The National Archives website has confirmed that the long-standing 30 year rule for the release of official documents will be reduced to a new 20 year rule from 2013 onwards. From 2013, two years worth of documents will be released each year, until the ‘backlog’ is cleared by 2023.
The change follows a review of the 30 year rule that I covered way back in 2009. We can look forward to important documents being released on key events in history, much sooner after they actually happened – it should be a real bonus for historians and researchers.
Some of the records that we should get to see early in the next few years include Northern Ireland in the 1980′s, the miners strike, Lockerbie, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, the first Gulf War.
Traditionally the 30 year rule had given protection to politicians and civil servants, that there actions would not be scrutinised too closely in the immediate aftermath of events. Of course, there is a fine balancing act between confidentiality on the one hand, and transparency and probity on the other.
One restrictive rule that is still in place is the 100 year rule for the release of census information. However, the 1911 census was released a couple of years early in 2009, and there is a Freedom of Information appeal ongoing for the wartime ‘mini-census’ to be released early.
I would also like to see a radical shift from the shortsighted British practice of charging for access to records, compared to countries such as Canada and Australia who make many documents available online for free. It stifles historic research to a degree that the mandarins and accountants could never understand.
Thanks to the good chaps at the Great War Forum, I’ve managed to find out more about Lieutenant-Colonel Dick Worrall DSO and Bar MC and Bar.
According to the Montreal Gazette of 18 April 1919, Dick Worrall brought his Battalion home to Canada that weekend from Europe. According to the Newspaper Worrall joined the 14th Battalion of the Montreal Regiment in 1914. Apparently he actually joined via the Canadian Grenadier Guards, who provided a section for the Battalion. A ‘well set man of about 30 years of age walked in, saying that he wanted to enlist’. He soon became a Sergeant in No. 2 Section, before the Battalion had even left Canada.
After leaving for Europe and training in England, the 14th Battalion went to the Western Front, and Worrall was commissioned as an officer after the 2nd Battle of Ypres in Spring 1915. In June 1916 he was promoted to Captain, and was wounded in the same month. He was evidently seriously wounded, as he was away until November 1916, when he was promoted to Major. Initially he was given command of the Canadian Reinforcing Corps as an acting Lieutenant Colonel, but when he Battalion lost a large number of officers he returned as second-in-command. The CO, Lieutenant Colonel McCombe, was wounded during the German’s spring advance in 1918. Worrall took over command, a position he held until the end of the war.
The Montreal Gazette also tells us much about his family background. Apparently the Worralls originated from Birmingham. Intriguingly, Dick Worrall had previously served for a time in the Gloucestershire Regiment, and had emigrated from Britain to America. He then joined the US Army, but when war was declared in 1914 he went to Canada to fight for King and Country once more.
So, Worrall had served in three different armies, won a total of six decorations for gallantry, and had been promoted from Private to Colonel within 4 years. Remarkable.
The Toronto World of 18 February 1920 carries the story of Dick Worrall’s funeral. The service was attended by many senior officers. The Governor General and General Sir Arthur Currie were not able to attend. The band of the Royal Montreal Regiment played, and a firing party and escort accompanied the cortege from St James the Apostle’s Church to Fletchers Field, where three volley’s were fired. The Last Post was then played. The coffin was then taken from the gun carriage to a waiting hearse, and then on to Mount Royal Ceremony.