Bombs that fell in East Sussex
Home Guard on Parade
Royal Observer Corps on the reservoir tower
Anti tank defences in Coombe Wood
Do you recognise anyone in the photo?
Olive Pooley at the front door of South Cottage Russell's Green on
VE Day 8th May 1945
Believed to be the Ninfield Home Guard of WWII
Do you recognise anyone in the photo?
The officer and the chap in the Solar Topee must be known, and what about any others?
Can you help?
The Packham family with three evacuees from Croydon
NINFIELD IN WWII
Due to the close proximity of the English Channel, Ninfield was prepared for possible invasion during the second World War. The Royal Observer Corps were stationed in Ninfield along with the Home Guard.
There were Canadian solders stationed at Battle Abbey.
Enemy planes on a bombing raid of London, would if on their way home carrying unused bombs, often offload over the Sussex countryside. See map above of places bombs fell. Ninfield had a few near misses. A bomb fell in Church wood.
MUNN. Stanley Walter age 35 Royal Air Force
WHITMARSH Edward F. age 24 Royal Sussex Reg;
BRUCE Alfred L. age 24
HAYLER William age 19 Grenadier Guards
READ Dorothy age 34 Auxiliary Territorial Service
Casualties of the Second World War
WHAT DID MY ANCESTOR DO IN THE WAR?
A thought provoking title, as to me it’s not my “ancestor” but my parents!! However, I am coming to accept that what I learnt at school as “Current Affairs” is now being taught as “History”!!! Anyway, for World Wars, practically EVERYONE got involved, especially WW2, as with bombing raids, V1’s and V2’s hardly anywhere in the UK was “safe”. Virtually anyone who didn’t have a good enough reason was involved in the war effort, either replacing a man so he could be available for War Service or joining any one of a plethora of Womens units, including nursing, or caring for and teaching evacuated children.
Therefore it should be possible to trace MOST peoples’ War Service records. Currently it costs £30 for an Army Service record and takes up to 12 months..... Due to demand.....
What you need to start with is some idea as to what they did. If they are no longer here to ask, are there old photos showing uniforms, caps, badges etc? There was usually a proud one posing in brand new uniform before being sent Overseas... Background can give clues as to whereabouts the photo was taken, as can time of year and weather conditions. Vehicles and buildings can often be traced to give a time and place. Letters don’t usually survive to the next generation, but medals can be useful, giving rank and Service Number in some cases, plus what the medals were for, and where they served.
Family memories need to be collected, but sometimes have to be treated with a large dose of salt, but there is usually a kernel of truth, just distorted over the years of retelling, bits forgotten or embellished to suit the occasion, so those can be useful too.
Many soldiers etc were captured and served as Prisoners of War. Sometimes those records can be traced, although those captured by the Japanese rarely wanted to talk about it, but suffered years of torment, mentally and physically from the hardships they endured.
Local newspapers, library and local history groups are useful sources once you have exhausted your own family ones.
There are Family History websites that enable you to do much background research on Births Marriages and Deaths, but you should be aware that sometimes details emerge that need to be handled sensitively. It’s not going to help family relationships if you suddenly tell a prim old great aunt that her mother had several children out of wedlock for example!
That’s dealing with the Living, but there is another set of records for those that died. Be aware too, that how relatives died may need to be delicately divulged, as often the only way many families were able to cope was to have an image that their son or husband died bravely charging fearlessly into hundreds of the enemy to allow his mates to survive. Yes, most did give their lives to save others, but often only in the more general sense. Not everyone was a John Wayne.
This brings us to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. It has recently undergone a complete revamp of its database and is now a very useful research tool. I use it a lot to help construct Rolls of Honour as you can now search on Key Words such as the Town or Village to ensure as many Names are recorded and backgrounds built up, so they become more of a person and not simply a Name on a Memorial. It can obviously find brothers etc, using their parents Christian Names.
But sometimes despite all your efforts sometimes you just can’t seem to find someone.
What to do? Well, assemble all that you have been told, and have obtained. Check it impartially for truth. It’s not that you have been told lies, but that facts may have become distorted over time.
The first step should be to find the correct Birth Registration. Christian Names were not necessarily the Name(s) by which they were known at the time. Often, they have the same name as a link to an older relation, so within the family he might have been called by his second name, or one selected to tell them apart. “Harry” may not actually be his name, but Henry, Harold or something else entirely! Same with “Bert”. Is that Albert, Bertram or Herbert, Wilbert or what? Fred? Many variations, all likely to trip you up in your search! Where was he born and when?
Are you really sure? Check for Family Trees that have a similar name to verify what information you have against theirs. Don’t forget, often people constructing Family Trees are no better than you and can often make the wrong connection, so yours MAY be right and theirs wrong.
OK, so for WW2 there is a wealth of information that can help you track people down. Often an internet search or “Google” can turn up connections that you would never expect. Read through ALL the pages of links, noting any items of interest to check out later. It’s a bit like panning for gold, you have to swirl around a lot of grit to get a few nuggets, but the results can be very rewarding.
There are Unit, Battalion and Division War Diaries; films and books that may contain references to the person or action they fought in. Sometimes there may be a mention, sometimes it’s similar events that help tie the person to those events.
For WW1, there are additional resources, as we now get back to the Census Returns, usually carried out about April every ten years starting from 1841. The Census returns that I find useful are those for 1881,’91, 1901 and 1911. In each of them you see changes in society, from grinding poverty in 1881, with many children not living to appear in the 1891 and then it is obvious that education is spreading everywhere, with most adults now writing legibly and in 1911 you can get to see their OWN handwriting as they completed their own Census returns.
These can contain useful clues, why did they have a “visitor”? Probably a family link, if born in the same area as one of the parents, possibly a relative, and if the surname is different but location the same, perhaps an in law. That gives you another surname to try and link to your Family Tree. The 1901 Census can be very useful as most of the enumerators have a “standard” handwriting, with less of the florid copperplate style that can be hard to decipher. It also still shows neighbouring houses and families, so you can often build up a better picture. The 1911 is each household completing their own Return, so you lose the neighbouring homes (unless you use the 1901 as a basis for neighbours and hope that not too many houses have been built between them!
Then there are the National Probate Calendar returns, giving a little insight into the location, and wealth of the individual, as well as heirs.
However, there can be pitfalls. Remember that dialects were much more widespread and a Census enumerator would not necessarily completely understand the names being given, especially surnames and how they were spelt. Often families didn’t know and can change from one Census to the next, and brothers raising their families almost next door could have quite different spellings. Different spelling, deaths of infants, different location and suddenly the same family may look a totally different one when you find them 10 years later. Whilst travel wasn’t easy, it is surprising how frequently some families travelled and how far! That’s when Place of Birth can become often the only way of being sure that the family IS the same! Helpfully, many kept the same Occupation, too.
Military Records. These exist, not in abundance, but to a greater extent than for WW2, where (despite the title, “Ancestors” are regarded as being under the “Data Protection Act” and thus restricted).
Firstly, there are the First World War Medal Index Cards. These are just index cards (surprise!) which were simply intended to help clerks keep an accurate check on each soldier. When you consider that there were something approaching 1,500,000 men in the Armed Forces, of which some 450,000 died (approximately 1,000 EVERY day of the War) then it gives you a sense of the scale involved.
Briefly the Medal Index Card has the Army version of the Surname, with initial(s) which were often then annotated to at least one full Christian Name. It had the man’s rank and Regimental Number. These were duplicated in each Battalion of each Regiment, so you could have the SAME Number for men in the 1st or 2nd etc Battalion. This goes back to the Cardwell Reforms in 1880 whereby County Regiments were created, each with at least two Battalions, one serving Overseas, the other at Home for training, ceremonial duties and supplying replacements for losses incurred Overseas by their sister Battalion, as well as Home Defence and internal policing, if needed. Once the problem of the Regimental Number was appreciated, there was a change in early 1917 to a unique 6 figure Service Number. There were “Regular” battalions, those where the men had enlisted prior to the War or had been recalled from the Reserves, Service Battalions, raised as Kitcheners New Armies for Service only for the duration of the War. Then there were Territorial Battalions which initially only had men prepared to fight “At Home” if the UK was invaded. Often they were subjected to pressure to enlist in a Service or Regular Battalion and “volunteer” for service Overseas. Officers in WW1 did not have any Regimental Number at all. To compensate, most Officer casualties were named in the War Diary for the Battalion, although only in very rare cases were the “Other Ranks” mentioned by name, most likely for the award of a gallantry medal or Mention in Despatches.
The MIC then records changes in rank, or transfers to another Regiment (often a clue that the man may have been wounded badly enough to have been shipped away from his Regiment) and once recovered sent where he was needed most, not simply back to his mates (who may themselves have been killed in his absence, so he’d be amongst strangers even if he did go back to his “old” unit. It records the Medals the man was entitled to, and as they were inscribed around the rim with his rank and Number, then the Card needed to be annotated to show that for example his British War Medal would be for Private John Bull 3/1234 but his Victory medal could be for Sjt J Bull 222444 – but the SAME man!!!
The original purpose was to record those serving early in the War (volunteers) to record whether they were in range of the enemies guns before December 1914 (which was the 1914 Star plus clasp for the medal ribbon and an “emblem” (rose) to wear on the medal ribbon) or the 1914-15 Star, if they entered a Theatre of War PRIOR to 1916 (when conscription was introduced). This distinguished “Volunteers” from Conscripts who had been called up to fight. The other two main “Service” medals were the British War and Victory medals, so it is very common to only find these two. Rare is a “trio” with the 1914-15 Star, rarer again the 1914 Star. The rarest is just ONE medal (not where the others have been lost). The 1914 Star, the British War medal and the Victory medal were often referred to as Pip, Squeak and Wilfred after popular cartoon characters. The “Pip” makes reference to the rose emblem for the 1914 Star on the medal ribbon. The 1914 Star is special because of the rose emblem which had to be applied for, generally endorsed by the man’s Commanding Officer. This was needed to attend meetings of the “Old Contemptibles” who were regular soldiers reaching France in 1914, fighting at Mons, Le Cateau and the Marne to stop the Germans capturing Paris, as they had in the Franco Prussian War in the 1870’s.
Very often you will find families who cannot find a British War medal but only have the ribbon and the Victory medal. In many cases this was simply because the British War medal had a high silver content and when times were hard, either you pawned the medal or the children went hungry.
The Medal Index Card can also indicate whether the man was seriously wounded or so affected by disease as to be invalided out with the Silver War Badge. This was instituted so that he wasn’t a target for the “White Feather” brigades wondering why he wasn’t out fighting for his Country. Often in terse terms it shows KIA or DoW or simply Missing and a Date of Death. Very rarely it also shows an address for medals to be sent to, or other clerical enquiries, whether the medals were returned as incorrect or simply no recipient to accept them.
Then there are the WW1 and earlier Service and Pension records. There are only a few of these, known as the “Burnt Records” as they were stored in London in Arnside Street when an incendiary bomb hit in Round Two. Over two thirds of the entire records were totally destroyed and the remainder are severely burnt around the edges from being inside the metal filing cabinets. They are often in disarray, but at least there is something there to puzzle through. Throw in a multitude of different handwritings, Army abbreviations that have become lost in the mists of time and the Law of St Sod that dictates a hole or blotch to be precisely placed over the most relevant information and it is will be no surprise that often hair can be torn out and teeth ground into powder!!
There are many different internet forums for the World Wars and I’m not in a position to recommend or denigrate any of them, simply use them for additional research resources, as there is usually “a man that can” to help with specific issues. The same with the many Family History sites. I use Ancestry, but others say that Find My Past, Genes Reunited etc are the ones they prefer. It’s a case usually of what you decide and then find ways to make the best use of.
Libraries that have local history groups or newspaper archives are of use, too, so don’t discount the rewards that can come from simply Googling the name!, there may be a lot out there that you simply haven’t made the connection to.
Compiled by Kevin Regan
How To Find Out About Your Ancestors War Time Service History
ARMY CONTACT DETAILS
Officers or Soldiers whose service ended before 1921*
The National Archives, Ruskin Avenue, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 4DU
* Microfilm copies of WW1 service records are also held by the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints (Mormons). www.familysearch.org
Officers or Soldiers whose service ended Officers and Soldiers of the Foot Guards Regiments
between 1921 and 1997 Regimental Headquarters, The *** Guards
Army Personnel Centre, HQ Secretariat Wellington Barracks, Birdcage Walk
Historical Disclosures, Mail Point 400 London SW1E 6HQ
Kentigern House, 65 Brown Street *** Insert as appropriate: Grenadier,
Glasgow, G2 8EX Coldstream, Scots, Irish or Welsh.
ROYAL NAVY CONTACT DETAILS
Officers born before 1914 &
Ratings enlisted before 1924 Ratings enlisted after 1924
The National Archives NPP Accounts 1, AFPAA
Ruskin Avenue, Kew Centurion Building, Grange Road
Richmond, Surrey TW9 4DU Gosport, Hampshire PO13 9XA
ROYAL MARINES CONTACT DETAILS
Officers & other ranks enlisted before 1925 Officers & other ranks enlisted after 1925
The National Archives Historical Records Office Royal Marines
Ruskin Avenue Centurion Building
Kew Grange Road
TW9 4DU PO13 9XA
ROYAL AIR FORCE CONTACT DETAILS
Officers with service ended in 1920 or earlier Officers with service ended in 1920 or later
Airmen with service ended in 1928 or earlier & Airmen with service ended in 1928 or later
The National Archives PMA (Sec) IM 1b, Room 5, Building 248a
Ruskin Avenue, Kew RAF Innsworth,
Richmond, Surrey TW9 4DU Gloucester GL3 1EZ
Home Guard & Service Medal Enquiries
Army Medal Office, Government Office Buildings, Worcester Road, Droitwich Spa, Worcestershire
The Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road, London SE1 6HZ
Regimental War Diaries & Information on Citations
The National Archives, Ruskin Avenue, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 4DU