Fw: [BOER-WAR] First World War service records to be posted on the internet
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This was posted on the Boer-War list this morning. It will be interesting to see how much
information that will be made available.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Paul & Deirdre Snook" <paul@...>
Sent: Sunday, November 07, 2004 5:26 AM
Subject: [BOER-WAR] First World War service records to be posted on the internet
| This might be of interest to some on the list.
| Deirdré Snook
| 'Churchill and Edward VIII's First World War service records to be posted on the internet
| By Chris Hastings, Media Correspondent
| (Filed: 07/11/2004)
| The military service records of Sir Winston Churchill and King Edward VIII are among five and a
half million First World War documents which are to be made available online for the first time.
| The internet database, which has been established by the National Archives in Kew, is the first
comprehensive roll of those who served in the Army and the Royal Flying Corps during the Great War.
Records of those who served in the Royal Navy are not included, but may be in the future.
| The database, which has taken 18 months to compile, will be a boost for researchers, historians
and family genealogists who have previously found it difficult to trace even the most basic of
| Most of the available sources are restrictive either because they deal solely with officers or
concentrate on those who lost their lives during the four-year campaign. There is also little
information relating to millions of ordinary soldiers who returned to civilian life at the end of
| This problem has been compounded by the loss of millions of records during the Second World War.
More than 60 per cent of service records were destroyed during German air raids on London in the
| The new archive, however, includes medal records that were kept separate from service records. It
provides the first complete list of those who served, because all combatants were entitled to an
honour of some description.
| Members of the public logging on to the service will be able call up an index card which will
provide a summary of an individual's rank, his regiment and regimental number, the first theatre of
war in which he served and the list of medals awarded. Users will only have to know the name of the
person they are looking for. Historians and genealogists say that even these basic details represent
an important breakthrough.
| Sue Gibbons, the librarian at the Society of Genealogists, said that it would be far more useful
than existing sources - such as the National Roll of the Great War - which tended to be patchy and
selective. "The scarcity of existing information means that people can often shy away from First
World War military history because they think it is too complicated," she said.
| "I think this is going to be a very useful tool precisely because existing sources tend to
concentrate solely on officers or on those who lost their lives during the conflict. This will be a
valuable resource for the millions of people whose relatives were not officers.
| "These cards will fill gaps and provide vital clues. They will give the regimental and the service
number, without which many people have found it very difficult to proceed. Those people who haven't
got a picture of their loved one in uniform have often found it impossible to do the research
because they simply have no idea what regiment they were in."
| Ms Gibbons predicted that the National Archives should be prepared for a response similar to the
one generated by its decision to put the 1901 census online in 2002. That site had to be taken
offline for several weeks because of an unexpected large response from members of the public.
| She urged those embarking on research to proceed with caution. "Researching the First World War
can be a heartbreaking business and people should be prepared for bad news," she said. "They may
discover that family they never knew they had were killed in the most horrifying of circumstances.
| "The First World War is now so far away that people researching it have little knowledge of the
events involved. If they had a clearer idea of what they might come across some people might not do
it at all."
| Nick Barratt, a family historian who acted as a consultant on the popular BBC2 series Who Do You
Think You Are? in which 10 well-known people traced their own ancestry, said that the information
would provide the crucial staring point for those researching the First World War.
| "For the first time there will be a complete snapshot of those who served in the Great War," he
said. "Armed with a person's service number and details of his regiment, people will then be able to
cross-reference and explore dozens of other sources, such as regimental diaries and records kept by
the Commonwealth Graves Commission."
| Churchill's card, which refers to him as the Rt Hon W L S Churchill, shows that he was commanding
a battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, when he entered France on November 18, 1915. He was a
major in the Oxfordshire Hussars at the time he claimed his medals and he was awarded the 1914-15
Star and the British and Victory medals.
| The card for the future Edward VIII, which lists him as HRH The Prince of Wales, shows that he
first served as a lieutenant then as a major in the Grenadier Guards and that he entered France on
November 16, 1914. He was awarded the 1914 Star and the British and Victory medals.
| Other records include those of Siegfried Sassoon, the war poet and less well-known ones including
Sidney Godley, who served as Private 13814 in the 4th Royal Fusiliers and was the first private to
be awarded the Victoria Cross. There is also a listing for Walter Tull, the Army's first black
officer who rose from the rank of corporal to second lieutenant. A former professional footballer,
he was killed in action in 1918.
| The collection is the most ambitious internet project undertaken by the National Archives, which
recently placed one million wills online. Helen Campbell, the archives' internet marketing manager,
said: "We expect the records to have international appeal because there are so many documents
relating to Commonwealth military personnel. Previously people will have had to travel to Kew to
access this information, now it can be retrieved from the comfort of their own home." Members of the
public will be able to search the archive for free, but it will cost £3.50 to download each
| The archive can be found on www.DocumentsOnline.nationalarchives.gov.uk, from Sunday, November 14.
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