13 August 2017

Looking beyond the MICs


If your British Army Ancestor served overseas during the First World War there should be an MIC (medal index card) recording his medal entitlement. And if there's a medal index card there should be one or more medal roll entries. The latter can often add detail not found on the medal index card such as a battalion or unit, a date killed in action, or a date discharged. For some soldiers, this may be all that survives in terms of documented evidence of service. 

It is well-known that the majority of service records - 60 per cent is the figure commonly offered - was destroyed in bombing during the Second World War, hence the need to fully understand and explore what's left. As I often tell people, the medal index card had a specific purpose and that was to record the unit/s a man served with overseas. This information was then used when it came to impressing the correct details on the man's medals. Any service in the UK with other units prior to embarkation should not appear on the medal index card (or medal roll/s) although there are plenty of instances where this instruction was not followed. 

The sentence in bold is important to understand because when looking at a man's medal index card, the first unit that appears on it may not have been the first unit he served with.

I have just completed an interesting research project for man - 'boy' would be a more accurate description - who was captured by the Germans on the opening day of their spring offensive on the 21st March 1918. This soldier's regimental number indicated to me that he must have joined the battalion in late January or early February 1918. However, when I looked more closely, there was compelling evidence to suggest that he was probably a conscript and probably first spent time with one of two - and possibly both - Training Reserve battalions. This would not have been possible without a closer analysis of his regimental number.

Digging deeper to discover this is important because it helps to explain the logical path to the Western Front that this particular man took.  Luckily for him, his time in the trenches was short-lived, and surviving documents held by the ICRC outlined where he was held.

The undated photograph that I have used on this post shows prisoners of war at Stendal camp.

I research soldiers!


3 August 2017

Regimental museums


The Passchendaele commemorations this week have certainly stimulated a flurry of emails to me with requests for research; probably more so than for the Somme centenary last year. What an incredibly moving ceremony at Ypres on the 30th July, and how nice to hear the voices of the men who were there, many of their recollections recorded when they were late-middle aged in the 1960s.

A number of my correspondents have mentioned having been in touch with regimental museums with research enquiries and whilst this post does not aim to be a mouthpiece for these valuable resources, here are a few observations.

1. With the exception of the five regiments  of Foot Guards at Wellington Barracks, and the Household Cavalry museum, regimental archives do not hold service records of soldiers. These are all held by the National Archives and all have been digitised and published by Ancestry and Findmypast. WO 400 (Household Cavalry) records have also been published by The National Archives.
2. Regimental archives MAY have other papers that mention a soldier by name and most seem to offer a research service, often staffed by knowledgeable volunteers. Typical reference material here may be a menntion in Part II Orders, where these (rarely) survive, a mention in a regimental journal, or reference in material submitted by the individual or family members in later years.
3. In my experience none, of the regimental archives that I have come across have gone into the forensic level detail on regimental numbers that I have conducted over the past fifteen years. With the notable exception of the Royal Army Service Corps, I have plotted regimental number patterns and dates of enlistment for ALL regiments and ALL battalions or sub-units within regiments for the years 1881 to 1918 (and did the line cavalry, a good deal earlier than that, too). What you see on this site is a fraction of the research I have undertaken and, for that matter, am still undertaking.

So my advice would be that it may be worth contacting the relevant regimental museum in your quest for information about a British Army ancestor, but don't be surprised if the answer comes back that there is no information to be found and that they can't tell you anything about when his regimental number would have been issued, or whether, if he served in the First World War, your man was a regular soldier, a volunteer, s Derby Scheme recruit, or a conscript; and they can't tell you when he was likely to have proceeded overseas (assuming this information is not recorded on the medal index card) or when he was likely to have been wounded. And when you get that disapppinting response, drop me a line because I will almost certainly be able to tell you something. See the RESEARCH tab on this blog for more information.

Image courtesy The BBC.