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.