Sinking of the Lusitania

RMS LusitaniaI don’t know if you caught the Channel 5 programme on the sinking of the Cunard ocean liner RMS Lusitania? If not it is available online until May 2016 here:

http://www.channel5.com/shows/lusitania-18-minutes-that-changed-ww1/episodes/lusitania-18-minutes-that-changed-ww1

The loss of 1119 lives occurred on 7 May 1915 during the First World War, as Germany waged submarine warfare against the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

Recently I was approached by a client, whose family oral stories included one that claimed that several of his great-uncles had gone down in the ship. Understanding that family tales can get elaborated upon, he asked me to do some research to see if I could confirm or disprove the reports.

Luckily, for all family historians who think that they may have ancestors who sailed on the Lusitania, there is a great website which carries the passenger and crew lists for the fatal voyage on 7th May 1915 and it can be found here:

http://www.rmslusitania.info/

rmslusitania.info

 

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Soldiers Mentioned in Despatches now online at TheGenealogist

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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”

 

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Exceptional new records from Findmypast uncover the diversity that formed the Royal Air Force in the First World War

Press Release from Findmypast that those of us with RFC/RAF servicemen in the family may be interested in.

 

Findmypast.co.uk, in partnership with The National Archives has released close to 450,000 service records of men of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force including 342,000 Airmen’s records never seen online before. Tales of derring-do brought to life so vividly by W.E. Johns in his Biggles series are well-known, but today’s release tells, for the first time, the stories of the unsung heroes from across the world and from the lower ranks that made up the RAF on its inception.

The majority of records in this collection date from 1912 with the formation of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and include men who continued to serve in the RAF up until 1939. The earliest records date from 1899 with the Royal Engineers Balloon Service in the Boer War. With these fascinating records now available online, Findmypast offers the most comprehensive collection of British military service records in the early twentieth century.

Drawn from across the world…
The records reveal for the first time how World War One brought together men from across the world to serve alongside each other. Over 58 nationalities served in the RAF during World War One, with men signing up from as far afield as India, Brazil, Japan, Russia, Poland, Mexico, Romania and Germany. Included in the records is the first Indian to fly into combat, Hardutt Singh Malik, who became the only Indian aviator to survive the war, despite coming under significant attack and ending up with bullet wounds to his legs that required several months’ treatment in hospital. After the war, Malik joined the Indian Civil Service, serving as the Indian ambassador to France, and following his retirement became India’s finest golf player, even with two German bullets still embedded in his leg.

… and from across society
Despite the RAF’s reputation as the perfect playground for the upper classes, today’s records reveal how those from the working-class flew wing tip to wing tip with the officers, and became highly celebrated for their superior flying ability. One well-regarded flying ace, Arthur Ernest Newland, had humble origins as one of at least nine children from Enfield, north London, but the records show how he went on to twice receive the Distinguished Flying Medal for his prowess in the air, ending the war having destroyed 19 enemy aircraft, 17 of those single-handedly. One of ten children from a poor family in Limerick, John Cowell also became a celebrated airman during the war. Beginning on 5 May 1917, and extending through 28 July, Cowell scored fifteen victories as a gunner, and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal on 11 June 1918, as well as the Military Medal with Bar. Returning as a pilot in 20 Squadron he scored his final victory a year and a day after his fifteenth but sadly was shot down and killed the next day by balloon buster Friedrich Ritter von Röth of Jasta 16.

The air’s a stage
With the records containing information about an individual’s peacetime occupation, as well as their military prowess, it’s perhaps no surprise that the RAF appealed to the more dramatic members of society with records showing 104 actors, nine comedians and even one music hall artiste made up the RAF ranks.

“It’s a real treat to have such an extensive set of records about the everyday airmen of World War One” said Paul Nixon, military expert at Findmypast.co.uk. “These people, drawn from all walks of life, and from all over the world, played an incredibly important part in shaping our history, particularly in the development of aerial warfare. To have many of these hitherto unseen records easily accessible online for the first time mean that now many people can discover the Biggles in their own family.”

William Spencer, author and principal military records specialist at The National Archives continued: “These records reveal the many nationalities of airmen that joined forces to fight in the First World War. Now these records are online, people can discover the history of their ancestors, with everything from their physical appearance right through to their conduct and the brave acts they carried out which helped to win the war.”

The records, comprising National Archives series AIR 76 (Officers’ service records) and AIR 79 (Airmen’s records) contain information about an individual’s peacetime and military career, as well as his physical description, religious denomination and family status. Next of kin are often mentioned and this too has been fully indexed and is easily searchable. These records form part of Findmypast’s 100in100 promise to deliver 100 record sets in 100 days. To learn more about the records, visit www.Findmypast.co.uk.

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Records of 60,000 British civilians killed during WWII digitised

Ahead of Remembrance Day, Ancestry.co.uk, has today launched online the UK, WWII Civilian Deaths, 1939-1945 collection, listing the thousands of British citizens killed on the ‘Home Front’ during the Second World War.

 

The records, originally compiled by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, list almost 60,000 members of the British Commonwealth and Empire who were killed as a result of enemy action whilst going about their everyday lives or while at their posts as members of the Civil Defence Services.

 

The majority of the names listed were civilians killed in the aerial bombings by the German Luftwaffe (air force) as it attempted to bring Britain to its knees. These attacks on British cities, which took place from September 1940 to May 1941 are known collectively as The Blitz and led to around 40,000 deaths.

 

Nearly half of those killed in The Blitz (17,500) were Londoners, but several other cities were also badly hit, with Liverpool next worst off in terms of civilian deaths (2,677) followed by Birmingham, Bristol, Hull, Plymouth, Coventry, Portsmouth, Belfast and Glasgow.

 

Among the 59,418 names listed in the records is James Isbister, considered the first civilian casualty of WWII on home soil. He was killed in March 1940, when German bombers attacking Scapa Flow Naval Base, Orkney, jettisoned their remaining bombs over civilian territory as they fled back to Germany.

 

Hundreds of British civilians lost their lives before this point, most commonly in sea disasters when civilian ships hit military mines during the early months of the war. As the war progressed deaths at sea became all the more common, with thousands lost, as Germany used submarines to sink merchant ships in an attempt to restrict supplies to Britain.

 

More than 2,300 Civil Defence Service members also gave their lives whilst on duty, including air raid wardens, home guard, and members of the Women’s Voluntary Services.

 

One of the most notable names in the collection is actor and star of Gone With The Wind, Leslie Howard. He was killed in 1943 when the civilian airliner he was travelling in to Bristol was shot down. Historians have since suggested that the Luftwaffe may have attacked the non-military plane because German Intelligence believed Prime Minister Winston Churchill to be on board.

 

Before the war it was feared a sustained campaign of aerial bombings would lead to more than 600,000 deaths and as a result the 1937 Air Raid Precautions Act forced local councils to make provisions for defence. These varied from a widespread imposed blackout of all lighting from public and commercial buildings to the construction of bomb shelters and provision of gas masks.

 

The government also implemented widespread evacuation of major cities, with Operation Pied Piper responsible for the relocation of more than 3.5 million people – mainly urban children moved to safer homes in rural areas.

Several other famous names of the day can also be found within the digital records, including:

 

  • Albert Dolphin – Dolphin was working as an emergency hospital porter at what is today New Cross Hospital London when a bomb hit the kitchens of the building. A true Home Front hero, Albert rushed to the aid of a nurse trapped in wreckage and protected her as a damaged wall gave way. He was killed saving her life and was posthumously awarded the George Cross for his bravery.

 

  • James Baldwin-Webb MP – Baldwin-Webb, MP for The Wrekin in Shropshire and one of the most famous civilians of the day, was lost at sea. In September 1940, whilst travelling to Canada to fundraise for the Ambulance Corps, his liner SS City of Benares was torpedoed by a German submarine. He stayed aboard the ship to assist women and children onto lifeboats before going down with the ship.

 

  • Arthur Bacon – Bacon was a popular footballer, playing as a striker at Reading, Chesterfield and Coventry City – scoring 71 goals between 1923 and 1935. After his footballing career he served as a Special Constable in Derby where he was killed in 1942 (aged 37) during an air raid.

 

Miriam Silverman, UK Content Manager, from Ancestry.co.uk comments: “As we approach Remembrance Sunday, it’s important to not only remember those heroes who served and died in conflict but the thousands of ordinary people who lost their lives in Britain and the Commonwealth whilst battling to keep the country running at a very difficult time.

 

“This collection gives people the chance to find out about any Home Front heroes that might be in their family tree, and adds to the millions of military records available on Ancestry.co.uk from the past 100 years and more.”

 

Ancestry.co.uk is providing free access to 3.6 million military records between 8th and 12th November, including WWI Service Records 1914 – 1920, WWII Army Roll of Honour 1939 – 1945, Navy Medal and Roll Awards 1793 – 1972 and Victoria Cross Medals 1857 – 2007. To search for the war heroes in your family tree, visit www.ancestry.co.uk/start_military
 

Disclosure: Links are compensated affiliate links.

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Vive La Différence! Revealed: Brits Love to Hate the French

Research reveals Brits think the French are arrogant, unhelpful and rude – but wouldn’t change a thing about them!

Research published to celebrate an archive of 16.3 million Parisian births, marriages and deaths launched online by Ancestry.co.uk in April 2010 (Disclosure: Compensated Affiliate.)

Records detail 200 years of French history

Three million Brits have French ancestry

In a world first, one of the UK’s top family history websites, Ancestry.co.uk has launched online 16.3 million historic French birth, marriage and death records – a collection of huge significance to the estimated three million Britons with French ancestry.

After Irish blood, French ancestry is the most common in the UK with 1 in 20 Brits having French ancestors, including TV presenters Davina McCall and Louis Theroux, comedian Noel Fielding and Harry Potter star Emma Watson and myself!Ancestry.co.uk

I found that my Scottish line surnamed Hay were actually descended from a Norman called De la Haye. I also have a grandfather, on my mother’s side, whose surname is Renaux and so is assumed to be from French stock.

Yet despite these close links with France, we’re unlikely to be donning berets on this side of the channel just yet. According to an online survey of 9,357 adults, conducted in October 2009 by Zoomerang research, and covering tourists from the UK, Germany, Canada, the USA and France, nearly half of Brits think Parisians are arrogant, aloof and unhelpful (45 per cent), whilst 41 per cent suspect Parisians avoided helping tourists by pretending not to speak English on their last visit to the city.

Other unappealing experiences include extortionate food and drink prices, appalling driving and excessive dog excrement on the streets.

Yet, this negative view doesn’t stop us from loving ‘belle Paris’ and in particular the French culture, with 7 in 10 visitors saying would recommend the city to a friend and a third (33 per cent) saying the rude behaviour of residents is all part of the experience.

This research has been released to celebrate the online launch of over 200 years of Parisian history in the Paris, France & Vicinity Vitals, 1700-1907 on Ancestry.co.uk, which features 16.3 million records of births, marriages and deaths from the dawn of the 18th century.

The collection contains in-depth information about the individuals featured; including their name, details of their spouse and parents, birth place, occupation, residence, age, details of marriage and date and place of death.

These ‘vital records’, so called because of their immense genealogical value, will provide the building blocks for Brits to discover their French roots, enabling them to trace the birth, marriage or death of an ancestor living in Paris and the capital’s vicinity, from the 18th to 20th centuries.

Among these historic Parisians are some of the city’s greatest artists and famous historical figures listed, including:

Edgar Degas – the French artist, regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism, appears in the birth records on the 19th July 1834

Baron Gaspard Gourgaud – the burial of the Napoleonic general Gourgaud, who once saved the life of the emperor from a gunpowder plot, is listed on the 25th July 1852

Gustave Moreau – the birth of the Symbolist painter, known for his works depicting biblical and mythological figures, is recorded on the 6th April 1826

Many of these records were compiled by the prominent genealogist Maurice Coutot in 1924. He used parish church records to fill the void that was left by the destruction of all of the pre-1860 civil registration records for Paris, which were burnt in a fire during the French Revolution.

Ancestry.co.uk International Content Director Dan Jones comments: “Paris is an enchanting city with a rich history that Brits have been drawn to for centuries, so for many it will be a thrill to discover that they may have close ancestral ties to France.

“Making these Parisian records available will help many British people out there with French heritage trace their continental roots.”

Disclosure: Compensated Affiliate.

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