Monday 1 August 2016

Single Source? - Check Again!

The one thing that I have learnt in over 30 years of research and particularly the ten or so that I have been compiling The Register is that a single source for information is not always good enough.

A recent post on the BMF concerning Lt CGO Harman 1st bn Duke of Wellington's (West Riding Regiment) brought this point to light. The owner of the medals had done his research and unearthed a newspaper article quoting Lord Kitchener's despatch following the battle of Rhenoster Kop on November 29, 1900. The despatch clearly states Lt Harman was slightly wounded. Who would not believe the War Office and the Commander in Chief?

In this case they were wrong.

Harman is not listed in The Register as a casualty, this always rings alarm bells; why is he not listed, surely after ten years work I have all the battle casualties? Yes and No (there is always an exception).

Going to the The Times Digital Archive (most fantastic resource) reveals the story. On December 4 The Times publish Kitchener's despatch showing Harman is wounded - this must have worried his family and friends in England. The next day they print a retraction, Lt Harman was not "wounded at all", relief all round amongst family and friends (and 116 years later myself included).

To add further proof The Times published the detailed casualty list on December 6th, Harman is not included. But, all the other officers named in Kitchener's despatch are named, so the despatch had just the one mistake. Even in the days of telegraphs linking all corners of the Empire news could travel slowly. On January 7, 1901 The New Zealand Herald printed Kitchener's original despatch - Harman is wounded "again", whether they ever printed a correction I don't know. The danger of this for modern day internet researchers is that these New Zealand papers come up on Google searches, and very useful they are too. But you still can't trust everything you read in the papers.

As a final check I looked at Harman's entry in the War Services section of the Army List - no mention of a wound.

And The Register is still the best casualty roll about.