As some of you may recall if you read my very first post, I’m currently engaged in a volunteer research project about the Leeds Pals who were a part of the West Yorkshire Regiment during the First World War. The project is run by Leeds City Museums, in conjunction with the Nidderdale AONB – coincidentally with Nidderdale being close to Colsterdale where the Pals trained before they were shipped off. The first meeting of the volunteers was in February -a pre-emptive meeting which detailed what the project intended to do, an introduction as it were.
The second meeting was this morning and I truly enjoyed it -it was endlessly fascinating and even touching at some points.
The group is a diverse mixture; there are some older people who are retired and then there are some young undergraduates like myself, and then there are those with full time jobs -but all of us have a shared interest and it’s quite splendid to spend time with them and chat. Of course, we all have different levels of knowledge regarding the military and its structure in 1914, so a little of the session was devoted to explaining that.
We then went through some of the resources that we (and other historians who want to know more about their own family history or that of others in the First World War) have access to. Several of them I knew about, such as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (www.cwgc.org). This is a wonderful resource for finding the final resting places of those who served. The site also provides a little extra information than what you might already know -something I will come onto in a moment. Other avenues that can be explored are the Army Pension Records; especially if a soldier was discharged during the war. This record may also include the next of kin of a soldier, useful for finding out more about their family.
There are also medal index cards -given along with an accolade which can also give more information, though that depends. The National Archives have placed these online, but there is a one off cost of, I believe, £3-something to view them, though they can be seen for free at the Archives in person. Mentioned In Despatches and www.great-war-casualties.com were among the other resources which we discussed as well as www.ancestry.com. If anyone would like, I can go into more detail about the various tools we spoke about.
However, this next was my favourite part of the meeting. We had previously discussed the idea of each of us having a Pal to look at and research -to find out more about their lives before, during and hopefully after the war. That is what we began doing today, much to my joy. We were each granted an envelope of artefacts which contained anything from medals to memorial plaques. The majority of these envelopes were accompanied by a name; regiment and service number -these were our Pals!
My envelope contained three medals; the British War medal (1914-1920), the Victory medal (1914-1919) and the 1914-1915 star; these three were the most commonly granted medals amongst soldiers and the combination of the three earned the nickname “Pip, Squeak and Wilfred.” My envelope also contained an identity tag bearing the name and service number of my pal and a memorial plaque that would have been sent on to the next of kin.
Saddened to see that my Pal had not made it through the war, I inspected the medals; noting the engraving around the edges of the name and rank and then turned my attention to the memorial plaque. I had never come across such a thing before and it was interesting to behold. To anyone reading who – like myself until earlier – does not know what they look like, this is what they are [x]. Never having seen such a thing before, I spent a while inspecting it and chatting to the other volunteers about the imagery; Britannia and the lion, as well as the eagle of Germany. It’s interesting to note that some of the propaganda at the time featured the idea of Britannia rather heavily, as well as England represented by a lion etc.
I returned home and after attending a seminar (alas on the English Constitution, nothing to do with WWI), I thought I’d have a look for my pal on some of the sites we’d discussed. To my joy, I found him almost immediately on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (though I was lucky enough to already have his first name and service no.) It really does bring it all that closer to home when you find out just a little bit more about a person, even if its just something as simple as knowing where they are buried.
My pal is Henry Brook of the West Yorkshire Regiment, Prince of Wales’s Own, 1st/7th Bn. He held the rank of rifleman and at the time of his death, he was a Private. He died on the 22nd of June 1915 and is buried at Rue-Petillion military cemetery. Just a small fraction of information -and yet it makes it feel all the more real.
I will update this blog with more on Henry, as and when I find it!