connection to them, and invite them to The National Archives at Kew on 11 November. Please do get in touch with us if you know about these men and would like to attend the event, either by email at firstworldwar100@nationalarchives.gov.uk or in the comments below. We will be observing the two minute silence at 11.00, and following this there will be a document display relating to some of the men listed on the memorials. I (Audrey) will also be speaking later in the afternoon on the civil service and the First World War. Equally, if you know anything about these men but are unable to come to Kew, please do get in touch as we’d love to hear more about them!

Our research has shown that there is a huge variety of experience and activity amongst our Tommies. There are recipients of the Military Medal and the Military Cross amongst them, men who served almost the entire duration of the war but who were killed in the final days, men who died as a result of injuries at home after the war, but whose colleagues clearly felt ought to be remembered in this way. There are clerks and porters and bookbinders and everything in between, family men and young men, barely out of boyhood. There are men who served in rank from private to company sergeant major, men from London and Edinburgh and Dublin and Manchester. We want to know about them all.

Yesterday marked the 100 year anniversary of the first death commemorated on our war memorials, that of Pte. Charles William Law, who served in the 1st Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment. Born in London in 1884, Charles can be found in the 1911 census, listing himself as the hall attendant at the Church of England Soldiers & Sailors Institute on Wellington Street, Woolwich. He married just three weeks later in Enfield, and he and his wife Florence Emily (neé Barber) had a son in May 1913, who was named after his father. Charles and Florence give an address in Drake Street, Enfield for a number of years, though other sources suggest he had a connection to Watford. Charles’ service record has not survived, though we know from his medal roll index card that he was awarded the 1914 Star, Clasp and the Victory and British War Medals.

Unit war diary for the Bedfordshire Regiment, catalogue reference WO 95/1570/1

Unit war diary for the Bedfordshire Regiment, catalogue reference WO 95/1570/1

Charles was killed in action along with seven officers and 139 other ranks. The Bedfordshires had been occupying Givenchy for most of the previous two days and the unit war diary shows that there was heavy bombardment throughout the day. The returning officer observed that ‘practically every house in the village was damaged’ and that the area ‘surrounding the church was continually shelled. The smoke of the shells and dust from falling houses made it impossible to see clearly what was going on in the flanks.’ It is clear that it was a tough day for the Bedfords and for the Norfolk and Dorset Regiments who were near the village. Charles is commemorated at the Le Touret Memorial, as well as here at Kew.

This information comes from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and individual service records (where they survive). This has been supplemented with details from a number of other sources including:

Where no information at all is shown we have been unable to identify an individual with certainty.

We really hope to meet people with a connection to these men on November 11, to join in our commemorations.

16 comments

  1. colleen worley says:

    Hi,
    I have a very sketchy (is that a word) of my granddad who my dad (now passed away) told us of how proud he was as a lad, of his dad who was with the Nottingham Hussars.He used to ride the front horse with the cannon behind. My dad said you could see the sparks from the hoffs of the horses on the cobbled street. He was gassed in the 1st World War survived for afew years, but I never saw him get out of bed. I would be so greatful if you could find anything about this so courageous man who served and never said Why me? he just thought of it has his duty
    His name was William Southall married to Mary(but everyone knew her as Liza?) nee Holden from Bloomsbury Road, Nottingham.
    Anything would mean the world to me.
    Many Thanks Colleenxx

    1. Audrey Collins says:

      Colleen, sadly, it isn’t always possible to find a detailed infromation on a lot of soldiers. This is because around two thirds of the records were destroyed by enemy action during the Second World War. Have a look at our guide on how to get started, which shows you how to search in the surviving records.
      http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/looking-for-person/britisharmysoldierafter1913.htm
      If William Southall’s record doesn’t survive, don’t despair, you may be able to piece together something of his history from a variety of other sources. We’ve been able to do this with some of the names we researched, even where there is no service record. With limited resources, we have only been able to use records that are held here, or that are easily accessible online, but there are all kinds of other places you can look for information; local libraries and archives may hold publications such as a local Roll of Honour, or similar. Local newspapers and parish magazines, records of schools and workplaces are just some of the records you might like to consult. And of course regimental museums can be wonderful sources of background information, even if they don’t hold anything that mentions your ancestor by name. Finally, it’s worth contacting local history and family history societies, who may be working on projects of their own in the locality. Good luck with your research.

  2. Simon Fowler says:

    It is worth contacting the Bedfordshire Record Office as they have records of the Bedfordshire Regiment. They may well have additional information about Charles Law.

  3. Andre Palfrey-Martin says:

    As we get closer to 24 October, I think back 100 years, because it was on that day in 1914, that 2nd Battalion Wiltshire Regiment suffered almost annihilation, when the War Diary was written, a daily record that was kept of all actions, it recorded that more than 450 Officers and ORs were reported Missing, and it would be much later that more details emerged as to the exact nature of that action. Why is this date so important to me, quite simply this, My late Grandfather 8639 [5564007] Pte Fitchett, A.L., was one of those captured on that day, and would spend the rest of the War in Germany P.O.W Camps. He was eventually repatriated back to Britain just in time for Christmas 1918.
    Much of the documentary details I have discovered at the NA, where such sets of records as ” The Burnt” Records of Service can be viewed, War Diaries and Maps of the actions and in this case the actual after action report that was completed whilst in captivity, by Lt Col Forbes – Commanding Officer 2 Wilts.
    If your interested in knowing more about your family or just have a keen interest in the War, I would recommend a search of just what is in the NA, and the Friends are always on hand, as the excellent staff to help.

  4. Sue Stafford says:

    My greatest wish is that you would go back to the original records and make an index with the FULL names (not just their initials) of the people on the Commonwealth War Graves website. When you are seeking John Edward Smith and the index has hundreds of references to J. Smith how do you know which one is right?
    Also the same applies to the Service records for WW1. Please can someone make a proper index?
    Can someone also make an index to the NAMES in War Diaries? Then we would know which one had information about our family members.

  5. Keith Armstrong says:

    I am trying to locate any records for my uncle, Harry William Hobart Armstrong of Ashford Middlesex. He was born 1893. He would have been 21 in 1914. He served in the Army in France and lost one lung and one kidney. I don’t know if these were due to illness or injury. He died in 1949.

    I should like to know if any record exists for him.

    1. Deb nowell says:

      H.W.H. Armstrong, of the 7th Middlesex Regt, reg. no. 204179, Pte., was discharged on 29.6.1917, cause: sick, p. 392 XVI, K.R.
      Enlisted 8.12.14
      Harry was b. 1893 . Died 14 Feb 1949. 197 Argyll Rd.m Ealing, Left £793 in will- admin. By Mercia Isabel Louise Armstrong and Anne Eleanor Armstrong, widows.
      1901 census: parents Harry and Annie E., 229 London Rd.,
      Brother Charles, b 1900,
      1911 census- Harry is errand boy, brother George and sister Rosalind
      May have Married Olive E Goddard in 1922
      Polling records have him living on own 1923-1925 at 16 shalinar Rd., Acton
      These are ancestry.com search results- I have no further info- no proof these are same people-
      I come from a different line of Armstrongs,
      Hope this helps

  6. Deb nowell says:

    Oops, sorry if I stepped out of line, for this blog- won’t happen again

    1. Alexa Phillips says:

      Hi Deb,

      You haven’t stepped out of line at all – it’s always great when commenters can help out other commenters with their research questions! So thank you for that.

      Alexa

  7. Gary Wimbush says:

    Hi,
    I’m looking for records of my grand dad who was on the Somme in the war with the
    14th battalion Hampshire Regiment, he was a stretcher bearer and got wounded
    3 times, his name was Gillbert George Hatlee, and reg number was 18Y18
    he was born 1884 in Portsmouth

    I hope you can help me, thanks Gary

    1. Alexa Phillips says:

      Hi Gary,

      Unfortunately we can’t respond to research questions on the blog, but if you would like help then you can call or use our chat service. All the details on how to do this are on our contact page: http://apps.nationalarchives.gov.uk/Contact/

      Good luck with your research!

      Alexa

    2. Deb nowell says:

      Hi, Gary
      I can get you started. Pte. Gilbert George HATTEE ( notice misspelling) , regt no. 18718, served with the 15th, 2nd and 14th units of the Hampshire regt. He received the cictory medal and the Medal, in lists of 1919.
      In 1911, he lwas eldest son of widow Mary Elizabeth Hatlee, age 49 , b. In Gosport.
      . Amazingly ,, she had 16 children of whom 3 were alive, in 1911 census. G.G. Was 26. Mabel Alfreda,12 and Leonard Albert,8.
      Mary was a general dealer in sweets and gricery, on her own account, from home. G.G. was a train conductor with Portsmouth corp Tramways.
      Cecil., 7 Lillian Jessie, 7 and Leonard, 12, SIMS were living with their aunt, as well as a boarder named John Boswell, 27, bookmaker, works from home.

    3. Deb nowell says:

      GG Hatlee , pensioners record card. Date of board- 21/3/19 ———WO 364
      Pte. Gilbert Geo. HATLEE 14 th Hamts 18718, b 1884
      Examined on 3/7/15 , no ailments, Fit,
      Date enlisted- 6/7/15 date discharged 22/4/19
      Invalid disability- gsw (gunshot wound) left leg, on 14/10/18 caused by active service
      20% for six months- degree of disablement. 5/6 pension/wk.,children allowance is 3/2
      No other disabilities
      Medical report- AFB entrance wound inner side lower 1/3 left calf scar 1 1/2 in. Long recently healed, to deeper structures
      Foot- same level – no loss of movement
      Heart and lungs normal. GSW shoulder . GSW left handxxxx xxxx fingers

  8. Robert Hannah says:

    For the past month I have been working on the list of 330+ names on the Buckhaven and Methil War Memorial. I am trying to fill in more detail behind the name – he or she was a person who had a life before they signed up for military service. As well as the usual sources I have found a single month’s subscription to the British Newspaper Archive has given me more insight into the person eg a champion pigeon fancier, a member of a local band or orchestra, a teacher at a local school etc etc. For Scots, the Scottish National War Memorial web site is also useful. My biggest challenge is those who volunteered from the Mercantile Marine as I cannot find a comprehensive source. I am also working through the local cemetieries lists from Commonwealth Graves – that throws up its own intrigues and interesting tales. Hopefully, I will get all this info online over the coming months.

  9. Derek Tunnington says:

    My Dad, Joe Tunnington, York Regt, 20657 Was seriously wounded in the Somme battle and spent the rest of his life invalid and in pain. According to family legend he was wounded when rescuing a comrade “beyond the barbed wire”. He was mentioned in dispatches but I assume his records were destroyed in WW2., so our story may or may not be true. He never spoke of the horrors he witnessed, but told us of the funny(?) side of life in the mud! Bruce Bairnsfather was his favourite “Officer”!. Unfortunately, I never thought to ask his contemporaries for details of his experiences. Now, of course it is too late. I remember as a small child during the Depression of the late ’20s and 30s, how ex-servicemen were left to fend for themselves with little Govt. support.

  10. Sharon Peppard says:

    Hi Gary
    My name is Sharon, I’m researching Gilberts wife Alice (Dean), your grandmother – She is my great aunt. Really keen to get in touch with you. I’m not sure how we can do this through the blog?

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