Category Archives: Remembrance

Missing Believed Killed: Casualty Policy and the Missing Research Enquiry Service 1939-1952 by Stuart Hadaway

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that has ever shed such light on something that I have worked on in the past. I’ve written about plenty of men – particularly airmen – who were lost during the Second World War – and reading about the work of the Missing Research Enquiry Service has helped me gain a much better understanding of the process involved in tracing missing men during and after the war. I guess it’s one of those things that we don’t tend to think about too much, but how did we get from the height of the war, with thousands of men being lost in action – many of fate unknown – to the neatly-kept Commonwealth War Cemeteries and Memorials to the Missing of today?

As the war was ongoing, the RAF maintained a Casualty Branch that dealt with information about men lost - either killed, taken prisoner or missing – over enemy territory. This involved collating intelligence – in some cases from the enemy via the Red Cross – to maintain personnel records, and inform next of kin. Many bereaved relatives of course received a terse Government Service telegram. But it is the fate of those thousands of missing airmen that concerns us most in this book. Early in the war it was recognised that the RAF’s apparatus for tracing missing airmen was inadequate – hence the birth of the Missing Research Section in 1941. Collecting and collating intelligence reports from a variety of sources, this information provided a basis for post-war inquiries.

With the liberation of Europe ongoing, in December 1944 the MRS was expanded into the Missing Research and Enquiry Service, and small teams were sent to France and then the rest of Europe to gradually seek the missing men. Initially the MRES consisted of only 14 men, which was soon found to be nowhere near enough. With 42,000 men missing in Europe alone, this was quite some task.

One thing that really struck me is how few people were working in this field, and dealing with so many cases. And it was extensive work – travelling, working on intelligence, talking to locals, and being present at exhumations. It certainly wasn’t a job for the faint of heart. Thousands of men were lost over thousands of square miles of Europe, let alone other continents such as South East Asia, which posed problems all of its own.

The manner in which some men were identified is quite intriguing. For the most part, RAF identity discs perished quickly in soil, so identification was left to items such as uniforms, rings, or even paperwork that had survived stuffed in pockets. It was detective work of the highest order, which in some respects a historian of war casualties can both sympathise with and admire.

I think especially of men such as Flight Lieutenant Patrick McCarthy DFC and Flight Sergeant Francis Compton DFM, men who were shot down over occupied Europe and must have gone through the process of having their crash sites and burial locations being traced and identified by the MRES.

This is a fascinating book, full of anecdotes. As I mentioned in my introduction, I can’t remember the last time I learnt so much from one book about a subject I knew very little about, and a subject that I should know a lot about at that. It certainly adds to my grasp of researching ‘missing’ airmen, and adds a vital puzzle to understanding their stories.

Missing Believed Killed is published by Pen and Sword

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First names inscribed on Portsmouth’s Second World War Memorial

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the first batch of names on Portsmouth’s Second World War Memorial have been inscribed recently.

I haven’t had a chance to read through the panel in detail yet, but upon first glance it looks like most if not all of the several hundreds missing names I submitted are there.

Among them is my great-uncle, Leading Stoker Thomas Henry Daniel Daly who died after the SS Laconia was torpedoed in 1942.

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War Graves desecrated in Benghazi

I’m absolutely appalled by the footage of armed men desecrating British war graves in Benghazi in Libya. Click here to watch.

Footage on the BBC website shows a large group of armed men – accompanied by what appears to be a reasonably professional film crew – smashing numerous CWGC grave stones. A man is then shown climbing a ladder to try and damage the cross of sacrifice that is present in all larger cemeteries. One gravestone is clearly seen to be engraved with a star of David, denoting that it is the grave of a Jewish serviceman. At no point does anybody seem to stop them, least of all the camera crew. The group act calmly and casually – this is not the work of a few idle youths.That it was filmed does suggest that it was organised. Of course the Libyan Government has condemed the attacks, but did they do enough to stop them? Will they do enough to stop them in future? I’m intrigued about who exactly the film crew were.

War graves in Libya have been pretty inaccessible for many years, since Colonel Gaddafi came to power. One Portsmouth man is buried in Beghazi – Bombardier Henry Herbert, aged 22 who was killed on 8 January 1942 serving with 51 Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery. The CWGC have confirmed that graves have been damaged, and will be carrying out a full survey soon.

Desecrating war graves is a particularly cowardly thing to do. Especially considering British servicemen have done a lot to help ordinary Libyans, both during the Second World War when the Eight Army fought to push back both the Italians and the Germans, and in the past year or so when NATO forces helped the overthrow Colonel Gaddafi. It is a cowardly thing to do, because the man buriede beneath the gravestone cannot fight back. And more important than that, a war grave is deserving of respect, no matter who is buried there. A person who died doing their duty deserves dignity and peace regardless of the uniform that they wore, or the mistakes of their political masters.

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Thoughts on War Memorials

Given my recent work researching names on War Memorials, I have been thinking about the history of War Memorials themselves.

Of course, they are important – anything that helps us remember the sacrifices of generations past cannot be a bad thing. But then again, are there aspects of the war memorial in popular culture that, in a non-intentional way, limit our remembrance? Are they a convenient way of shoeboxing remembrance? Are they a relic of Victorian and Edwardian fascination with grief?

Think about it. A certain place in a town is the place where we remember fallen heroes. Does that mean that we don’t remember them anywhere else? I guess its like Armistice Day – why should we only remember them one day a year out of 365? Does that mean that they don’t matter for the other 364?

In another sense, there is also something quite limiting about war memorials, in that very often they only show the name, or in some cases, only initials. And of course, unless you knew them, can lists of unknown names really be ‘remembered’? Does it encourage us to think ‘thats their names, they’re remembered’ and leave them there, when in actual fact, we can’t remember them if we know nothing about them in the first place?

Of course I’m not suggesting that we tear down war memorials. They are a part of our heritage. But in the modern world, with technology and no end of information at our fingertips, why limit remembrance to names in stone? We say ‘we will remember them’, and that they won’t be forgotten, but surely if all we know is someone’s name and thats about it, then they’re virtually forgotten anyway?

 

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Lest we Forget

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Memorial plaques to Portsmouth’s Blitz dead stolen

I’ve just read something pretty disappointing on the Portsmouth News website. Apparently thieves have stolen plaques from a memorial in Kingston Cemetery, remembering victims of the Blitz in Portsmouth.

http://www.portsmouth.co.uk/news/local/east-hampshire/i_hope_and_pray_the_thieves_see_the_error_of_their_ways_1_3005015

The memorial is granite, and around 1.5 metres high, with four plaques listing over 120 names, including many whose bodies could not be identified. The inscription reads:

“Erected to the memory of those men, women and children both known and unknown who died as a result of enemy bombing on this city and whose last resting place is near this spot.”

What really makes me sad about this is that either the thieves managed to prize the metal from the memorial in broad daylight (you can drive around the cemetery, so perhaps they took a van right up to it), or they did it at night when the Cemetery is closed. It is locked at dusk, because I have almost been locked in before (my Grandad was once years ago). I doubt very much whether people who are willing to go to those lengths will be too bothered about defacing a war memorial, sadly. Many of my family were in Portsmouth during the blitz, they could very easily have been killed and their names ended up on these plaques. A memorial is the same as a grave, and to steal a memorial is like grave-robbing.

It’s by no means the first time that metal has been robbed from a war memorial – perhaps the most high profile case is that of the Naval Memorial in Portsmouth, where one large bronze plaque was taken from the memorial on Plymouth Hoe. We are told that the price of scap metal is at an all-time high at the moment, and certainly there have been a lot of thefts of lead from School, museum and church roofs in the last couple of years. And then theres the theft of copper railway signal cabling.

One has to look at scrap metal dealers in this kind of situation. Someone, somewhere, will be no doubt receiving some big lumps of metal that are quite obviously from a war memorial. If scrap metal dealers had more scruples about what they accepted from dodgy characters out the back of vans, then people wouldn’t bother going out and nicking it in the first place. For me, it is time legislation got tough with the scrap metal industry.

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Commonwealth War Graves horticulture survey

Gravestones in Ypres Town Commonwealth War Gra...

The kind of scenery that makes the CWGC famous (Image via Wikipedia)

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission are once again asking for the public’s views on the horticulture of their Cemeteries.

Despite stating that there are no pre-conceived agendas, the questions in the survey are very leading. Namely, how would you feel about their being less flowers and shrubs, grass that isn’t green or isn’t mown so regularly, or no grass at all?

It points in two directions for me – one, a desire to cut costs. This is kind of understandable in the current economic climate, but surely there are better ways of cutting deficits than cheapening war cemeteries? Secondly, the CWGC has in recent years had a climate change agenda that it can’t seem to let go of. Try as they might – and they have – gravel in war cemeteries looks bloody awful. It’s a cemetery, not a car park.

If you want to protect that traditional CWGC cemetery – commonly regarded as the most moving and well-kept war cemeteries in the world – follow the link below:

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Wootton Bassett to be given Royal prefix

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A cortege passes through Wootton Bassett (Image by stuff_and_nonsense via Flickr)

The town of Wootton Bassett is to be known as ‘Royal Wootton Bassett’, the Prime Minister announced earlier today. The honour has been personally approved by the Queen.

David Cameron told the House of Commons that the Queen had agreed to the tribute as “an enduring symbol of the nation’s admiration and our gratitude to the people of that town”. He also told MP’s:  “Their deeply moving and dignified demonstrations of respect and mourning have shown the deep bond between the public and our armed forces.”

Mary Champion, Mayor of Wootton Bassett, said: “This is a great honour for our community as the repatriations move away from Wootton Bassett.Whilst we have never sought recognition for our simple act of respect I am certain that this will serve to reinforce the pride and gratitude we feel for the members of our armed services who will always be in our thoughts.”

Fallen British servicemen and women are repatriated from Afghanistan to nearby RAF Lyneham. A cortege – and there have been over 150 of them to date- then carries them through Wootton Bassett on their way to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, via the M4. Initially the corteges drove through the quiet streets. Then several ex-servicemen turned out with medals to pay their respects, and before long the whole town was coming out to mark the return of fallen servicemen and women. Now, thousands of people travel from all round the country to pay their respects, in what has become an incredibly moving ritual. Its impossible not to be moved by the sight of so many people lining the streets.

RAF Lyneham is due to close in 2012, however, and as from September this year repatriation flights will be moving to RAF Brize Norton. This is a fitting tribute for a remarkable town in modern British history, and is only the third time that a town has been given the royal prefix, after Royal Leamington Spa and Royal Tunbridge Wells. Bognor was granted the suffix ‘Regis’ by George V after he recovered from illness in the town. It is thought that initially the people of Wootton Bassett had refused the honour, but that the looming closure of RAF Lyneham has fortunately brought about a rethink. I’m glad – it puts down a lasting marker for history.

I think its fair to say that until recently the British Government – and indeed the British public – did not really get remembrance. Sure, we all wore our poppies every November, but when the Iraq War took place in 2003 the vast majority of people felt a serious disdain for the then Government and how it committed the military to action on very dubious grounds. There was a very real risk of the reputation of the military becoming entangled in that, and the remembrance of today’s casualties could have so easily been forgotten.

Yet alongside initiaties such as Help for Heroes, Wootton Bassett has been at the forefront of a real shift in British culture. There is a very clear dividing line now between what we think of the Government on the one hand, and what we think of our serving sailors, soldiers and airmen on the other. People really do care now about our men and women on the front-line. The last time you could have really felt this was back in 1982 immediately after the Falklands War. It must make a world of difference to know that millions of people back home really do give a damm about you.

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A research-based dilemma…

I’m currently in the phase of doing some more primary research for my book on Portsmouth’s Second World War dead. I’ve been looking at doing some research in the Archives of a small, independent military Museum (line infantry Regiment, shall we say). I enquired by email about visiting the Museum to do some research…. no problem. The cost though? £25… AN HOUR! So for a days research, which is the minimum I would need, I would be looking at something in the region of £150! That would be a sizeable percentage of the total money I would make out of selling the maximum print run of my book!

I just think its wrong. All I want to do is write about some brave men who didn’t make it home, but I’ll now have to do it without the help of their Regimental Museum. I know its expensive to run Museums – hell, I know that more than anyone, I pay the bills and process the income for six – but why charge such a prohibitively high cost? If you need to make money, think outside the box and get your income generation hat on rather than hitting people who are trying to do good work. It obviously doesn’t cost £25 an hour to have somebody visit to do research, so why penalise? It’s not as if researchers ever make money out of what they do… only the big-shot historians like Max Hastings or Anthony Beevor really make any money. At best I’m looking at covering my costs. At best.

I always thought the idea of the Regimental Museum was to preserve the memory of those who have died serving with it? Or am I missing a trick – is it that some Museum’s just don’t want any tom, dick or harry turning up poking their noses in, so they set the costs prohibitively high? I’m just at a loss to understand why there is such a barrier to access, study and commemoration. And especially with budget cuts, institutions will be unable to carry out research and projects that they might like to, making it all the more important to encourage and enable individuals to do so instead.

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The location of War Graves: some aspects considered

My map of Portsmouth War Graves locations gives a pretty interesting insight not only into the conduct of the war between 1939 and 1945, but also into other factors, such as the policy of the War Graves registration units and the CWGC. Thinking about these issues helps us place in context war casualties, and probably goes a long way to solving a lot of mysteries about the location of war graves.

You can see from the location of War cemeteries and individual war graves where most of the heavy fighting took place – Northern France, in particular Normandy and the Pas-de-Calais, Belgium and southern Holland, Italy, North Africa, in particular Tunisia and Egypt, and the Far East, especially Burma, Thailand and India.

There are also some interesting variances in policy, it would seem. In some theatres, there are a large number of smaller cemeteries. In Normandy, for example, there are a relatively high number of war grave locations. In Burma and Thailand, however, almost all men were reburied in larger central cemeteries, even if they were some distance from their original burial site.

RAF casualties are also commemorated differently. Army dead were usually buried in larger war cemeteries, even if it meant exhumation and reburial after the war. Indeed, most men killed in action on land were invariably buried in a field grave near to the site of their death, and the details recorded for later reburial.

On the other hand if a Bomber crashed over occupied territory its dead crewmembers were almost always buried in the local churchyard, and most remain there to this day. Therefore many burials in parts of France, Belgium and Holland are in small local churchyards. You can almost plot the flight routes from their locations in relation to that nights target. Almost all Bomber sorties – and there were many from 1942 onwards – had to fly over parts of Northern France, Belgium or Holland. And these were where the Kammhuber line defences swung into action.

A large proportion of Portsmouth men are buried in Italy – this is due to the presence of four Battalions of the Hampshire Regiment in the Italian Campaign, compared to only two in North West Europe from Normandy onwards.

You can also tell how far-flung British forces were during the war years. Servicemen are buried in outposts such as The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Australia and New Zealand. None of these countries saw any fighting, but they were important stopping off points, for Royal Navy ships or for convoys. A number of British airmen are also buried in the US and in Canada – they were almost certainly there for training, and died either in accidents or of illness.

But by far the most casualties are buried at home in Britain. They died at home of natural causes, illness, wounds received in action, or were victims of Bombing while on leave. Normally the authorities allowed families to bury their dead in their local cemetery – and happened with my Great-Uncle – but there do seem to have been exceptions. For example, the dead recovered from the sinking of the Royal Oak were buried in a nearby churchyard – the public health implication of transporting a large number of bodies around Britain from Scap Flow did not bear thinking about.

I also suspect that where men were the victims of explosions, for example, they were buried quickly in a local cemetery rather than being handed over to the family. This may have been to prevent the family from having to go through the ordeal of seeing the body. Also, when a large number of people were killed in one go – say in a bombing raid, for example – the priority of the authorities was to safely bury bodies to prevent disease spreading.

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Using Google Maps to plot War Cemeteries

I had a brainwave whilst browsing google maps the other day. Why not use the drop-pin feature on Google Maps to plot the location of War Cemeteries where Portsmouth casualties are buried?

Using the CWGC‘s directions, and with a bit of searching, I have begun to plot the locations of a number of war cemeteries, beginning with Germany, Belgium, Czech Republic, Poland, Algeria, Tunisia, and some of the Far Eastern Countries.

Hopefully its something I will be able to use to help people locate exactly where they relatives are buried. It also helps us appreciate how the war was fought – in what countries, and the locations of war cemeteries as campaigns were fought.

Take a look at my customised map here.

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The Squires Brothers

OK, I know I’m supposed to be working on my book on Portsmouth’s WW2 dead, but I thought I would ring the changes for a day by doing a bit of work on my parallel WW1 database. And just in processing a few names in the S’s, I found three brothers from Landport who were all killed during the Great War.

Rifleman Albert Thomas Squires was serving with the 1/8th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment in Palestine when he was killed on 19 April 1917. He has no known grave and is remembered on the Jerusalem Memorial.

Private Charles Squires was serving with the 4th Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment in the Ypres Salient when he was killed on 9 October 1917. He has no known grave and is remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial.

Lance Corporal Harry Reeeves Squires was serving with the 2nd Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment when he was killed on 24 August 1917. He is buried in Dozinghem Cemetery, near Poperinghe in Belgium. Dozinghem was used as a burial ground by Casualty Clearing stations set up to treat wounded from the 1917 offensive in Ypres, better known as Passchendaele. This would suggest that he died of wounds. Harry Squires was awarded a posthumous Military Medal, announced in the London Gazette on 16 October 1917.

Thus John and Ellen Squires, of Landport, lost three sons within the space of six months.

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They died on Christmas Day (1914-1919)

Last year on Christmas Day I made a blog post about the men from Portsmouth who were killed on Christmas Day during the Second World War. Out of 2,549 men and women, 3 men died on 25 December.

Yet when I went to search through my WW1 Database, something remarkable transpired. Not one man out of the 2,101 I have so far researched died on Christmas Day between 1914 and 1919. Given the extreme number of casualties suffered by the British Army on the Western Front and elsewhere, this is quite a surprise to say the least.

Many men did die very close to Christmas, however:

Private Arthur Frederick Merriot, 1st Bn Gloucestershire Regiment, 19 and from Boulton Road, Southsea. Killed on 23 December 1914, and remembered on the Le Touret Memorial.

Private Edward Victor Emis, 2nd Bn South Staffordshire Regiment, 20 and from Forton Road, Kingston. Killed on 26 December 1914, and remembered on the Le Touret Memorial.

Driver Sidney John Walter Budden, 5th ‘C’ Reserve Brigade Royal Field Artillery, 22 and from Craswell Street, Landport. Died on 26 December 1916, buried in Kingston Cemetery, Portsmouth.

Bombardier William Davey, Royal Field Artillery, from Lucknow Street, Fratton. Killed on 24 December 1917, buried in Kingston Cemetery, Portsmouth.

Corporal N.S. Gibson, 1/4th Bn Hampshire Regiment, 24 and from Eastleigh. Killed on 26 December 1917, buried in Baghdad North Gate War Cemetery.

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Portsmouth WW2 Dead: Foreign Fields

I’ve been working on a list of the Cemeteries where Portsmouth’s WW2 Dead are buried. Now I’ve completed the database of names, the idea is to try and build up as much information about each person as possible. I know some people might think that grave photographs are slightly macabre, but I’ve heard some really touching stories. In one case, a woman had never seen her fathers grave as it was on the other side of the world, and somebody who collected grave photographs of his Regiment was able to forward her a picture of her fathers grave. Hopefully I might be able to do something similar for the men and women from Portsmouth who died in the Second World War.

This is a list of all of the Cemteries ABROAD where men are buried, and the Memorials where men with no known grave are commemorated. I would be very grateful indeed if anybody would be able to help in obtaining photographs from some of these locations. I appreciate of course that some of the countries – Burma, Libya, Iraq, Zimbabwe etc – are slightly inaccesible! I can produce a list of the men buried in each of the Cemeteries, along with names, grave reference and all other information.

Algeria

Bone War Cemetery, Annaba

Dely Ibrahim War Cemetery

El Alia Cemetery

La Reunion War Cemetery

Le Petit Lac Cemetery

Australia

Sydney War Cemetery

Rookwood Crematorium, Sydney

Austria

Klagenfurt War Cemetery

Bahamas

 Nassau War Cemetery

Bangladesh

 Maynamati War Cemetery

Belgium

Aaigem Communal Cemetery

Adegem Canadian War Cemetery

Assesse Communal Cemetery

Avelgem Communal Cemetery

Brussels Town Cemetery

Chievres Communal Cemetery

Comines (Komen) Communal Cemetery

Coxyde Military Cemetery

Dinant (Citadelle) Military Cemetery

Enghien (Edinghen) Communal Cemetery

Florennes Communal Cemetery

Gosselies Communal Cemetery

Heverlee War Cemetery

Leopoldsburg War Cemetery

Ooike Churchyard

Oostduinkerke Communal Cemetery

Schoonselhof Cemetery

Burma

Kohima War Cemetery

Rangoon War Cemetery

Rangoon Memorial

Taukkyan War Cemetery

Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery

Canada

Grand Prairie Cemetery

Yarmouth (Mountain) Cemetery

Halifax (Camp Hill) Cemetery

Halifax Memorial

Goderich (Maitland) Cemetery

Ottawa Memorial

Saskatoon (Woodlawn) Cemetery

Czech Republic

Prague War Cemetery

Ethiopia

Addis Ababa War Cemetery

Egypt

El Alamein War Cemetery

Alamein Memorial

Alexandria (Hadra) War Memorial Cemetery

Alexandra (Chatby) Military Cemetery

Cairo War Memorial Cemetery

Fayid War Cemetery

Heliopolis War Cemetery

Ismailia War Memorial Cemetery

Kantara War Memorial Cemetery

Moascar War Cemetery

Port Said War Memorial Cemetery

Suez War Memorial Cemetery

France

Abbeville Communal Cemetery Extension

Argenta Gap War Cemetery

Banneville-la-Campagne War Cemetery

Bayeux War Cemetery

Bayeux Memorial

Ryes War Cemetery, Bazenville

Boulogne Eastern Cemetery

Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery

Brouay War Cemetery

Cambrai (Route des Solesmes) Communal Cemetery

Candas Communal Cemetery

Champignol-lez-Mondeville Churchyard

Chehery Communal Cemetery

Choloy War Cemetery

Janval Cemetery, Dieppe

Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery, Hautot-sur-Mer

Dinard English Cemetery

Dunkirk Town Cemetery

Dunkirk Memorial

Equilly Churchyard

Essars Communal Cemetery

Fontenay-le-Pensel War Cemetery, Tessel

Giverny Churchyard

Guilers Churchyard

Haguenau French National Cemetery

Hermanville War Cemetery

Hottot-les-Bagues War Cemetery

Houdan Communal Cemetery

Houdetot Churchyard

La Bernerie-en-Retz Communal Cemetery

L’aiguillon-sur-Mer Communal Cemetery

Lavannes Churchyard

Le Doulieu Churchyard

Ste. Marie Cemetery, Le Havre

Les Moeres Communal Cemetery

Liesse Communal Cemetery

Lignieres-Orgeres Communal Cemetery

London Cemetery and Extension, Longueval

Magny Churchyard, Eure-et-Loir

Malo Le Bains Communal Cemetery

Marigny-en-Orxois Communal Cemetery

Marquise Communal Cemetery

Mazargues War Cemetery, Marseille

Nantes (Pont-du-Cens) Communal Cemetery

Pihen-les-Guines Communal Cemetery

Pihen-les-Guines War Cemetery

Pont-de-Metz Churchyard

Pornic War Cemetery

Ranville War Cemetery

Rennes Eastern Communal Cemetery

Romescamps Churchyard

St Charles de Percy War Cemetery

St Desir War Cemetery

St Hilarion Communal Cemetery

St Manvieu War Cemetery, Chieux

Tilly-sur-Seulles War Cemetery

Ugny-sur-Meuse Communal Cemetery

Vieux-Conde Communal Cemetery

Vignory Communal Cemetery

Gambia

Fajara War Cemetery

Germany

Becklingen War Cemetery

Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery

Cologne Southern Cemetery

Durnbach War Cemetery

Hamburg Cemetery

Hanover War Cemetery

Kiel War Cemetery

Munster Heath War Cemetery

Reichswald Forest War Cemetery

Rheinberg War Cemetery

Sage War Cemetery

Gibraltar

 Gibraltar (North Front) Cemetery

Greece

 Athens Memorial

Phaleron War Cemetery

Suda Bay War Cemetery

Holland

 Ameland (Nes) General Cemetery

Amersfoort General Cemetery

Amsterdam (Oud Leusden) General Cemetery

Apeldoorn (Ugchelen-Heidehof) General Cemetery

Arnhem-Oosterbeek War Cemetery

Bergen-op-Zoom General Cemetery

Brunssum War Cemetery

Cadzand General Cemetery

Druten (Puiflijk) Roman Catholic Churchyard

Eindhoven (Woensel) General Cemetery

Gaasterland (Bakhuizen) Roman Catholic Cemetery

Goirle Roman Catholic Cemetery

Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery

Groesbeek Memorial

Harderwijk General Cemetery

Heemskerk Protestant Churchyard

Jonkerbos War Cemetery

Mierlo War Cemetery

Mook War Cemetery

Noordwijk General Cemetery

Overloon War Cemetery

Raalte General Cemetery

Schoorl General Cemetery

Staphorst (Rouveen) New General Cemetery

Uden War Cemetery

Valkenswaard War Cemetery

Venray War Cemetery

Voorburg Eastern General Cemetery

Wieringhen (Hippolytusheof) General Cemetery

Zelhem General Cemetery

Zwollerkerspel (Voorst) General Cemetery

Hong Kong

Sai Wan Cemetery

Sai Wan Memorial

Stanley Military Cemetery

India

Madras War Cemetery

Delhi War Cemetery

Kirkee War Cemetery

Calcutta (Bhowanipore) Cemetery

Imphal War Cemetery

Ranchi War Cemetery

Gauhati War Cemetery

Indonesia

Ambon War Cemetery

Jakarta War Cemetery

Iraq

Baghdad (North Gate) War Cemetery

Habbaniya War Cemetery

Israel

Khayat Beach War Cemetery

Haifa War Cemetery

Ramleh War Cemetery

Italy

Ancona War Cemetery

Beach Head War Cemetery, Anzio

Anzio War Cemetery

Arezzo War Cemetery

Argenta Gap War Cemetery

Assisi War Cemetery

Bari War Cemetery

Caserta War Cemetery

Cassino War Cemetery

Cassino Memorial

Catania War Cemetery, Sicily

Coriano Ridge War Cemetery

Faenza War Cemetery

Florence War Cemetery

Foiano Della Chiana War Cemetery

Forli War Cemetery

Gradara War Cemetery

Meldola War Cemetery

Milan War Cemetery

Minturno War Cemetery

Montecchio War Cemetery

Moro River Canadian War Cemetery

Naples War Cemetery

Orvieto War Cemetery

Padua War Cemetery

Ravenna War Cemetery

Rome War Cemetery

Salerno War Cemetery

Sangro River War Cemetery

Syracuse War Cemetery, Sicily

Udine War Cemetery

Japan

 Yokohama War Cemetery

Kenya

Mombasa (Mbaraki) Cemetery

Kisumu Cemetery

Nairobi War Cemetery

East Africa Memorial (Nairobi)

Libya

Knightsbridge War Cemetery, Acroma

Tobruk War Cemetery

Tripoli War Cemetery

Benghazi War Cemetery

Malaysia

 Labuan War Cemetery

Malta

Imtarfa Military Cemetery

Malta (Capuccini) Naval Cemetery

Malta Memorial

Pembroke Military Cemetery

Morocco

Ben M’sik European Cemetery

New Zealand

Auckland (Waikumete) Cemetery

Nigeria

 Kaduna Civil Cemetery

Norway

Bergen (Mollendal) Church Cemetery

Sola Churchyard

Stavanger (Eiganes) Churchyard

Trondheim (Travne) Cemetery

Pakistan

Karachi War Cemetery

Papua New Guinea

Lae War Cemetery

Poland

Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery

Serbia

Belgrade War Cemetery

Sierra Leone

Freetown (King Tom) Cemetery

Singapore

Kranji War Cemetery

Singapore Memorial

South Africa

Johannesburg (West Park) Cremation Memorial

Cape Town (Maitland) Cemetery

Cape Town (Plumstead) Cemetery

Durban (Stellawood) Cemetery

Pietermaritzburg (Fort Napier) Cemetery

Spain

St George’s British Cemetery (Malaga)

Sri Lanka

Colombo (Liveramentu) Cemetery

Colombo (Kanatte) General Cemetery

Trincomalee War Cemetery

Kandy War Cemetery

Sudan

Khartoum Memorial

Syria

Damascus War Cemetery

Thailand

Chungkai War Cemetery

Kanchanaburi War Cemetery

Tunisia

 Beja War Cemetery

Enfidaville War Cemetery

Massicault War Cemetery

Medjez-el-Bab War Cemetery

Medjez-el-Bab Memorial

Oued Zarga War Cemetery

Sfax War Cemetery

Tabarka Ras Rajel War Cemetery

Thibar Seminary War Cemetery

Uganda

Jinja War Cemetery

USA

Asheville (Riverside) Cemetery [North Carolina]

Everett (Woodlawn) Cemetery [Massachussets]

Long Island National Cemery, Farmingdale [New York]

Miami (Woodlawn Park) Cemetery [Florida]

Montgomery (Oakwood) Cemetery Annexe [Alabama]

Philadelphia (Northwood) Cemetery [Pennsylvania]

Portsmouth (Cedar Grove) Cemetery [Virginia]

Seattle (Washelli) Cemetery [Washington]

Zimbabwe

 Harare (Pioneer) Cemetery 

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Filed under portsmouth heroes, Remembrance, World War Two

Researching First World War Soldiers

Vis en Artois British Cemetery and Memorial, F...

Vis en Artois Cemetery and Memorial (Image via Wikipedia)

I’ve now entered over 2,000 names into my database of Portsmouth men killed serving in the Second World War. So far this covers 4 panels of the War Memorial in Guildhall Square, and these are only the men who fought with the Army. I have one more panel of Army names to enter and analyse. And then its on to the Navy, who have about the same number of names again!

The process goes like this – look up the names on the War Memorial (handily transcribed  by Tim Backhouse on Memorials in Portsmouth), enter the names onto my Access Database, then search for them on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Of course, when you start with just initials for forenames, its quite difficult – especially if all you have is ‘A. Smith’, which there are hundreds of – it would take days searching through that to find the right person. Fortunately, quite a few of the names on the CGWG have their house number, road name and area listed – which makes it much easier to find the right person – if you’re looking through a list of 20 or so names, its heartening to find one listed as ‘…Twyford Avenue, Stamshaw’, cos odds are you’ve found your man. But when there are 4 or 5 names, and none of them have any details, its so frustrating – its got to be one of them, surely? But sometimes the sheer number of names can be daunting.

Its going to take some serious research to track down the several hundred men who are remaining elusive – but by using Street Directories, Register Office Records, the 1901 and 1911 Census, and electoral registers, it should be possible to slowly but surely fill out the gaps.

Another problem can be when you enter the name into the CWGC and NOTHING comes up – they must have been a real person, surely? Otherwise why would their names have been put forward for the memorial? The only thing I can suggest is that mistakes were made in compiling the names for the memorial, or perhaps people had different given names – someone registed officially as Harry James, for example, might have been known as Jim, and thus entered on the Memorial as J., and not H.J… it takes a bit of imagination to ferret these things out.

Another difference with researching First World War soldiers, is that it is much harder to trace details of any medals that they won. With the Second World War, more often and not you can find their award listed in the London Gazette. But for the First World War there are just so many, its like trawling through a haystack. You have to use some cunning, such as typing in a mans service number in the search, rather than their name. The problem there, of course, is that prior to 1920ish the Army didnt have an Army-wide numbering system, so if you’re looking for a Military Medal awarded to Private Jones 14532, there might be scores of 14532′s in the Army. Also, whereas many Second World War medal citations have been made available online on the National Archives website, the only information we have for First World War soldiers are their medal cards – relatively spartan in detail.

But on the flipside, one other source we have readily available for the Western Front are the War Diaries. Select War Diaries have been made available on The National Archives, such as the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, which I have been serialising on Daly History for the past few months. Although these rarely mention individual soldiers – especially not other ranks – they do give you the wider picture of what was hapenning day to day. If you know that someone died on a particular day, you can look up what was happening – if they were in the front line undergoing heavy shelling, maybe the man was killed that way. Or if there was a raid and he is listed on a memorial to the missing, he might have been killed in no mans land. Alternatively, if he died somewhere away from where the Battalion was, or on a day when they were not in action, he probably died of wounds or illness in a hospital behind the lines.

Another useful source is the National Roll, a publication produced after the war, the lists not only men who died, but other men who survived. Its not comprehensive – men or their families put their details forward, meaning that only a percentage of men are listed – but none the less, for the men who are included, it is a gold mine of information. Most entries tell you when a man joined the Army, and whether he was a regular, mobilised with the territorial force, volunteered in 1914, attested under the Derby Scheme, or was conscripted. This fact on its own builds up a veritable social history of the manpower situation. Some men have more information than others – most entries tell us where a man fought, if he was wounded, or if he won medals. Some tell very interesting stories – such as the Hampshire Regiment soldier who was captured at Kut, fell ill with Dysentry and fell out of the march to captivity and was left to die on the side of the road; the Sergeant killed in a Grenade accident at a training school in the New Forest; or the Sapper serving with Grave Registration unit after the war who drowned in a Canal. Without these details, they would just be names. But with their stories, we are so much closer to knowing who they were and what they went through.

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Filed under Army, Remembrance, western front, World War One