16 December 2016

Regimental numbers research tip: British War & Victory Medal roll

With so little information surviving for so many men who served overseas during the First World War, correctly interpreting the information that does survive takes on even greater importance.

The information that survives on British War and Victory Medals varies enormously according to the regiment. Some rolls give very detailed information which may include theatre of war served in, and the dates served (the London Regiment is a great example here), whilst other regiments give very little information (my heart always sinks when I see that a man ended up in the Labour Corps as these rolls offer very little information). Other information also to be found on this particular medal roll might include a comment in the remarks' column such as date of demobilisation. Comments regarding amendment to the medal, or entitlement to the medal are routinely included. After all, this is a roll of medal entitlement, and the ticks and annotations are those of the clerk - on behalf of the officer in charge of records at the particular infantry record office - that the information is correct.

But I want to draw attention to repetition on these rolls. In the example above, Henry Hewson originally served overseas with the 19th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry and with the regimental number 31125. He then transferred to the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, was given a new regimental number 29618, and served overseas with the 6th Battalion. Underneath this entry, on the next two lines, we see "do" or "ditto". This repetition indicates that Henry had broken service with this battalion and returned to England twice. If this had been a London Regiment record, the dates would also have been included:

In the example above we can see that Charles Francis of the 9th London Regiment served overseas until the 23rd November 1914, returned to England and then served overseas again from the 22nd April 1915.

So for me, when I am researching soldiers' service histories, this duplication of line entries is important because it's a signpost that the man returned to England either sick or wounded and may get a mention in a local newspaper or in an official casualty list.  Findmypast, in partnership with the British Library, continues to publish thousands of newspaper pages each week and I continually update my 1914-1918 newspaper listing. I also make sure I check The Times newspaper for official casualty lists. Many UK libraries have digital versions and in my case I access the online version via Essex Libraries. Where dates are recorded on medal rolls I would be checking war diaries to see if that provided any clues as to why the man would have returned to England when he did.  

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