Tuesday, November 11, 2008

90 Years Ago Today ...

It is hard for me to believe that World War One ended ninety years ago today. I think for most people my age, World War One is a part of the distant past, yet when I think about the war, I realize that it has been less than a century since it ended. If my grandfather, who was born before World War One ended, was alive today, he would be ninety years old. As I mentioned before, his father, my great-grandfather, served in the British Army in that war, and since I'm only a couple of generations away from my ancestor who served in World War One, I feel a bit emotionally connected to the war. What I mean is that, World War One is just more than another war in history because I had an ancestor who served in that war, and as a result, I sometimes wonder what he experienced and went through during his experience. In short, I'm interested in the war because of my great-grandfather's service, and because I do not know what his wartime experiences were like.
Of course, until this past week, I did not know very much about his service. What I did know was that he had been in France, as the occupation listed on his marriage certificate was "a soldier in France," and from my grandfather's birth certificate, I was able to find his military service number. The certificate also stated that he was in the motor mechanics. In addition, my grandma showed me some of photos of my great-grandfather in his uniform. Outside of those pieces of information, however, I had no idea what regiment he served in nor when he entered the service. As I was trying to figure out if I could obtain my great-grandfather's service records, I learned that a large portion of the records were destroyed during the Blitz in World War. Since the information I read indicated that most records for soldiers did not survive, I believed my chances of obtaining records would be quite slim. Of course, I did not give trying to find out what I could, though. At one point, I joined a yahoo group on World War One, and inquired if anyone could tell what regiment my great-grandfather was in by looking at a photo of him in his uniform. One man suggested that it appeared as though he might have been a member of the Army Service Corps, but he couldn't tell for sure because the buckle on my great-grandfather's hat was not detailed enough to make a conclusion.

Then over this past summer, I learned that ancestry had posted the images of the Service Medal cards that listed the types of medals a British serviceman had earned during World War One. By using my great-grandfather's service number, I was able to find his card, and I discovered that he did serve in the Army Service Corps. Unfortunately, I was unable to narrow down the exact regiment from that card, and I was at a loss again. That is, until Ancestry made their British World War One Service Records available for free viewing. Only then was I able to get a better idea of the regiment my great-grandfather was able to serve in. So, what have I learned about my great-grandfather's service? Well, from what I have been able to read so far, I have learned that:
  • My great-grandfather was living in Luton, Befordshire, England at the time he signed up for service. Before I found his records, I did not know where he had signed up. I wasn't sure if it was Glasgow, Scotland ,where he was born, Luton or some other place in the United Kingdom. (I'll explain why in another post as this post is getting too long.)
  • My great-grandfather's brother was living around Manchester, Lancashire, England at the time my ancestor signed up. Plus, I was able to confirm one of the names of my great-grandfather's siblings.
  • My great-grandfather was promoted twice.
  • My great-grandfather did serve in the Motor Transport unit of the Army Service Corps.
  • His point of disembarkation was at Rouen, France.
  • My great-grandparents' marriage, and the birth of my grandfather, were recorded in his service records as well.
  • My great-grandfather's place of employment and occupation before he entered the service.

Of course, there is also other information in his records, such as when he went on leave, but I don't know how to interpret the information. I don't understand all of the codes listed, and I can barely make out some of the handwriting. The records show signs of having been damaged by fire, and some of the handwriting appears to have faded. Hopefully, I will be able to make out some of the information someday, but at the moment, I do not have the time since I am in school.

As for searching the service records, I would advise that you look before and after the images linked to by ancestry. If I had not looked at images previous to the two pages ancestry had linked to, I would have missed most of the information in his records. Ancestry had only linked to the pages that had been updated to include information on my great -grandparents' marriage and the birth of my grandfather. Therefore, I would not have found the letter from his employer nor the information on his service in his records.

And last, but not least, here is a photograph of what I believe to be my great-grandfather's regiment:

The photograph was printed on a postcard in both French and English. (The back side was blank other than the postcard format.) Since there was French on the back, I suspect the picture was taken in France. Could it have been taken in Rouen? Of course, one cannot see the faces of the soldiers in the picture too well, but last year my grandma did get the picture blown up to see if we could find my great-grandfather in the picture. We believe he is one of the soldiers sitting, and that he happened to be the one smiling in the picture. Of course, when I look at this picture and think about how deadly World War One was, I wonder how many of those men survived the war. Since I only know the name of my great-grandfather, I have no idea who the other men are. Maybe someday I will find out, but until then, those men will be a mystery to me.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Yeah, WWI was so devastating, and changed the world so fundamentally. I focused on WWI in the context of the rise of modernism for my BA and MA degrees in literature. So much of what we take for granted as modern thought can be traced back to that war. It's really the foundation we stand on, culturally, for better or worse. Cool picture!