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Remembering the Fallen

Discussion in 'Comments on the latest newsletter' started by jorghes, Nov 3, 2018.

  1. jorghes

    jorghes LostCousins Member

    I personally have three great uncles (and numerous cousins), who died in the First World War. Two of my great uncles - my paternal great-grandfather's brothers - were volunteers, as were all those who fought for the AIF (Australian Imperial Force), Australia was very proud that conscription was never enforced during World War I (although the government tried twice with referendums during that period).

    One, I know now, since he served with the British Army, could well have been a conscript. Although I thought that Britain did have some volunteers in their Army? (weren't the Pals Battalions volunteers??) Although I suppose we will never know since I haven't been able to find his record and presumably it was destroyed during the Blitz.

    Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong!

    As for my other great-uncles, and anyone else who served in the AIF and subsequently the Australian Army/Air Force or Navy, I have all their records, they have been digitised and free to view on the Australian National Archives website (for any of those with possible Australian military brethren. You can find the name search here - you can search all defence force records).
  2. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    Just under half of those who joined the British Army during WW1 were conscripted, but there will have been some who volunteered in advance of conscription knowing that it was inevitable.
    • Thanks! Thanks! x 1
  3. canadianbeth

    canadianbeth LostCousins Member

    To the best of my knowledge, none of my ancestors died in either war. My great-grandfather Barratt served in the Boer War; I have a couple of items from that, a banner stating Relief of Ladysmith and a postcard. I think he may have been a career soldier. My maternal grandad was living in Canada but went back to England and enlisted. I found his discharge papers from 1916 online, which state "medically unfit under para 392 (iii) King's Regulations." I do not know the particulars. He took my grandma and oldest aunt to England with him and my oldest uncle was born there. When WW2 broke out that uncle went back to England and enlisted. His three brothers and my Dad served with the Canadian Army or Air Force and all came home safely. My great-aunt's husband was on the M.V. Richmond Castle when it was torpedoed in 1942. He was one of 19 survivors found nine days later, but did not survive and was buried at sea. https://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?16445 (Sorry if this link is not correct; please delete it if not.)
  4. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    My paternal grandfather's only surviving brother, who had three young children , was killed at Ypres in January 1916 - several months before conscription of married men with children was introduced - so either he volunteered or he was in the reserves (his file is one of those that was lost in WW2, though it might be possible to deduce which from his regiment). Five of his cousins who had emigrated to Canada served with the CEF and one was killed almost exactly 100 years ago, just 11 days before the Armistice was signed - he had volunteered in 1915.
  5. Helen7

    Helen7 LostCousins Star

    My great-grandmother's youngest brother (George H Higgs) enlisted on 4 Sept 1914 as a volunteer for one of the Manchester 'Pals' battalions. He died at the Somme in July 1916 and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial in France. Unlike that of George's nephew my grandfather (who similarly volunteered and was later medically discharged after suffering severe injuries at the front), George's army file survived WW2 so I have been able to read the details.

    On enlistment, George gave his age as 33 years 11 months, but he was actually 4 years older. I'm not sure why he lied about his age, as I believe the cut-off was 38 years at the time (later raised to 40 when they were running out of recruits!) and at 37 yrs 11 months he would have been OK, but maybe he thought he might be rejected as too old. He was unmarried with no family responsibilities, so I guess he felt it his duty to sign up at the first opportunity. The army record gives names, ages and full addresses of all his surviving close relatives, in this case his 2 brothers and 3 sisters, including my great-grandmother who was named as his next of kin.

    Most poignant amongst these papers is a standard 'Reply and Return' letter sent to my great-grandmother from the Records Officer of the Manchester Regiment, after George was listed as missing (on 9 July 1916). This asked 'whether you have obtained any news of the soldier from any other source.' and to send back any letters received. (I assume this sort of letter was sent to next of kin of all the 'missing'). The handwritten reply states:
    "We had a letter from a soldier who was in the same Platoon and joined the Pals at the same time as my brother. He wrote from a hospital and said another wounded soldier told him that he saw G H Higgs killed by a shell, but I can't find the letter for his address..."

    How sad. My grandfather, despite his serious life-changing injuries, was one of the lucky ones. I will be thinking of George on the 11th, along with all the others killed in that awful war.
  6. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    Also remember that in the early months of the war people thought it would be over by Christmas (see this page on the Imperial War Museum website) - so I suspect some of those who volunteered early on were worried about missing out.
  7. CarolB08

    CarolB08 LostCousins Member

    I had a Great Uncle who died 10 March 1918 he was in the Kings Royal Rifle Corps and is buried in Nine Elms British Cemetery West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. He is also remembered on the Lives of the First World War website.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 4, 2018
  8. jorghes

    jorghes LostCousins Member

    One of my two great grand uncles who died has his name on the wall at Villers-Brettoneux - a right reserved for those whose bodies have never been found. When he was listed as missing, his older brother (another of my great-grand uncles) wrote a letter to the Red Cross to discover what happened to him - that letter, and the documentary evidence of the soldiers who saw him "wander off wounded towards the German lines" survived (but then most Australia records do), and I have read them all.

    Suffice it to say, his body is still missing, and his great-grandson, one of my cousins, went out to see if he could discover the general area where his body may have been left/buried unidentified.
  9. Helen7

    Helen7 LostCousins Star

    Yes, in the same way the Villers-Bretonneux memorial commemorates Australian soldiers killed on the Western Front in WW1 whose bodies were never found, the Thiepval memorial commemorates the British and South African victims of the Somme who have no known graves. There are some 72,000 names on the memorial, including that of my great grand uncle.
  10. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    Apparently the remains of only half of the soldiers who died in the Great War have been identified. If that sounds bad, consider how much worse it was in earlier conflicts.
  11. Helen7

    Helen7 LostCousins Star

    Thanks for this link. I visited it and entered details for my relative.
    • Thanks! Thanks! x 2
  12. jorghes

    jorghes LostCousins Member

    I also have a relative on the Menin Gate, which I think does something similar for those who are missing - Villers-Brettoneux does also have headstones and the like, so there are both memorials.

    That doesn't really surprise me - there was, reasonably recently - a large number of Australian World War I diggers (and British War dead) found at Pheasant Wood near Fromelles after exhaustive searching by some dedicated historians. They then started to use DNA to identify the remains so that they could rebury them - as far as I know, they haven't quite finished identifying all of them, nor reburying them. Unfortunately as my great-grand uncle died at Bullecourt, he can't be one of them! You can see something about Pheasant Wood here.

    But it stands to reason that there are plenty of other mass grave sites around Europe, and there is also a possibility, I would think, that some remains from World War I were destroyed during the fighting in World War II.

    And for those interested in Australia's collection of Embarkation Rolls, and Red Cross Wounded and Missing records (which preserves the letters from my relatives) you can do a person search at the Australian War Memorial here
  13. At home in NZ

    At home in NZ LostCousins Member

    I ma following this discussion for interest's sake. I looked at the First World War website that Helen visited and looked for an entry for my second great uncle but found his son instead. His son was nearly 14 in 1916 when he joined the Royal Marines. He did not die during the war, he lived until 1992.

    My second great uncle Frederick John Tyler was born in 1869, he joined the Royal Marines in October 1889. He was in the Benin Expedition in 1898 and awarded the Benin Medal and clasp. He landed at Dunkirk on 19 Sep 1914 and was in the defence of Antwerp until 13 Oct 1914. He was at Gallipoli where he was killed in action and was buried where he fell on the North Side of Track Halfway Up Dead Man's Gully. He is listed on Panel 2 to 7 of the Helles Memorial, Gallipoli, Canakkale, Turkey.

    I have other people in my trees that fell during WW1 but not as closely related as Frederick.

    I have found the CWGC website very useful for finding details about war dead. You can download a commemorative certificate which is attractive and costs nothing.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 5, 2018
    • Thanks! Thanks! x 1
  14. Helen7

    Helen7 LostCousins Star

    Yes, a good site which I have visited previously and downloaded the certificate you mentioned for my relative.
  15. Bob Spiers

    Bob Spiers LostCousins Star

    I think the most poignant story I can relate under this heading concerns my wife’s family and through her, her mother who lost a father in WW1 and a husband in WW2. My wife was the offspring of her mother’s second marriage

    When I started my wife’s Tree I knew she always said she knew her maternal grandmother (Grandma Lane) was ‘real’ (by that she meant bloodline) but her Grandfather wasn’t. It did not take long to work out her Grandmother had re-married a ‘Lane’ , but when I asked her if she knew what happened to her ‘real’ Granddad (Thomas Ainge) , all she said was she had been told by her mother as a child, that he had left home and never returned. Growing up she never learned the true significance of what this meant.

    I was to discover that Thomas Ainge had died in 1915 on the 9th May , having been killed at (the battle of) Auber’s Ridge in Flanders and had been commemorated at Le Touret Cemetery in Belgium. Much later I discovered he had also been honoured in his home town of Northampton, with a ‘fallen in battle ‘ plaque on the wall of the main church in the town centre, “All Saints”

    The battle of Auber’s Ridge fits the popular image of a First World War battle better than most. The British troops went over the top early on the morning of 9 May and were cut down by German machine gun fire. The survivors were pinned down in no man’s land. No significant progress was made, and early on 10 May Haig ended the offensive. The British suffered 11,000 casualties in one day of fighting on a narrow front. (Source "History of War")

    My wife’s mother Doris Ainge (who had lost her father when aged 5) married a Charles W Battershill in 1932. He went off to war 7 years later and died in Italy in 1943 on 23rd November. He was buried in the Sangro River War Cemetery, in Contrada Sentinelle in the Commune of Torino di Sangro; province of Chieti.

    On 3 September 1943 the Allies invaded the Italian mainland, the invasion coinciding with an armistice made with the Italians who then re-entered the war on the Allied side. Allied objectives were to draw German troops from the Russian front and more particularly from France, where an offensive was planned for the following year. Progress through southern Italy was rapid despite stiff resistance, but by the end of October, the Allies were facing the German winter defensive position known as the Gustav Line, which stretched from the river Garigliano in the west to the Sangro in the east. By 4 November, the Allied force that had fought its way up the Adriatic coast was preparing to attack the Sangro river positions. A bridgehead had been established by the 24th and by nightfall on the 30th, the whole ridge overlooking the river was in Allied hands.

    Lest we forget indeed!
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2018
  16. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    I certainly can't forget the fact that so many young men, and so many men with families, were sent off to war against their will. In WW1 conscripts accounted for just under half of the recruits (46% was the figure I found), but in WW2 it seems to have been the vast majority.

    So I feel uncomfortable when people talk about soldiers "giving their lives", when it would be more realistic to say that their lives were taken from them. Even for the survivors of WW1 the experience was often so traumatic that their lives were blighted.

    My father volunteered in World War 2, and came through unscathed - but the rest of his gun battery were killed. He only survived because his job was communications, which meant he was delivering a message when the shell hit.

    It's common nowadays to talk about everyone who was a casualty of war as a hero, but my father was not a hero, nor did he aspire to be one - and if the shell had killed him as well it wouldn't have made him any more of a hero. He wouldn't talk about the war was I was young - it was only when he was over 80 that I was finally able to discuss it with him, and only then that I discovered that hundreds of letters that he sent home to his parents had survived.
    • Agree Agree x 1
  17. Katie Bee

    Katie Bee LostCousins Member

    Two of my Great Uncles (brothers) died in WW1. My uncle recalled being at the house when my great grandmother received the news that her youngest son, aged 20, had died. She was distraught.
    Last year my sister and I visited his grave in Belgium and saw where he had been in the trenches at the time of his death, it was very moving. The whole area around Ypres was so interesting.
    My other Great Uncle was in the Royal Engineers and the ship that he was on was torpedoed just off Alexandria. His name is on the Chatby Memorial.
  18. jorghes

    jorghes LostCousins Member

    Both my grandfathers served in World War II and both survived it.
    My paternal grandfather wrote an account of his military service as part of what he gave to his children (he unfortunately died of Motor Neurone disease in his 70s), which included photos, newspaper articles and maps of where he had served. As a part of the Australian Engineers, he was never really involved in the front lines, but he was a despatch rider in the Middle East for a while, and recounts (quite stoically) in his memoirs about having to ride through shell fire. (Again, all Australia soldiers in WWII were also volunteers, Australia has only had conscription once that I know of - during the Vietnam War). He did enjoy meeting the members of his company (2/9 Field Company, Royal Australia Engineers) on ANZAC Day and like times.

    My maternal grandfather was part of the Royal Navy, and spent a large portion of his time repairing aircraft in order for them to go into battle. Unfortunately he never shared his experiences of war, and his medals never came out of the small box that the British used to post them to him (they are still contained inside that box even now) - which probably tells us enough about his thoughts of the war.

    We have group shots of both of my grandfathers with those that they served - one large one of the Royal Australian Engineer Field Company that my paternal grandfather served in, and a shot for each of the "ships" that my maternal grandfather served on (one was actually a ground based "ship", though it was named like a ship), one of the photos has the names of those he served with autographed on the back.

    I don't think either of them would ever have considered themselves as heroes. They probably were simply doing their job, and in my paternal grandfather's case, doing what he had signed up for - at one point, that was building a road in Borneo.
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  19. jorghes

    jorghes LostCousins Member

    I had a random question from my aunt earlier this week, and I thought I would ask it again in here to make sure I said the right thing!

    My great-grandfather emigrated from Scotland to far north Queensland in about 1906. We have discovered no records so far that indicate he was ever naturalised. He went back to Scotland once, in 1914, to see his parents and family one last time, then returned to Queensland, married my great-grandmother in 1915 and moved to Victoria.

    My aunt's question was simple - how did he escape service in the British Army if they had conscription, and my great-grandfather happened to be in Scotland in 1914?

    My response for the most part was that conscription wasn't introduced until 1916, at which point my great-grandfather was back in Australia, and presumably, out of reach (!). I then did a quick dig for a naturalisation certificate (since the Australian Army at that point was volunteer only) and couldn't find one.

    Was that a reasonable explanation for my great-grandfather never serving in the British armed forces?
  20. Helen7

    Helen7 LostCousins Star

    Yes, that's right. Conscription into the British armed forces wasn't introduced until January 1916. So your great-grandfather would have been safely back in Australia by then.

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