Monday 2 November 2015

Distinguished Conduct Medal Citations

In 1899 the Distinguished Conduct Medal was the only gallantry medal that could be awarded to Other Ranks and was second in rank to the Victoria Cross. Over 2,000 DCMs were awarded for the Anglo-Boer War, it is unfortunate then, that for the vast majority of awards the citations have not survived. A significant number of awards for good service during the war and not action in the face of the enemy. Therefore when buying and or researching a DCM one cannot say for what action it was awarded.
For The Register I have been going through the DCM awards and it has become apparent that for many awards there is scope to determine the circumstances of the award. We probably won't be able to say that Pte Tommy Atkins charged with his bayonet, killing or capturing a great number of Boers. But more can be found, for example let's consider the award to Lance-Corporal 3510 William Brown (real name Fowler), 2nd bn Northumberland Fusiliers.
Fowler's medals were sold by Dix Noonan Webb the catalogue quotes from the “regimental journal”:

‘A, C, E, and F Companies sent up the Witwatersburg to clear the heights along the left flank. Stiff skirmishing on very steep and difficult ground, Boers holding heights ahead and some distant kopjes on left flank from which they kept up a heavy fire at long ranges. Privates Doyle and Jamieson of F Company were killed and four others wounded. Lance-Corporal Brown much distinguished himself here.'

This would suggest that Fowler’s DCM is for this action which has no date and just the approximate location of “Witwatersburg” – a range of hills or mountains. One is assuming too that the “Lance-Corporal Brown” is the same man as received the DCM.
That aside, Fowler’s service papers (WO97), not quoted in the catalogue, state clearly that he ‘Distinguished himself at Skeerpoort 04-08-1900' Is this the date and place of the action described in the regimental journal?

Unfortunately not, the two men mentioned as killed; Doyle (Pte W 5141) and Jamieson (Pte J 1656) are recorded as killed in action on September 5th, 1900 at Hartebeesfontein. The casualty roll confirms four were wounded at this place. So, there is significant doubt over where Brown won his DCM.

What do we know of the action at Skeerpoort on August 8th, 1900? There are no recorded casualties here for this date. The two histories of the Northumberland Fusiliers (Wood and Walker) do not help. Skeerpoort was not in The Gazetteer either, it has just been added. Skeerpoort is to the west of Pretoria below the Magaliesberg, a few kilometres east of the present day Hartebeestepoort Dam.

Eighteen men from a variety of units were casualties here (only one killed) from September 1900 to November 1901. The rugged Magaliesberg was a favourite bolt-hole for the Boers, the terrain favoured those with local knowledge. There were a few well known roads through the passes (“Neks”) that the British blocked. Later the British built a line of blockhouses across the top of the range. In early August 1900 British forces were preparing to block the Neks to prevent Christian de Wet crossing.
More reading around could reveal exactly what the Northumberland Fusiliers and Brown did to earn his DCM. It could be that Fowler's award, like others in the war were for more multiple acts over a period of time.
When I have completed work on the DCMs I will publish statistics on showing for how many DCMs the battle or location for which it was awarded are known. The challenge then is to do the research into individual awards to reveal more. 

Monday 5 October 2015

The Imperial Light Infantry at Spion Kop - restating their casualties

The battle of Spion Kop (January 24, 1900) was one the most bloodiest battles of the war. This was the first action for the Imperial Light Infantry (ILI), a newly raised unit most of whose recruits were refugees from Johannesburg.

The Natal Field Force casualty roll (Hayward & Son, ) (NFFCR) lists the casualties for Spion Kop. The NFFCR has long been known to be inaccurate and incomplete. David Humphry wrote about the problems with the NFFCR in Medal News in February 2002 citing the ILI casualty lists specifically.
Humphry noted discrepancies between the NFFCR and a list of casualties published in the Manchester Guardian, the NFFCR shows the men as "Missing-Released 06.06.00" or  "Missing-Released" the paper shows them as wounded. Which is correct?

As part of the continuous process to update The Register I have looked in detail at the ILI casualties drawing on information not yet used from The Times, medal rolls (WO100), regimental history and the discharge books (WO127). Here is a breakdown of the casualties between the NFFCR and new data in The Register:

  The Register NFFCR
Killed         33      29
DoW           2        1
Wounded         82      31
POW         28        4
Missing - Released          1      15
Missing - Released 06-06-00          0      45

A new piece of evidence has come to light in The Times which helped settle the issue over the number of men missing vs men wounded. The British prisoners taken by the Boers at Spion Kop were sent to Waterval camp near Pretoria. The camp was captured by the British in June 6, 1900 and most of the men freed; the Boers moved what they thought were "high value" prisoners eastwards. List of the men released from Waterval were published in The Times, the edition for July 27th listed 28 men of the ILI freed. This data has never been used in compiling the casualty rolls.

The 28 men listed in The Times as released and therefore actual prisoners are mostly found on the NFFCR list as "Missing - Released". Most of those in the category "Missing - Released 06.06.00", with that specific date of June 6 were not in the 28, but shown as wounded, two were killed . It appears the NFFCR has made a big mistake and overstated the number of real POWs and understated the number of wounded.

Further proof that these men were not prisoners comes from checking the medal entitlement. Fortunately the campaign to relieve Ladysmith was covered by two battle clasps: Relief of Ladysmith and Tugela Heights. The battle for Spion Kop is covered by the first clasp and Tugela Heights is for the subsequent battles starting on February 14th. Therefore if a soldier is captured at Spion Kop one would not expect him to have the clasp Tugela Heights and vice versa.

For all the men listed as wounded in The Times and "Missing-Released 06.06.00" they have the clasp Tugela Heights and many the next clasp for Laing's Nek. These men could not have been prisoners. The data in The Register for the ILI has been corrected to show the figures in the table above. These numbers match closely the figures published in the ILI history (With the Imperial Light Infantry Through Natal, Straker 1903 C Boscawen-Wright).

Other corrections have come to light; three men listed in the NFFCR as "Missing-Released" were in fact killed and Pte 215 J Hirst is listed on the ILI memorial on Spion Kop as killed. In fact Pte Hirst survived and served later in the Commander-in-Chief's Bodyguard. The ILI memorial also misses three men from the list of killed.

To confuse matters slightly, having used medal entitlement data to show men were not prisoners, four of those listed in The Times released from Waterval have the later clasps Tugela Heights and or Laing's Nek. It seems unlikely their names are on The Times list erroneously, perhaps the error lay in compiling the medal roll which has been known to happen too.

The moral of this story is not to trust one source, but start with The Register as it is the only casualty roll to be updated and corrected. Unfortunately the errors in the NFFCR have been blindly copied onto the internet for millions to use.

Sunday 20 September 2015

Defence & Relief: The Clasp Combinations for the sieges

There were four main sieges during the war, and a host of lesser known sieges. The four main sieges were:

Kimberley - 14th October, 1899 to 15th February, 1900
Ladysmith -  3rd November, 1899 to 28th February, 1900
Mafeking - 13th October, 1899 to 17th May, 1900
Wepener  - 9th April, 1900 to 25th April, 1900

Clasps were issued for the defence and relief of each of these sieges, (apart from Wepener which has no relief clasp) which are popular amongst collectors. Another angle is that of collecting defence and relief combinations and double relief combinations. From the data collected for The Register these are the available combinations and known medals to date are:

Defence of Kimberley - Relief of Mafeking    : 155 (420 - Kaplan)
Defence of Ladysmith - Relief of Mafeking    :   18 + 18 (33 + 184 with Elandslaagte clasp - Kaplan)
Relief of Ladysmith    - Relief of Mafeking     : 132 (209 - Kaplan)
Relief of Kimberley    - Relief of Mafeking     :     7
Relief of Kimberley    - Relief of Ladysmith    :    2
Relief of Kimberley    - (Defence of) Wepener :    3

There are no "double defence" combinations.

"Kaplan" refers to "The Medal Roll of the Queen's South Africa Medal with Bar Relief of Mafeking, 1980".

As more clasp data is input into The Register these figures are likely to increase, but I believe the relative scarcity of each combination will remain.

Saturday 25 July 2015

Q Battery RHA at Sanna's Post 31st March, 1900

The Register of the Anglo-Boer War has been updated with the names of the 138 men from Q Battery Royal Horse Artillery who served in this classic action. Three Victoria Crosses were awarded Q battery; one officer and two men who were elected by their comrades. The names are taken from a panel created by the battery to be placed in the men's mess wherever the battery was stationed. The location of the panel is unknown, it may have been destroyed during the bombing of London during World War II.

Sanna's Post or Koornspruit was a comprehensive defeat in an ambush of a British column by Christian de Wet and was the first reverse suffered by Lord Robert's all conquering army. Lord Robert's army had in four weeks reversed the defeat suffered by Lord Methuen at Magersfontein that had stalled the British advance in the west. Robert's men had driven the Boers back, captured over 4000 at Paardeberg and captured Bloemfontein the capital of the Orange Free State.

At Bloemfontein Robert's army rested, and allowed the Boers to regroup. de Wet was very keen to carry the war on and the ambush at Sanna's Post signalled his intent to attack wherever he could; a pattern that was to develop into the protracted guerrilla phase (October 1900 to May 1902).

Sanna's Post was a postal agency and railway station in the course of construction 30 km east of Bloemfontein. The action took place in a drift across the Koornspruit (a left bank tributary of the Modder River) on the farm Klipkraal. The location of the drift named after the farm, Klip Kraal Drift, is difficult to determine.  It is not marked on any contemporary map and may well be a variant of 'Waterworks Drift' - at the Bloemfontein waterworks on the Thaba Nchu-Bloemfontein road.

In order to destroy the Bloemfontein waterworks on the Modder River east of Sannah's Post and cut off the return of Brig-Gen R.G. Broadwood's force from Thaba Nchu to Bloemfontein, Chief-Cmdt C.R. de Wet took a commando of some 1,600 burghers and, splitting it in two, prepared an ambush in the bed of the spruit just west of the incomplete buildings of the railway station.  Broadwood's column arrived early on 31 March 1900 and bivouacked west of the Modder around Sannah's Post.  As dawn broke a few hours later, the bivouac was shelled by guns from the remainder of the commando led by Veg-Gen P.D. de Wet and orders were issued to continue the move westwards towards Bloemfontein.  As the transport waggons jammed together at the drift across the Koornspruit they were ambushed by C.R. de Wet's party which took five guns of 'U' battery Royal Horse Artillery. Q battery lost two guns. Broadwood managed to marshall the remains of his convoy to a drift upstream and continue westwards, but one-third of his column had been either killed, wounded or captured and he had lost seven guns and 83 supply waggons.  In considering the record of the attempts to save other guns from capture, Field Marshal Lord Roberts decided that this was a case of collective gallantry by the officers, drivers and gunners of 'Q' battery Royal Horse Artillery.  Accordingly Victoria Crosses were awarded to Maj E.J. Phipps-Hornby, Sgt C. Parker (elected by the noncommissioned officers) and Gunner I. Lodge and Driver H.H. Glassock (elected by the drivers and gunners).  For his gallantry on the same occasion, Lt F.A. Maxwell, Indian Staff Corps attached to Roberts' Light Horse, was also awarded the Victoria Cross.

Sunday 7 June 2015

Researching British Army Casualties: "new" source

Researching casualties of the Victorian British Army has always been difficult because their service papers were destroyed, although a few have survived. So, the prospect of finding out more about "Pte T Smith" was always slim. War memorials are a potential source in giving the area they came from or giving a first name, but "Thomas Smith" of Birmingham is still difficult. War memorial information is shown as part of a soldier's record on The Register.

On January 15th Ancestry made available the "UK, Army Registers of Soldiers' Effects, 1901-1929" from the National Army Museum, Chelsea. These books contain 872,395 records detailing the disposal of monies owed to a soldier who died in service. A typical entry shows first name, surname, service number, regiment, date of enlistment, place of enlistment, for early records a trade is shown, date of death, place of death, how much was owed, to who it was paid: wife, parent, sibling.

The entry for Lance-Sergeant 5414 Henry Wyatt 2nd bn South Wales Borderers. New information: enlisted 22-09-1896, London, trade Blacksmith's mate; next of kin: mother Sarah.

The value of this data in tracing the family history of a soldier is huge, census searches are more accurate with a first name, an assumed date of birth based on enlistment year, next of kin details and possible location.

Saturday 30 May 2015

More "secrets" from the Casualty Rolls

The casualty rolls for the Anglo-Boer War do not tell the whole story, a big problem is that the location given is often the place the casualty return was created. This can be many miles from the actual location and, of course, when trying to research what happened leads you down a false trail. This point was observed when The Gazetteer was published in 1999. The published Gazetteer with its 2400 entries resolved many of these problems allowing researchers to quickly learn the exact location and importantly what occurred leading to the death, wounding or capture of soldiers. This process is on-going.

Two recent findings have led to updates to the gazetteer and casualty details in The Register. In the South African Field Casualty Roll for 11-03-1901 there are casualties for "Balmoral", "nr Balmoral" and "nr Wilge River". Are these incidents connected? The casualty roll gives no clues. Using a fabulous resource "Surrenders" (WO108/372 The National Archives, London) we can find out these casualties are connected and exactly what happened.

On 11 March 1903 a train left Pretoria heading north to Middelburg, a line frequently targeted by Boers. The escort composed of men from a variety of regiments was commanded by a young officer recently arrived in South Africa, 2nd-Lt JP Wilson, Army Service Corps. The train was derailed by an explosion, 2nd-Lt Wilson turned out the escort who lined a ditch and began to return fire on the attacking Boers. 2nd-Lt Wilson spotted a group of Boers advancing up a donga, as he organised a counter-attack he was hit in the thigh losing consciousness immediately. Another part of the defence became disorganised and surrendered forcing the remaining defenders to surrender too. Three men had been killed, three wounded and 38 men surrendered. There is no evidence these men were actually detained and removed from the battlefield, reinforcements from Balmoral arrived. There is no record in the casualty roll nor are any listed in The Times.

Because British soldiers surrendered a court of inquiry was held. 2nd-Lt Wilson and a "Colour-Sgt Butler" (senior NCO) were "honourably acquitted". However, Lord Kitchener in his review, did not feel that Butler's conduct was honourable as he surrendered unwounded. Unfortunately there is no positive identification for "Colour-Sgt Butler".

By checking The Times a casualty was revealed not shown in the Official Casualty roll, Pte 6174 J Scott ("Acott" in The Times), King's Own Scottish Borderers. In the medal rolls Scott is shown simply as "deceased". Nor is Scott shown in Watt's In Memoriam indicating he has no known grave and is not listed on a memorial in South Africa.

Additionally, all the casualties for the Berkshire Regiment at Zilikat's Nek (02-08-1900) are recorded in the Official Casualty rolls are recorded as "Rietfontein". There are 15 Rietfonteins in The Gazetteer in all corners of South Africa. Correcting the casualties to Zilikat's Nek helps researchers, and crucially for collectors and dealers focused on "associations" reveals that these casualties occurred in a Victoria Cross action for the Berkshires. L-Cpl WJ House was awarded the VC for rescuing a wounded sergeant from under a heavy fire when warned not to do so.

Only one sergeant of the Berkshires is recorded as wounded at Zilikat's Nek, presumably this the man rescued by L-Cpl House: Sgt 3744 A Gibbs, Berkshire Rgt. Unfortunately Gibbs died of his wounds the same day.

The Register has been updated with these details for all these men.

Tuesday 24 March 2015

The youngest assailant of the war?

Today's research began with the 5th (militia) battalion Royal Irish Rifles, moved on to expanding the gazetteer and finally uncovering the tragic death of a British soldier shot by a six year old boy. Such are the avenues opened by researching for The Register, one must be disciplined to stay on course!

On May 17th, 1901 an outpost of the Royal Irish was attacked by 100 Boers near Leeuwspruit. They kept the Boers at bay until all their ammunition was exhausted, three men were wounded, one fatally, all were captured. Unfortunately this episode is not recorded in Surrenders (WO108/372). The casualty roll records the location as either Leeuwspruit or Wolvehoek; which is correct or are they different places? Such questions have to be answered to make The Register accurate and help researchers know the facts and add colour to their findings.

In the published gazetteer (A Gazetteer of the Second Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902 HM & MGM Jones, Military Press, 1999) there is only one Leeuwspruit, the location where, on June 14th 1900, Lord Kitchener fled for his life across the veldt when the train he was travelling in was halted by the Boers. Later that evening the Boers attacked two trains and a construction party capturing 350 men (not all soldiers).

To identify the location of a place one useful resource is Steve Watt's In Memoriam which gives burial locations (where known). In The Register there are 70 men whose casualty location from the official casualty rolls is "Leeuwspruit". Refining this list by date one can identify individuals not connected with the June 14th attack or the Royal Irish Rifles. Using In Memoriam to check the burial places I have added three Leeuwspruits to the gazetteer; one in the Free State and two what was the Transvaal. All the "Leeuwspruit" casualties now have gazetteer entries.

So, what of the six year old boy? In Watt the place Orebyfontein is mentioned alongside Leeuwspruit. Orebyfontein is not mentioned in the gazetteer, there are three casualties for the 1st Dragoon Guards - two officers and one man. In creating the gazetteer Orebyfontein did not feature in any of the initial sources used - mostly contemporary accounts which do not seem to have reported this incident.

Another good source for casualty information is contemporary newspapers and this where the amazing story of Orebyfontein appears (The Times January 24th, 1902 ):
Whilst skirmishing Pte 4163 HH Hughes 1st King Dragoon Guards was fatally wounded by a six year old Boer boy who approached and shot him in the abdomen with a concealed pistol. Cpt EA Williams was killed and Lt HH Harris wounded in the skirmish. A report to the War Office was made by Sgt C Probertts of Pte Hughes' troop and his comrade Pte MF Elmer.
 I cannot find any further trace in the newspapers about this incident. But, now the fate Pte of Hughes is permanently recorded.

Tuesday 3 March 2015

Splitting Groups - Good business or greed?

For as long as medals have been bought and sold groups of medals have been split up, you just have to browse a few dealer's list to see how many single medals are missing their mates.

The reasons are many; the owner could split them amongst his descendants so they have one each (my Great-Uncle did this), medals get lost (then a singleton is discovered in the back of drawer by the house clearance folk) and there is the deliberate action by collectors and dealers.

Collectors will split a group because they are only interested in one of the medals.

Dealers will split groups for profit. One such dealer who admitted they do this is Liverpool Medals, as I was told by Joshua Rosenberg they buy groups and will separate them to sell them more quickly:

“If what you are asking is that we list them as one, It would make it much
more difficult to sell as a group, and it is not even clear if it is the
same person due to difference in service numbers and units, the two groups
appeal to different collectors.”

They also do this to increase profit - or try to.

A recent example from Liverpool Medals is the splendid group to Colonel FH Chapman Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry: MVO, IGS, QSA and Union of South Africa Commemoration Medal.

The group was sold by the Truro Auction Centre in August  2014 for £1600.

It appeared on Liverpool Medals' website the next month in two parts; the three campaign medals for £1395 and the Union medal for £995. You can easily tell it is the same Union medal by a pin hole in the top centre of the blue stripe on the ribbon.

The two lots remain unsold.

This is a huge shame as the Union medal is rare and is issued unnamed. Colonel Chapman's entitlement is verified. If the group remains separated then in the future Colonel Chapman's entitlement to the Union medal could be lost. This is an important point relevant to all split groups; how many sources does a collector search in the hope someone was entitled to a rare or unusual medal?

The Register is recording as many QSA and KSAs it can that are offered for sale or known to exist in private collections. In this way groups such as Colonel Chapman's are being recorded for posterity. Unfortunately The Register can't afford to reunite such groups - or more importantly refuses to feed the greed of Liverpool Medals.

The split that prompted my conversation with Liverpool Medals over their policy concerned the medals to Pte 6270 JJ Jackson Northumberland Fusiliers: QSA, KSA, 1914-15 Star trio (RAMC & CAHTC) and Silver War Badge. Sold by Alec Kaplan & Sons, Johannesburg in May 2013. Liverpool Medals bought it and split the QSA and KSA from the WW1 medals (the SWB was not with the group sold by Kaplans), because they could sell the QSA & KSA to a Northumberland's collector quickly and they didn't believe it was to the same man. Jackson was discharged in South Africa so could easily have earned the WW1 medals. Most dealers would not split the group together and leave it to a keen collector to prove the group.

Jackson's QSA & KSA were sold quickly, the WW1 trio languish on the website.

Collectors strip out (or lose) medals.

The QSA, Kimberley Star pair to Cpl 86 J Laskey Kimberley Light Horse have been sold in 2011 and 2014. In February the QSA only turns up with London Medals, a discussion with them indicates they only bought the QSA, not having seen the Kimberley Star. This is annoying but not disastrous, the Kimberley Star was issued unnamed to all defenders of Kimberley and there is no roll. Unlike the examples above, one can easily tell if a man was eligible for the Kimberley Star. Laskey's missing Star is unfortunate but not irretrievable.

In the upcoming Bene Merenti Auktionen sale they are offering the group to Lt-Colonel S Bogle-Smith 2nd Dragoon Guards and Remounts. This group was sold in 1962 and 2014, now it is missing and Austrian Order of the Iron Crown. Why? I don't know, I just hope the Order has not been stripped out for a collection or for profit.

Thursday 26 February 2015

Researching World War I - War Diaries

Lots of soldiers who served in the Anglo-Boer War also went on to serve in World War I. There is plenty of research material on the internet, most of which is well known: Medal Index Cards (Army), medal rolls (Royal Navy) and Silver War Badge (all on Ancestry), Service and Pension papers (FindmyPast and Ancestry) and RAF papers (FindmyPast).

 Recent additions to add to the fund of knowledge are the medal rolls (Ancestry) and war diaries.

WW1 was the first war in which British forces were required to keep detailed records of their activities and submit the records to the War Office. Prior to 1914 any form of a day to day account of a unit’s activities only existed if someone, usually, an officer kept a diary and wrote it up afterwards into what we call a “regimental history”. An exception is the Royal Artillery who collected a "digest of service" from each battery - these are kept at the Library of the Royal Artillery. If you are researching a soldier from the Anglo-Boer War to WW1 you will probably find a wealth of detail in a WW1 war diary not so easily accessible for the Anglo-Boer War.
War Diaries are available from two sites on the internet; The National Archives and Naval and Military Archive. The best search engine for War Diaries on the Naval and Military Archive as you quickly zero in on the required time frame (if you are searching by date of death, wounding or capture), simply select the regiment name (or division, brigade) and select a year and month, quickly you get a list of pages with the place the page relates to and the days covered. This is great to quickly get an idea where the unit was on a certain date and whether it was in battle or not. You may need to cross reference these dates with additional information from sites such as The Long, Long Trail. Of course a page can cover any amount of time, less than a day (when describing a long battle) or multiple days (moving in and out of the line). But, the information displayed can be useful.
If you want to read the actual page, this where you need your credit card. Before you commit have a look at The National Archives. Their Discovery catalogue is not the best, but persevere. Each War Diary costs £3.30 to download. The War Diary from the Archives will cover a higher formation, say Brigade and include other battalions and a greater time span (months). Buying this could be more economical and useful that using Naval and Military.

Sunday 8 February 2015

Casualties on-line

** Updated 1st December, 2023 - Trollip.

There are two sources on-line for British Empire casualties; Ancestry and The Register which is the one I have been compiling for about ten years now.

The Ancestry data comes from Naval & Military a well known publisher of military history books, maps and other source material.

In helping a family history researcher on I was made aware that the casualty data on Ancestry compiled by Naval & Military has been edited to remove facts such as the severity of a wound (slight, severe, dangerous), cause of death and most importantly dates of death. This last piece of information really important and knowing the severity of a wound adds colour to the story of a man's military service.

I have found a number of examples where the wound data is abbreviated to just "Wounded":

Pte 29832 WH Grantham IY - "Dangsly wounded Accidentally"
Pte 32616 J Renton  IY - "Sev wounded Self Inflicted"
Pte 26744 JH Wilson IY -"Slightly wounded"

Dates of death published in the casualty roll are missing from Ancestry, here are two examples:

Pte 482 AL Tilley SAC - "Wounded 9-11-1901 Died 13-11-1901" - the wounding is shown but the date of death is omitted, and the same for Pte 31776 LR Stewart Scottish Horse

The details for Pte 52 BG Trollip Eastern Province Horse have been mangled to create an incorrect record:

The entry in the SAFF roll cleary shows he was POW 16th May, 1900 at Senekal and Died at Bethlehem 10th July, 1900.



The Register shows the details correctly with a reference to FamilySearch where you can find two registrations for his death. Unfortunately a cause is not given. And The Register gives more information such as the medal roll page and a reference to a newspaper detailing the capture of Trollip and his comrades and how some managed to escape. Trollip got separated from the group.

Some men died of unusual causes which are not noted in Ancestry, but simply recorded as "Died" or "Killed":

Pte B Smith, Nesbitt's Horse - bee stings
Trpr TC Fenton, BSAP - killed by a lioness
Trpr S Smart Steinaecker's Horse - killed by a lion
Pte W Cunningham 2nd Dragoons - gored by a bull

The internet has been hugely positive in making research material more easily available. But, where the data has been pulled from original material it is clear some companies are more concerned with profit and show little respect for the historical record or the people they expect to pay to view the data.

There are also errors in the Ancestry casualty records, the non-existent 12th Hussars make an appearance: Pte 3098 W Muirhead was in the 13th Hussars. Such errors are in every single source I have consulted to build The Register which is the only casualty roll that is corrected and enhanced. When errors are found in The Register, they are fixed immediately - no other online resource does this.

And when looking at casualties The Register offers unique gazetteer data to help you locate the place a casualty occurred.

The Register's casualty database won a Gold medal at the Order and Medals Research Society Convention in 2017. You can read more about that display here.

Since writing this blog in 2015 it appears another source for ABW casualties online has appeared, ForcesWarRecords (FWR). Unfortunately they have come to notice for publishing a gross error that has caught at least two medal collectors out. Some weeks back I was asked by a client of The Register to validate a FWR record that Pte 4640 A Farmer 1st Dragoon Guards was severely wounded 22-11-1901. Pte Farmer is not listed on The Register and I could not find anything anywhere to support FWR's data. The medal subsequently appeared in the hands of another collector who raised the question on the BritishMedalForum. Not surprisingly no one on the Forum could validate FWR's data.

It appears this record is completely false, which is bad enough. To make matters worse FWR do not provide a source for their data, did they then make this up?

The moral of the story is - "know who you give money to in return for information" Are they experts in the field, do they have a good reputation, where do they get their information from? And beware, searching Ancestry's Fold3 gives you a link to this spurious data in FWR. You really do need to keep your wits about you.

Thursday 5 February 2015

Ohlsen, Ohlson, Ohlsonn, Ohlssen, Ohlsson - Variations on a Surname

In The Register database one can find many variations in the spelling for a surname, this doesn't normally cause a problem unless it impacts the same man (or woman); one may miss a crucial piece of information. This is true also for the other sources, whether on the internet, printed or in an archives. Unlike these sources The Register is the only source that actively corrects such anomalies to create the most accurate source on British Empire participants in the war.

For this Scandinavian surname there are 12 variations:

Ohlsen, Ohlson, Ohlsonn, Ohlssen, Ohlsson, Oleson, Ollson, Ollssen, Ollsson, Olsen, Olson and Olsson

So far there are three examples where the same man has his surname recorded differently between the medal rolls and the official casualty rolls which have been faithfully copied by others.

For many the research into a soldier starts with a medal. The medal rolls and Nominal Roll (WO127) shows a Trooper 681 F Olsen 2nd Brabant's Horse, he is entitled to the QSA with the important Wepener clasp for the siege of Jammersbergdrif. Searching the online casualty roll on Ancestry for 'Olsen' shows two different soldiers:

So this 681 F Olsen was not a casualty. In fact he was wounded near Hammonia on May 28, 1900, the official casualty roll records the surname as 'Ohlssen'.

Charles G Ohlsson was Trooper 25737 in the Prince of Wales' Light Horse and later Trooper 183/36040 in 2nd Kitchener's Fighting Scouts. Like his namesake above Ohlsson was wounded, at Tweefontein November 14, 1901, and on the official casualty roll his surname is recorded as 'Ohlsen'. Happily Ancestry shows 'Ohlsen' when searching for 'Ohlsson'. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Carl Olsson served, albeit briefly, as Trooper 230 Utrecht-Vryheid Mounted Police then enlisted as Private 540 2nd Kitchener's Fighting Scouts. Just like the two men above he was wounded, at Boschbult March 31, 1902. In the casualty roll the surname is recorded as 'Ohlsson'. Again, searching by 'Olsson' on Ancestry fails to show the casualty record.

The records for these man on The Register show all their units, medal entitlement, honours and casualty information in one unified record - saving time for researchers and ensuring they don't miss key facts.

Monday 2 February 2015

Did he serve in the Anglo-Boer War?

One source of names for those who served are the nominal rolls in class WO127 (The National Archives) for the South African raised colonial units. These books are useful but they are not complete nominal rolls.

One name listed in The Register is Lt Henry Baliol Cheyne, Indian Staff Corps attached Kitchener's Horse, the sole sources listed is WO127 and the 1903 Army List. I was asked to investigate further by an Indian Army medal collector.

WO127 shows Cheyne was with the regiment from 02-02 to 13-10-1900. However, checking the medal rolls drew a blank, he was not with the Kitchener's Horse roll nor located on another page within the medal rolls. Given there are thousands of pages and the most complete index (on Ancestry) is also not very good there is the possibility his name has been missed or mis-indexed. There, the search would normally end if it were not for the information that Cheyne had served in China in 1900 earning the Relief of Pekin clasp with the 1st Bengal Lancers (Skinner's Horse).

To qualify for the Relief of Pekin clasp meant that Cheyne had to be present in China in August 1900. WO127 records he was Kitchener's Horse until October 1900. If Cheyne had served in South Africa then he spent a considerable time travelling from India to South Africa in February, then to China in August and back to South Africa to leave Kitchener's Horse in October. The Victorians were great travellers but Cheyne's itinerary is implausible.

A number of Indian Army officers did fight on attachment in South Africa, including some from Cheyne's own regiment. Some of these also fought in China with Cheyne. One, Lt FD Russell is shown on the China 1900 roll as having "embarked at South Africa on 1st August 1900". Cheyne is shown as "Embarked at Calcutta 7th July 1900".

All the evidence, including Cheyne's obituary which notes all his known military service but not significantly the Anglo-Boer War, points to the fact that Cheyne did not land in South Africa for military service if he even travelled there in the first place. His entry in WO127 would appear to result from Cheyne's appointment on attachment, but does not mean fighting service. Why Cheyne is shown as serving with Kitchener's Horse for so long when he was in China is probably a clerical oversight.

Sunday 25 January 2015

Pension Files - PIN71

At the National Archives, London there is a useful class of papers that is not easy to use because it is indexed only by name, sometimes a ladies name, with no unit. Until you inspect the contents of a file you have no idea if the file relates to your subject, if you are paying a researcher this could be expensive.

The papers are Pension Papers, class PIN 71. They contain correspondence about the recipient's or widow's pension, most time there is a summary of the military career which can supplement service papers. In cases of a medical discharge or death in service there are details of the medical reasons behind the discharge or death, in the case of a wound vital details can revealed about the circumstance in which the man was wounded.

However, there is a clue to be found that can help determine if you should look in PIN 71. On the service papers found in class WO 97 (discharge prior to 1914) there is sometimes written on the first page a code ending "FW/M" - "FW" stands for "former wars".

This says "Go check PIN71" on the National Archives catalogue - Discovery.

Pension correspondence is not the most exciting, but as it concerns money there are useful details to flesh out the "man behind the medal" story; home and work place addresses, details on next of kin - wives and children and if you are lucky surprises. One recent PIN 71 file I read for a soldier I was researching showed that, while a soldier, he had two deductions made against his pay by the civil courts in respect of illegitimate children; gold dust for family historians!

If you are researching a soldier who died on active service there won't be service papers so no "/FW/M" clue. However, if you know his next of kin's name, especially if he was married, then it is worth checking PIN 71 using the next of kin name. I recently read the file for the widow, Clara, of Pte 2743 Walter Gibbard 4th Hussars. She received 5 shillings a week, in April 1918 a war bonus of 5 shillings was paid and in 1919 the pension for men killed in wars before World War 1 was raised to the level of that for men killed in World War 1.

Saturday 17 January 2015

Buying Books for Research

Seen a book for sale, in a catalogue, a shop or on a forum?

Before buying it is always worth using the power of the internet to shop around – prices vary dramatically. Of course the condition of a book is a major factor in the price, and your own collecting criteria (perfect condition only, slight imperfections or can tolerate “reading copies”?) will guide you to the “right price” for you. Even if you find the book on-line, you can always do what my father did and call the dealer, have a chat and usually agree free posting or sometimes a considerable discount.

Beware of facsimile reprints or POD (print on demand), these are cheap but in ones I have seen the binding (known as the oxymoronic “perfect binding”) doesn’t last long and more importantly fold out maps are not reproduced but simply copied folded up, i.e. useless!

If you are after a reading copy then a digital copy may suit, so search the internet for digital copies, many are out there. Electronic copies are offered in a variety formats: pdf, kindle, daisy, html, jpg. If you don’t have a Kindle then you can download Kindle Reader for free from Amazon to run on your pc/tablet. Forgotten Books also offers digital copies for a small subscription. Many of these you can get for free elsewhere, but the quality from the website can be better. You will probably not get the maps as in POD but in an electronic copy the binding doesn't break and it may be free.

To take a recent example:

With the Scottish Yeomanry: Being a Reprint, Somewhat Altered & Extended, of Letters Written from South Africa During the War of 1899-1901, TF Dewar MD, Arbroath: T. Buncle & Co. 1901

Offered recently by a specialist dealer for £75 in good condition with front ffep (front free endpaper) missing – a small imperfection. For a book about a small unit this seems like a reasonable price, a quick check of and shows this to be the case, with a number copies to choose from £113 to £145. However, there was one copy for £48 in good condition, some colour loss on spine and top half of the front endpaper cut off. So, very comparable to the £75 copy but £27 cheaper, both are in the UK so postage is not an issue.

And of course before buying, just double check you haven't already got a copy. There's a good quality copy of With the Scottish Yeomanry for sale.

Saturday 10 January 2015

EC Wright - mistaken identity

In July 1992 the medal auctioneers Dix Noonan Webb sold a Queen's South Africa and King's South Africa pair to Quartermaster Sergeant 11187 (61st Company (2nd Dublin)) and Lieutenant Imperial Yeomanry.

The catalogue contained the following research notes:

"Edward Cyril Wright was commissioned 2nd Lt., West India Regiment, 18th July, 1900, from the ranks of the County of London Imperial Volunteers. He served as A.D.C. to the Governor and C-in-C. Windward Islands from 19th January, 1906, to 18th July, 1906; Lieut. Wiltshire Regiment, 20th May, 1908; Captain 1st April, 1909; Staff Officer to local forces, Barbados 3rd July, 1908, to 5th October, 1913."

These details relate to a different Edward Cyril Wright who also served in the Anglo-Boer War: Lance-Corporal 12 City Imperial Volunteers.

It was this man who was commissioned into the West India Regiment (see London Gazette 17 July 1900)  and it is his career details wrongly attributed to Lt EC Wright Imperial Yeomanry.

Further proof comes from their birth dates:

EC Wright IY - ca. 1878 Rathmines, Dublin (WO128 IY Service papers)
EC Wright CIV - 7 July 1876, Naini Tal, India (Army List, British India Office - Births)

and there are separate entries for each EC Wright in the 1903 Army List.

The Register - the first "big list" of Anglo-Boer War participants is always revealing new information that sometimes, as in this case, corrects information many would take as correct.

Friday 2 January 2015

A great research resource

There are hundreds, maybe over a thousand published sources for the Second Anglo-Boer War ranging from contemporary accounts and diaries, regimental and war histories, picture books to the modern histories and accounts. Other items not directly associated with the war such as maps and the wonderful The Encyclopaedia of South African Post Offices and Postal Agencies, Hale & Putzel, Cape Town, 1986 are very useful too.

In creating The Register I have consulted over 540 different sources which are listed here. In the past few days I stumbled across a new source made available through the internet: The Tablet, The International Catholic News Weekly. In The Archive section are OCR copies from 1840. In this paper can be found obituaries or less formal death notices about many Roman Catholic soldiers. I found it most useful for WW1 in finding soldiers who served in the ABW only to die during WW1.

The best connection was Father and Major Simon Stock Knapp, DSO, MC who died of wounds in 1917. The Tablet revealed he had served in the ABW. The only Knapp in the Army Chaplains medal roll is Father F Knapp; are they the same? A quick Google bought up this wonderful history of Father F[rank]/Simon Stock Knapp which proves the gallant Father so beloved by his soldiers in WW1 was Father F Knapp from the ABW medal rolls.

This connection would have been hard to make starting from "Father F Knapp", but now we know, and another character of the ABW is bought to life.