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.

1 comment:

marshland said...

Paul is entirely right in his observations.
Museums are staffed by excellent people who are skilled archivists with facilities to preserve memorabilia for future generations. They often have some great data recorded about Soldiers but from my observations few are skilled at interpreting the data and comparing that information with other data such as Regimental Numbers, Battalion postings etc for maximum use in building the picture on a soldiers life and career that people want about their ancestors.
That does not mean that Museum staff in most cases are not dedicated people who do a great job its just that their focus is different to family or Military Historians like Paul.