notes - brief as they are, will be helpful to anyone who is considering
researching into the Great War service of a family member. They are
only a brief guide and are not by any means exhaustive but the information
contained within will be of immense benefit and might well stop you
going down many a blind alley as I did when I first started.
Firstly, a few notes about myself - I am a colleague of Stephen
Miller, one of the founders of this site and I have quite a bit
of personal experience in tracing the life of my grand-uncle George,
who was killed in the Great War - my research took me the length
and breadth of England and over quite a bit of the old Ancre battlefields
near to Arras in northern France and due to my perseverance, I was
able to locate the site of his old army hut on Cannock Chase, the
site where he was mortally wounded and ( believe it or not), the
spot on the road where he stopped for a pot of tea shortly before
- the information is there - it is just a matter of knowing where
None of what follows is copyrighted - feel free to use it as you
wish. For practical purposes, these notes assume that your soldier
lived in on near to Leeds.
1 Firstly, find out as much as you can from older relatives - bear
in mind that they will be 'knocking on a bit' and their memory might
not be what it was - if your soldier died in the war, then for anyone
to have any 'memory' of them, they will have to be over 90 themselves.
In my case, the family 'story' was that he was wounded, was getting
better and then died when the hospital was bombed - this piece of
accidental misinformation cost me a lot of time and work so, listen
to what people tell you, write it down, but don't take it as gospel.
Ask also about other family members , such as his siblings and parents
- details of these can be useful when you are trawling through the
various archives looking for old addresses ( By looking up the details
of George's sister, I was able to discover two addresses that were
not previously recorded).
2 If you are fortunate enough to have any letters or other documents,
take copies of them and then store the originals in the clear plastic
wallets and keep them in a cool dark place - old documents don't
take kindly to being handled and to light. They will most likely
be quite brittle, so be careful. Keep the documents in chronological
order for ease of reference.
3 Contact the local press for information - my request unearthed
the sister of his old girlfriend. The YEP was particularly helpful
4 Contact his old regiment if they are still in existence- if not.
Contact the British Legion - they might be able to tell you quickly
what happened to the Regiment, when they ceased to be and with whom
they amalgamated. Most Regiments will be pleased to help although
they don't as a rule keep records of individuals - they might however
have copies of the War Diary which will help you trace his movements
5 Go to the Central Library. There you will find the 'Absent Voter's
list - I think you can also find it via the 'Leodis Website' and
from there you will be able to trace the address where he lived
during the war. You will probably be able to see a picture of it
on the Leodis site and, if you then look at a map of the area, you
will find the local schools that he and his siblings probably attended
- people didn't travel too far in those days.
It is then worth a visit to the Leeds Archives at Sheepscar, ( 2145814
- book first) to look up the school records where you will find
details of his starting / leaving and transfers to other establishments
- have a quick look in the 'punishment book' - one poor little sod
received six of the best for singing 'ta ra ra boom di ay', whilst
another was chastised for taking his younger brother out of school
and to Roundhay Park for the day - did right too!
5 Do join the Western Front Association.
This is a must! If you don't join anything else, join this - sadly,
I'm not on the internet at the moment, so I can't give you the address,
but, put 'Western Front Association' in the 'box' and I'm sure you'll
The WFA is an organisation filled with like minded individuals and
a letter to them appealing for help will, I'm sure bring a positive
response. They also issue two good quarterly magazines and will,
for a reasonable charge, supply copies of old trench maps - invaluable
for when you go over to see where your soldier fought (Trench maps
are easy enough to read - any problems, please do feel free to get
6 Consider contacting the Liddle collection at Leeds University
( main switchboard 2431751) I am informed that this is a good collection
of memoirs, recollections etc and they may be able to help ( unable
help me at all though) - book first.
Be warned - when I went, I was asked 'if I would like to donate
to the collection', the original documents that I had - give them
copies by all means - any documents that you have are priceless
heirlooms and should be kept safely within the family
7 If he died, borrow the CD ' Soldiers Died in the Great War' -
try to find if anyone else from his regiment and battalion died
on the same day - it's easy enough (see also point 8)
8 You will be able to find his grave or commemoration on the website
of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission at www.cwgc.org - it's
simple, even I could navigate though it. If he has a known grave,
have a look in greater detail at the cemetery where he is. Try to
find out if there are any other soldiers of the same regiment, company
( or platoon if you're lucky) buried there at around the same time
( point 7) This will help when you go to
. The Public Records Office at Kew ( 0181 392 5200) to
see if you can find his army records - be prepared to be disappointed
though - a lot of records were destroyed when the building storing
them was bombed in WW2. The surviving ones are on microfilm It might
be worth writing to the Army Records Office, Bourne Avenue, Hayes
, Middlesex, UB3 1RF
tele 0181 573 3831 beforehand. They will send you a form OF26B.
Fill it in as best as you can and send it of with the payment -
about £30 last I heard - and they will then have a look and
see if they hold particulars of his military service. If they write
back and send you a resume (can't find the accent - sorry), of his
service, it means that the records are in existence and you will
POSSIBLY find further details if you go to Kew.
Even if they don't have records of your relative, it is well worth
going to Kew to have a look around - it is also well worth looking
at the records of any other soldiers from his battalion who died
at the same time - there may be details on their records of hospitals,
postings etc which may have some relevance to your own research.
If you do get copies of his records, these will be the most important
documents that you will come across - to go through the enormous
amount of information contained in them would take pages and pages
- if you do manage to get them, get in touch and I'll go through
them with you. If you do get copies of his records, watch out -
the microfilms are not of the greatest quality and sometimes the
copy can lose a bit of quality and detail which is visible from
the viewing screen - it's a good idea to check the copies you have
made with the original microfilm and fill in any missing bits with
a pencil .
If his records are not available, its not the end of the trail.
You will find that the battalion war diary is still in existence
- how long it takes to plough through it depends how long you chap
was in the battalion - I was 'lucky' - poor George was only with
them a matter of six weeks before he was killed and to look through
the diary for that time took about 30 mins. If he died in a specific
action, you might be lucky enough to find, at the end of the months
entry, an 'operational order', giving map references, platoon /
company dispositions etc - from finding the op.order of George's
last action ,I was able to locate, within about twenty yards, the
place where he was wounded
If he ' died of wounds' there might be some record of the hospital
/ dressing station / aid post who were looking after him at the
time - well worth checking their diary also
BE AWARE - THE 'SOLDIERS DIED ' CD AND THE PRO MICROFILM RECORDS
ARE NOT NECESSARILY CORRECT - IN MY CASE, BOTH SHOW GEORGE TO BE
WITH THE 1/4TH BATALLION OF THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON'S (WEST RIDING)
REGT WHEN IN FACT, HE WAS IN THE 5TH - LONG STORY HOW I FOUND OUT,
WON'T BORE YOU WITH IT NOW.
Not exhaustive - there is a lot of work to do, but it is fun. You
will meet a lot of kindred spirits who will give their time and
expertise freely - you'll also meet one or two pompous prigs .
Get yourself over to France or Belgium or wherever and retrace as
far as you can, his footsteps - marvellous experience
Finally, anything else, please let me know.