I have spent a very unusual Remembrance Sunday reading through some pages that my father has written about his war time experience in the Merchant Navy and meant for his extended family.
As his eyesight is not so good these days he had asked me to edit his “yarns”, as he refers to them and then email them back to him.
I found it a fascinating and moving way to learn more about his time at sea, when every voyage could have been ended by a mine going off, a torpedo from a U-boat, or the bomb dropped by a Nazi bomber.
His ship was a lucky one, surviving the war; but he could so easily have been posted to one of those that did not.
Dad turned 90 this year, but back in 1942 he was a 17 year old serving on board the Defensively Equipped Merchant Ship, The Dominion Monarch as she sailed the high seas in convoy moving troops to Europe and transporting cargo such as New Zealand and Australian Butter back to Britain and Gold bars from New York to Liverpool!
Defensively Equipped Merchant Ship (DEMS) meant that this former liner had been given Anti-aircraft guns, a 5″ gun on the stern, plus some other smaller guns. She boasted a rocket device that was supposed to fire wires to entangle any Junkers dive bomber that tried to drop a bomb on the ship. She had paravanes, designed to be towed on either side of the bow when approaching a mine field and a de-gauzing cable all round the perimeter of the ship, the purpose of which was to counter the Germans magnetic mines which sat on the bottom waiting to be triggered by the magnetic field of the ship passing over.
As a civilian Merchant Navy ship the Dominion Monarch was given a contingent of 20 Royal Navy sailors to man the stern gun and some of the smaller armaments, while there was another 20 personnel from the army on board for the Ack Ack guns.
The use of most of these devices my father is very sceptical about in his writings. I can not imagine the danger that his generation lived with during this time. It is for those who did pay the ultimate price that I am wearing my poppy with pride. Click here to go to the Royal British Legion website and donate
I have to say that I have learnt more about my father’s war time experience this Sunday than I have ever known before.
The lesson for family historians is to listen to your family’s stories and collect as much as you can from your senior generations while you are able to as these “yarns” add colour to our family history, more than just a dry set of names and dates do.
Hit a brick wall with your English/Welsh ancestors?
Learn how to discover where to find the many records and resources that will help you to find your forebears.
As an island nation I am sure that many of the readers of this blog will have ancestors that have gone to sea, if only for a short time. Many of us will have family who have served in the Royal Navy and so have discovered just how intimidating it is to research a Royal Naval ancestor, especially if we compare it to looking for those of our kin who were in the British Army or the Royal Air Force.
The book begins by giving the reader a short introduction on how to get started in their research. Simon Fowler assumes the reader has little prior knowledge of the navy and its history. His book shows you how to trace an officer, petty officer or rating from the seventeenth century up to the 1960s using records at the National Archives and elsewhere.
The reader will discover that the records of RN officers and ratings can be located back to 1660, often with more success than if you were looking for similar records in the army. As holdings for officers and ratings up to 1914 are different Simon Fowler has separated the two into their own chapters. A separate chapter then addresses the records from 1914 which covers all ranks.
There are additional chapters for the various auxiliary services; the coastguard; the Royal Marines; the WRNS; HM Dockyards; the sick and wounded and researching ships.
Depending on the era in question there are many naval records that the reader can use to discover more about the Royal Navy and its personnel. This well illustrated book shows the reader where to find the records, explains well what they contain and is an excellent addition to anyone’s library if they are interested in Royal Naval ancestors.
Editions available to buy from the following links:
Last week in Birmingham I caught up with Chris Baker, from The Long, Long Trail website and FouteenEighteen.co.uk after he had just given one of his very popular talks to a group of enthusiastic family historians on the subject of Military records.
Chris had discovered the rich military records set on TheGenealogist and was thus able to tell his audience about some of what he found useful on that website.
He particularly drew our attention to the Casualty records sourced from the War Office and told us how well done and useful TheGenealogist website was for Military researchers of the First World War with some interesting niche record sets.
Transcript of the video:
Hi I’m Nick Thorne from the Nosey Genealogist blog
and I’m here on TheGenealogist website’s stand
with Chris Baker a military expert
from Fourteen Eighteen website and he’s just been doing a talk
on military records.
Hi Chris. Hello Nick.
How did it go?
Great, thank you! Great audience,
tremendous buzz, very nice to be here to give the
The subject of the talk was the very
fast changing world of
military records and how digitization has really changed
the way people can access information,
understand military records and
work out what happened to their soldier.
And yes it’s a it’s good to run
through what’s going on, but also
to highlight TheGenealogist and the various unique sets of records. Which is actually how I came to
meet TheGenealogist myself. I found
they’ve got some casualty lists that were newly digitized
from the War Office originals. I personally found it extremely
well done and very helpful and I contacted the
company to say so.
And it just led to us being here and me being invited to give the talk.
That’s really interesting, so you’d recommend TheGenealogist for military research?
Military records cover a very wide span of subjects,
as you know, TheGenealogist
has got for itself a very interesting
collection of what you might call niche records,
but they’re the ones that can really
help you unlock the story sometimes, particularly if a man’s
service record is missing or you can’t find him in medal records
These things will help you unlock it and
for that purpose, yes TheGenealogist, for me is a
very important provider now in in the
field of Military History.
Okay, so if our viewers want to contact you
they look for FourteenEighteen on the Internet?
Yes, they can find me, in terms of the professional services at www.14-18.co.uk
but they will also find my free of charge website which has existed for a long
time and is very popular
on the subject of the British Army in
the first world war, it’s called The Long, Long trial
it’s at www.1914-1918.net
And it contains lots of information about
regiments, how to research soldiers
and all that sort of stuff.
Great, thanks very much Chris.
You are very welcome.
Learn more about English and Welsh family history resources which can be used to find your elusive ancestors with the Family History Researcher Course,
Soldiers Mentioned in Despatches are now available online
For the first time online, leading British genealogy research website TheGenealogist has released over 81,000 records of records of Mentioned in Despatches from the First World War, linked to citations from the London Gazette.
Find thousands of soldiers and army nurses who had come to the notice of superior officers for an act of gallantry, or meritorious action, in the face of the enemy in these records. The records created, when the recipient’s name appeared in an official report sent to the high command, can now be searched online only at TheGenealogist.
Some soldiers were mentioned in despatches (MiD), but do not receive a medal for their action, they are nevertheless listed in the records as they were entitled to receive a certificate and wear the Oak Leaf decoration on their dress uniform.
Only one such decoration is ever worn, even when a soldier is mentioned in despatches more than once, as was the case in the example of one Captain B.L. Montgomery.
Bernard Law Montgomery served in WWI in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and was mentioned in despatches on several occasion so that we can find him no less than four times in the MiD records on TheGenealogist, the first of which is in 1915.
With one mouse click on the link to a transcript we can see the date the citation appeared in The London Gazette and note the date and page number for our research.
Another click of a link takes us straight to the website of the London Gazette so that we can then read the various pages that cover our soldier. By using the information from the transcript we can narrow our research right down to the correct page.
Following a third link on TheGenealogist results page gives us an image of the handwritten card record, showing even the military clerks corrections and crossing outs!
Awarded many medals in his time, including the DSO to which his oak leaf is pinned, this officer served between 1915 and 1918 ending the First World War as a Lieutenant Colonel. He was, as history tells us, to go on to become Field Marshall Montgomery and the 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, one of this country’s important Second World War generals.
As a junior officer serving at Méteren near to the Border of France with Belgium he had been shot by a sniper through the right lung in October 1914. With the rich number of military records on TheGenealogist site we can also find him in the casualty lists. One click will then take us to an image of a page from the Times newspaper of October 20th 1914 in which he is listed.
Montgomery was hit once more through the knee and was awarded the DSO for his gallant leadership when he turned the enemy out of their trenches with the bayonet.
Once Captain Montgomery had recovered he went back to the Western Front in 1916 as a general staff officer, taking part in the Battle of Arras in spring 1917 and also the Battle of Passchendaele in the autumn of that year and ending his war as chief of staff of the 47th (2nd London) Division.
In World War II he assumed command of the Eight Army from 1942 in the Western Desert and went up against Romeril’s forces in Africa. This time was to include the Battle of El Alamein which was a turning point of the Western Desert Campaign. “Monty” went on to command the Eight Army in its part in the Allied invasion of Sicily and subsequently Italy.
As the war wound on to its close, during Operation Overlord he was in charge of all Allied ground forces and on the 4th May 1945 he took the German surrender at Lüneburg Heath in north Germany. After the war was over Field Marshal Montgomery became Commander-in-Chief of the British Army of the Rhine and then Chief of the Imperial General Staff. From 1948 until 1951 he was chairman of the permanent defence organisation of the Western European Union and in 1951 deputy commander of the Supreme Headquarters of NATO.
Known for his lack of tact, he had upset the American generals Paton and Bradley during WWII and after the hostilities he criticised many of his war-time colleagues, including General Eisenhower who was by now the President of the United States. Monty was, it is safe to say, a complex but brave man who served in the British Army for 50 years. He died on 24 March 1976.
Mark Bayley, head of Content at TheGenealogist said “For those people searching for ancestors who had served in World War I, Mentioned in Despatches provide a unique addition to the already strong collection of military records that are offered at TheGenealogist”
Disclosure: Compensated affiliate links used above.
I was asked this week to find out what I could about a man that was never talked about in the family.
Intriguing, I thought!
The subject had married the contact’s aunt in 1943 and fathered three children before, at some time, becoming estranged and then divorced from the aunt.
What little I had to go on was that in the Second World War the man was a British officer in the Indian Army. We didn’t know his date or place of birth, where in the U.K. he was from or any other family details.
To make things a bit more difficult he had always used a nick name “Ron” that was not the short form for his actual first name. Luckily for me, we did know the full name of the subject and to preserve anonymity I am going to refer to him here as Vincent Martin Edwards (not his real name).
Before the independence of India, in 1947, the Indian Army was an important component of the British Empire’s forces and made a significant contributions to the Second World War effort. After independence the records of officers, such as my man, have been deposited at the British Library in St. Pancras, London and so this was my first port of call.
I know from my visits to the British Library that they have runs of the Indian Army lists on the shelves of The Asian & African Studies Reading Room on Floor 3. A look in one of these, for the war years, should provide the officer’s number that can then be used to locate his service records that are held there, but not on open access.
From research that I have done in the past at St.Pancras I know that access to the service record for someone of this era would more than likely be restricted to the next of kin. All I wanted, however, was for one of the staff to look inside the document folder and to provide me with the date and place of birth of Vincent Martin Edwards and so I shot off an email request.
In amazingly short order I was emailed back with the answer: Streatham, 22 February 1919.
Meanwhile I had found the marriage details online for the couple at Findmypast in their British India Office Ecclesiastical Returns. The bride and groom were both 24 when they married in a church, in India and so I had confirmation of a birth date of 1919.
Turning to the online Birth, Marriage and Deaths, that are widely available on the internet, I went in search of the birth of Vincent Edwards for that quarter. These should be held in the records for the district of Wandsworth and so all I had to do was find the reference and order the certificate from the GRO.
Ever think things are going too well… that they are just a bit too easy?
The rapid reply from the British Library, the exact date and place?
Yes, that’s right! There were no records for Vincent Martin Edwards in that area for that date.
I began to expand my search to the neighbouring districts and found a Vincent Edwards in Camberwell for the first quarter. Perhaps this was my man? Was he born just into this district, I wondered, as it is not that far away on the map.
Now you may have heard the mantra “Always kill off your ancestors” that is try and find their death and in this case it only took me four years in the same Camberwell district to find the death registered of this namesake. This Vincent Edwards only had a life of 4 years, so couldn’t be my man.
So if the district was not wrong what about the date, not withstanding the supposed corroboration of the year from the marriage return?
I went back to the Wandsworth BMDs and began checking for the birth in the years either side for 5 years at a time. Result: a Vincent M Edwards born in 1920, so now we know he had exaggerated his age on his Indian Army records and at his marriage as well! Perhaps he had joined up before he was supposed to, as people did this in war time.
The lesson is to always treat dates with healthy scepticism until you get the primary record to prove them. I have ordered the certificate and await it with interest. From it I will be able to see such details as the Father and Mother’s names (The mother’s maiden name was added to the births, marriages and deaths index (BMD) held by the GRO from the September quarter of 1911).
Great news from the team at TheGenealogist. You can now find records of injured First World War servicemen online for the first time.
Over 1.3 million records from daily and weekly First World War casualty lists have been released online by TheGenealogist. This vast collection of unique records cover all ranks to help you discover more about your injured ancestor’s wartime service.
The new records include career soldiers, volunteer Pals battalions, war poets and even a future Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan. The collection covers both those who died of their wounds and those who recovered and returned to the front.
The records are a great resource for finding out what happened to an ancestor during The First World War. Details include:- the name of the injured serviceman, his regiment and rank, the date he was registered as a ‘casualty’ and often his home town or place of enlistment.
These records also work with TheGenealogist’s unique ‘SmartSearch’ feature, which allows you to link to the comprehensive range of other military records available on TheGenealogist. Many of the wounded servicemen received medals for their actions and with a few mouse clicks you can discover whether your ancestor received any commendations, such as in the Military Medals records available online on TheGenealogist.
The First World War affected people from all backgrounds who were bravely wounded in the line of duty. Daniel Laidlaw, a career soldier from Little Swinton in Berwickshire, re-joined the army aged 40 as a Piper in the 7th Battalion, The King’s Own Scottish Borderers , 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division.
At the Battle of Loos, troops of his battalion were ordered by General Douglas Haig to attack the heavily fortified German positions in their sector. The Scottish troops, facing a thick cloud of chlorine gas, were hesitating but Piper Laidlaw climbed out of the trench and under fire began playing his pipes to inspire the troops and they successfully resumed the attack. He was wounded in both legs but had carried on playing for as long as he could, his Casualty Record can be found on The Genealogist along with a SmartSearch link showing that Laidlaw was awarded a Victoria Cross for his bravery.
Mark Bayley, Head of Online Content at TheGenealogist comments: ”The sheer number of records in this latest release show how brutal The First World War was. Record keeping at the time must have been a real challenge, but thanks to TheGenealogist’s SmartSearch technology, when you find a casualty record, you can instantly see if other records, such as medals, appear on the site.”
The new 1.3 million records of the wounded are available as part of a Diamond Subscription.
To find out more about the ‘First World War Wounded Collection’ see the dedicated page on TheGenealogist.co.uk/ww1-wounded. There you will find photographs, stories, statistics and a free search facility.
Disclosure:Compensated affiliate links used in this post.
It tells of their most recent release of World War I records and the unique nature of the launch that links records of Soldiers who died in the First World War to their war graves.
These War Office records give full details about a soldier and are linked to where they are buried or commemorated on a memorial.
For the first time it is now possible to find the death record of an ancestor who fought and died in the First World War and with one further mouse-click, discover where they are buried or commemorated through a unique link to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website which provides colour images and details on the War Cemetery including exact location, brief history of the regiments involved and the battles fought.
In a matter of seconds it is possible to trace an ancestor and gain an idea of the history of the battle or military importance of the location of where they fell. It really helps speed up your military research.
From 16 year old Private John Parr, who was the first British soldier to be killed in action on the 21st August 1914 on a patrol north east of Mons, to the last British soldier to die, Private George Edwin Ellison, who fought in most of the major World War One battles only to be killed an hour and a half before the Armistice on 11 November 1918 on patrol on the outskirts of Mons. Both John Parr and George Ellison are buried facing each other at the St Symphorien Military Cemetery having fought and died in ironically the same area of the Western Front, only four years apart emphasising the stalemate of the First World War.
The records link through to TheGenealogist’s other unique military records such as Prisoner of War records, casualty lists and war memorials. For instance you can find the record of Harry Topliffe within this new record set, showing us he enlisted with the Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex Regiment) and was living in Stamford Brook, Middlesex.
Harry was posted to Mesopotamia to fight the Turkish Army. A Prisoner of War record shows that he was imprisoned in Kut-El-Amara and a casualty list record shows that he died there, as a Prisoner. Harry is also listed in TheGenealogist’s War Memorial records, on a memorial within the Harrod’s store in London (he was an employee within the removals department). TheGenealogist then uniquely links to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to show that he was buried in the Baghdad North Gate War Cemetery.
The 650,000 records of the soldiers who died in the First World War provide full details of the serviceman, including full name, where they were born, place of residence, place of enlistment, their rank and service number, cause and date of death and the regiment they served with.
Mark Bayley, Head of Online Content at TheGenealogist.co.uk, comments: “This latest release adds to our unique military collection. These records are great for those looking into what happened to their ancestor in the First World War. With the direct link from the soldiers who died on to the various other collections we hold, along with a link to where they are commemorated, one click gives you the story behind your ancestor’s military history.”
Disclosure: Compensated affiliate links are used in this post.
MILLONS OF NEW DEVON BAPTISM, MARRIAGE AND BURIAL RECORDS PUBLISHED ONLINE
RECORDS REVEAL OVER 375 YEARS OF DEVONSHIRE HISTORY
As someone with a paternal line that is almost all from Devon I am really pleased to see that findmypast.co.uk has published online for the first time parish records in partnership with Devon Heritage Services, as the latest instalment of their 100in100 promise to launch 100 record sets in 100 days.
Spanning 1538 to 1915, the Devon Collection is a rich source comprising over 4 million fully searchable transcripts and scanned colour images of the handwritten parish registers held by the record offices in Barnstaple and Exeter. With Plymouth and West Devon Record Office’s records already available on findmypast, these new additions mean that findmypast’s Devon Collection is the best possible place to find Devonshire ancestors.
The baptism, marriage and burial records of many notable Devonians are stored within the collection. The baptism of literary icon Samuel Taylor Coleridge, author of ‘Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner’ and founder of the Romantic Movement, can be viewed in records from the parish of Ottery St Mary.
Bad boy satirist John Gay, member of the Scriblerus club and author of ‘The Beggars Opera’, was born in Barnstaple in 1685 and records of his baptism in 1686 can be found from the Parish of Black Torrington.
Crime writer Agatha Christie’s baptism record appears in the parish register of Tormohun in 1890 under her maiden name Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller.
Legendary explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton, who was famous for completing the Hajj to Mecca disguised as a pilgrim, translating the Karma Sutra into English and becoming the first European to visit the great lakes of Africa amongst other exploits, was born in Torquay in 1821 and is recorded in the collection.
The records also include the polymath Charles Babbage, who is widely considered to be the father of the computer. Records of his 1814 marriage were kept by the parish of East Teignmouth.
Sir John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough and ancestor of Winston Churchill was born in the parish of Musbury at the height of the Civil War. He was a legendary soldier who revolutionised the British army in the late 17th century and was, for a time, one of the richest men in England. Details of his baptism can also be viewed in the archives.
VC winner and hero of the Zulu wars, Sir Redvers Henry Buller, is yet another famous military man from the county. Sir Redvers was widely celebrated before his disastrous leadership during the Second Boer War saw him sacked by the Minister for War, St. John Brodrick. He was born in Crediton in 1839 and died there in 1908, with both events being recorded by the parish.
Devon is one of the largest counties and therefore highly significant for family historians. As Maureen Selley, Chairman of Devon Family History Society www.devonfhs.org.uk, whose records are also available on findmypast, put it; “We all have Devonshire ancestors, it’s just that some of us haven’t found them yet.” Findmypast’s existing Devon records are already the most popular parish record set on the website.
The records are also of international significance as many historic Devonians emigrated to Canada, the US and Australia to work in the booming mining, fishing and agricultural industries. Devon’s position on the west coast meant that it was often used as a jumping off point for those headed to the United Sates. The Mayflower, the ship that carried the first pilgrims across the Atlantic, departed from Plymouth and the Devon Collection houses records that predate this famous voyage. These new records will help people from all over the world to trace their ancestral roots back to the county.
The Devon Collection adds to findmypast’s already extensive cache of parish records, the largest available online. These records allow family historians to go as far back as the 1500s, and with more parish records still to come as part of the 100in100 promise, family historians can now explore their more distant roots more easily than ever before.
Debra Chatfield, a family historian at findmypast.co.uk, said: “The Devon Collection is one of the largest regional parish record collections available anywhere online and contains some truly wonderful gems. This is the first time that parish records for the whole county have been available to search in one place, enabling people all around the world to discover fascinating details of Devonshire ancestors they didn’t know they had in this historical goldmine.”
Tim Wormleighton, of Devon Heritage Services said: “ We are delighted that, after a lengthy process of preparation involving a lot of hard work by a large team, people will now be able to access high quality images of the majority of Devon’s parish register entries online for the first time ever through findmypast”.
This just came through to me from the boys and girls at Findmypast…
600,000 new names added for the first time
Records contain physical descriptions, details of postings and remarks on conduct and character
Today findmypast released as part of their 100in100 campaign to release 100 record sets in 100 days the largest and most comprehensive collection of British World War 1 service records online, giving family historians a greater chance than ever before of finding their World War 1 ancestors. The newly re-indexed records contain details of millions of the men who fought for their country in one of the largest conflicts in history. As well as a more thorough transcription process which involved an individual examination of over 35 million pages of documentation, findmypast has also identified and indexed lists of names that were tucked away in individual service papers.
The record sets (WO363 and WO64, also colloquially known as the “burnt records”) are all that remain of records caught up in a fire caused by a German incendiary bomb during World War. As only around 40% of the original records survive, the addition of these 600,000 new names taken from extra lists and pages previously not indexed are a real boon to family historians with British military ancestors, as well as to military historians in general.
News out today from the British-owned online family history company DC Thomson Family History (the people behind findmypast amongst other websites) and The National Archives that they are entering into a joint project to make the records of 40 million civilians held in the 1939 register available online.
When they have got this data digitised, it is estimated by the company that the collection will comprise of near enough 1.2 million scanned full-colour images of documents. As the records cover the entire civilian population of England & Wales at the outbreak of WWII, this is quite a significant release for those of us researching our English or Welsh family tree.
What was the 1939 register?
It was taken on 29 September 1939 by the British Government and recorded personal details of individuals in order to issue identity cards and ration books. In later years it became the basis of the National Health Serviceâ€™s records.
Findmypast say that , when complete, the 1939 register will be fully searchable online for the first time, opening up the past to a new generation of family and social historians, just as the 1911 census did on its release in 2009.
So what can we expect to find once this set becomes available to us?
The records contain the address, full name, date of birth, sex, marital status and occupation of individuals, as well as changes of name. Although the Register is literally within living memory for many people, information about living individuals will be kept closed for 100 years from their year of birth, or until proof of death has been authenticated.
From today, anybody interested in being kept informed about the project can register at www.1939register.co.uk.
Annelies Van Den Belt, CEO of DC Thomson Family History said: â€œThis announcement is great news not just for British family historians and those with British relatives, but for anyone with an interest in history itself; providing a fascinating snapshot of the country as it stood on the edge of the most widespread conflict in human history.
â€œThis significant project will bring these records to a global audience for the first time, and combined with the 1.8 billion records already available on our websites will make it easier than ever to begin your family history journey and uncover the powerful stories that lie within and that make us who we are.â€
Mary Gledhill, Commercial Director, at The National Archives, added: â€œThe National Archives is delighted to be working with DC Thomson Family History to open up this unique record collection to the world, allowing history enthusiasts to discover more about the people at the outbreak of the Second World War. In the absence of a 1931 and 1941 census, this collection is all the more valuable to family historians trying to trace their ancestors.â€
The 1939 register project is the latest contract to be awarded to DC Thomson Family History by The National Archives. Record sets previously digitised by the company in association with The National Archives include Crime, Prisons and Punishment; outbound passenger lists; British Army Service records; Merchant Navy Seamenâ€™s records; Maritime Birth, Marriage and Death indexes and the 1911 census.
Great news for those of us researching our recent ancestors from England & Wales. One of the most anticipated family history projects since the 1911 census.
Disclosure: Compensated affiliate links used in this post.