Articles tagged with: military

Tracing Your Military Ancestors Online

on Wednesday, 27 May 2020. Posted in Military

A few weeks ago Max posted two blogs listing some of the fantastic online resources available to family and local historians during the lockdown. It looks like we’ll all be waiting a little while longer for archives to start reopening, so in the meantime I thought it would be useful to highlight some more valuable sites that can help us scratch the history itch during these strange times. We often get enquiries from customers looking to find out more about a relative who served in the armed forces and given the recent VE Day celebration this seemed like a timely topic.

Trooper George Sweetman, Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry (WSA 3560/10/22)

Before we dig into some of the websites that offer access to soldiers’ records, it’s worth bearing in mind a few things. First, the sources that follow largely deal with historic records from before 1922. It is possible to get some material after that date, but soldiers’ service records after 1922 are still with the Ministry of Defence. Access to these records can be provided, for a fee, as long as the service member is no longer living - please see https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/requests-for-personal-data-and-service-records for more details.

Secondly, as with many other types of historical records the further back in time we go the sparser and less revealing the records become, and this is particularly true for ‘other ranks’ (Privates, Lance Corporals, Corporals, Sergeants and Warrant Officers). Before the First World War ‘service records’ as we would recognise them today did not exist for enlisted men, though they are more complete for officers. As such, if you are looking for soldiers serving before World War One you will very likely need to piece together information from multiple different sources, and even then, it’s likely that many of the records have not survived. Personnel records were more comprehensive after 1914, however more than two-thirds of these were destroyed by an incendiary bomb in 1940 and so the surviving papers are very incomplete.

Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry collection WSA 3560/10/22

Finally, looking at military records can be quite confusing if you don’t know which unit your relative served with, where that unit was stationed at a given time, or whether they were an enlisted soldier or an officer. Just as we recommend when taking your first steps in family history, it’s worth asking relatives what they remember and checking family documents to gather as much information as you can. A little work before you start can save you a huge headache further down the line.

With that, let’s have a look at some of the sites providing access to military records. Sadly, not all sites offer free access, but those that charge offer a free trial and I have provided a link to these trials where possible.

Most military service records are held at The National Archives, mostly but not exclusively in the War Office files. Obviously we can’t access the originals right now, and the majority of the files aren’t digitised, but at the moment any that are available electronically are free to download for as long as TNA remains closed (you will need to register with the site first). Luckily for us a lot of the War Office’s records are also available through TNA’s Digital Microfilm Project. This link will take you to the project home page which has instructions on how to access the material; to see which records are available from the War Office, scroll down until you see reference numbers beginning ‘WO’. It’s also worth searching TNA’s catalogue Discovery as some of the records are searchable by the soldier’s name, for example WO25 (registers of service) and WO374 (officers’ service files, 1898-1922). TNA also have an excellent series of guides on how and where to find information on members of the armed forces and they’re well worth a read.

Findmypast has an excellent collection of British Army Service Records transcripts and digital images which are indexed and searchable. It is a subscription service, but they’re currently offering a free 14-day trial for new members. The transcripts give a wealth of information including service number, rank, regiment and unit, birth year and birth county. The images accompanying the transcripts can give you even more information, including the soldier’s physical description, occupation, name and address of next of kin, religion and their service history.

Ancestry is, like Findmypast, a subscription service, but they also offer a free trial. Ancestry’s collection of Military Records covers everything from First World War pension records through to the Roll of Honour for seamen 1914-1945 and is well worth searching.

Some of the material on Ancestry is provided via their affiliate fold3 which hosts military records. Once again it’s a subscription service but they also offer a free trial, albeit only for seven days. The material is primarily American, but there’s a vast amount of material relating to Britain and the Commonwealth. Most useful will be the British Army Lists which contain information on officers in the regular army between 1882 and 1962, British Army WW1 Service Records, Medal Roll index cards, and British WW1 Wounded and Missing, though there are many other excellent collections on the site, all of which seem to be indexed by soldier’s name.

Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry WSA 3560/10/22

If you know that the soldier you are searching for was killed during a conflict then the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website can also be helpful. You can use its search function to find fallen soldiers, which in turn can give you information such as the soldier’s rank, service number, service branch, date of death and place of burial. If there is an inscription on the grave marker, this can be shown as well.

Finally, the websites of regimental museums can also provide a wealth of information. For example, The Wardrobe (The Rifles Berkshire and Wiltshire Museum) has a comprehensive history of the regiments related to Wiltshire, and also offers excerpts from unit War Diaries (which give an indication of what a unit was doing on a given day). These can be invaluable for getting a flavour of the actions soldiers took part in during a conflict.

Tom Plant

Community History Advisor

Snappers and Gunners: behind the scenes at the Fox Talbot Museum and the Royal Artillery Museum

on Wednesday, 31 May 2017. Posted in Museums

One of the best things about my job is visiting different museums around the county, seeing behind the scenes and finding out about all the exciting things that are happening. Last week I was lucky enough to go to two museums and get a peek at things not normally seen by visitors.

First up was a visit to the Fox Talbot Museum https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lacock-abbey-fox-talbot-museum-and-village/features/learn-about-the-history-of-photography in Lacock, with the Wiltshire Museum Group. The Museum tells the story of the history of photography, from the very first photographic chemical processes to the modern smartphone. It also celebrates the life and work of William Henry Fox Talbot who lived in Lacock Abbey. A Victorian pioneer of photography, Fox Talbot created the earliest surviving photographic negative, taken in 1835, of a window of the Abbey. Upstairs there’s a gallery with a changing temporary exhibition programme, which explores photography as an art form.

The Fox Talbot Museum
‘Plants in a different light’ www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lacock-abbey-fox-talbot-museum-and-village/features/plants-in-a-different-light-by-jan-ramscar by Jan Ramscar is the currently temporary exhibition at the Fox Talbot Museum. It features botanical projection photograms, in the spirit of those created by Fox Talbot himself.

Curator Roger Watson, told the group about a current project to acquire and manage the Fenton Collection. Thousands of photographs from the 19th and 20th centuries were collected by James Fenton, along with a wide range of photographic technologies – including cameras, exposure meters and stereoscopic viewers. He displayed them in his own Museum of Photography on the Isle of Man, before donating them to the Museum of the Moving Image in 1986. All the items had been in storage since the museum closed in 1999 and last year the British Film Institute had donated them to the National Trust’s Fox Talbot Museum.

Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund www.hlf.org.uk and the Prism Fund www.artscouncil.org.uk/funding/prism  the project has brought the collection to Lacock, where it is being catalogued and cared for, including being re-housed in a newly created store.

Store in a barn

The new store is built inside one of the traditional buildings in Lacock – from the outside you wouldn’t be able to tell what’s kept within. A room has been built inside the barn to house the objects. This is insulated to help keep the environment stable and the conditions the best possible to ensure the preservation of all the treasures kept within.

The new store
Volunteers Ros and Annette cataloguing photographs from the Fenton Collection at the Fox Talbot Museum. In the public area of the museum, they are happy to chat to visitors about what they’re doing and help people understand how museum collections are looked after.

Wiltshire’s Story in 100 Objects

on Monday, 27 July 2015. Posted in Museums

Don’t forget to visit this wonderful touring exhibition inspired by the British Museum and telling the story of Wiltshire in 100 objects. Supported by the Arts Council England and managed by Wiltshire Museum, Devizes, the project showcases the varied nature of objects held throughout Wiltshire by its museums. These museums range from military collections, industrial sites, art galleries, heritage centres and small village museums as well as national collections.

The 100 objects are diverse and each gives an insight into the rich history of Wiltshire. They have been classified amongst ten major themes...

War Horses of Wiltshire

on Monday, 12 January 2015. Posted in Archives

©IWM

©IWM

Wiltshire has a history of an association with the military and during the First World War the county was home to one of the few female run remount depots at Russley Park, near Swindon.

Remount depots were established by the army in order to provide fresh, healthy and well trained horses, donkeys and mules for army use in peace time and during times of conflict. In 1887 the remount section was established within the army replacing the earlier responsibility that each individual regiment had for providing its own animals. The South African War (1899-1902) had established a ‘best practice’ in order to get the most out of these animals and a horse registration scheme was introduced. This identified suitable animals for possible purchase and army use and depots to deal with them were established at Woolwich, Arborfield near Reading and Melton Mowbray, employing three inspectors to oversee the potential purchase and care of the animals.

In the event of war it was estimated that 110,000 animals would be needed and in 1912 and 1913 a horse census was undertaken, dividing the country into 24 sections each with a Remount Officer responsible for the identification of potential horses. This groundwork proved invaluable and when the First World War began 140,000 horses were purchased efficiently and quickly.

Wiltshire at War: Community Stories

on Tuesday, 30 December 2014. Posted in Wiltshire People

http://wiltshireatwar.org.uk/

Our Heritage Lottery Funded project to uncover and share stories of the First World War Home Front in Wiltshire is approaching two exciting milestones early in 2015.

At the end of January our website will be going live. This will be a home for all the stories that have been gathered so far – in sounds, words and pictures. If your family or community have your own stories that you would like to include you will be able to do this straight through the website. Over time we hope this will become a significant record of the impact of the war across the county.

At the end of February the first exhibition based on the stories will be on display at the Springfield Community Campus in Corsham. This exhibition will focus on the role Wiltshire played in providing a home and training ground for the military and how this affected the lives of ordinary people. Look out for full details of the exhibition over the next few weeks. After Corsham the exhibition will be setting off on a tour of community venues whilst we start work on preparing further displays looking at different ways the First World War affected Wiltshire.

Wiltshire Women of WWI: The Heroine Project Presents DOROTHY LAWRENCE

on Friday, 25 July 2014. Posted in Events, Military

In June 1915, armed only with a bicycle, her wits and a burning journalistic ambition, a young woman named Dorothy Lawrence set out from England determined to reach the frontline of fighting in northern France.

“I’ll see what an ordinary English girl, without credentials or money can accomplish. I’ll see what I can manage as a war correspondent!”

Sleeping in ditches, haystacks and flea-bitten dugouts, Dorothy wheedled, charmed and hoodwinked her way past suspicious gendarmes and the unwanted attentions of frustrated soldiers, to spend ten days under heavy shelling in the French town of Albert shortly before the Battle of Loos.

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