We will remember them… (part three)

In last weeks blog I continued my search for Alfred my Grand Uncle who lost his life in World War One. I identified the record of the Great War medals he was entitled to, his grave and his record in the Rolls of Honour. My search this week continues with war diaries.

War diaries

Continuing my search for Alfred’s story I turned my attention to the War diaries, which detail a daily record of the army, regiment and units activity. Introduced in 1908 and still kept to this day they are official records of the British Army.

What can war diaries reveal? War diaries may include how, when and why a man died. They will also contain in many instances regimental orders, plans of attack, maps and lists of officers and men awarded medals for gallantry. They are more likely to contain day by day activity, time in billets, training exercises, tours of duty and set piece actions or the relief of other units.

Knowing that The National Archives was digitising these (particularly for units that served in France and Flanders) I checked their online records. The published war diary for the Royal Inniskilling Fusilers started in late August 1914, picking up the 26 August when Alfred was detailed as ‘missing, presumed dead’ on his death certificate.

2nd Battalion The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers August 19141

Page 38, 39: Aug 1914

25 Aug 1914. 6 pm, BEVILLIERS, 2 companies, engaged with small party 7.45pm.Medals

26.Aug.1914. 1a.m. ESNES, Hd Qrs and two companies engaged with enemy 8.5 am till 10.45 am and from 2.15pm – 4.30pm.

11.50pm 26 Aug 1914 RONSSOY Hd Qrs and two companies in retreat

11.30pm 26 Aug 1914 LE CATELET Hd Qrs and two companies in retreat.

This was my sixth fact corroborated.


Missing, presumed dead

A final set of records, only released in August 2014 by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, would reveal why Alfred had a grave after being listed on his death certificate (and medal index card) as ‘missing, presumed dead’. Although hard to read at times, the Exhumation and Grave2 records reveal further information on your ancestors. Alfred Hatton is listed on these records:

  • Date of exhumation: 15-9-1920

  • Was a cross on the grave if so, give particulars and inscription if any: Yes. Two Englische Kreiger [soldier] 26-8-1914

  • Effects found on the body: A visiting card found by a civilian in 1914

On a further document I noted another casualty, on the same day as Alfred from the same regiment. Perhaps Alfred didn’t die alone…

Willey, Lce Cpl, Joseph 9347, 2nd Bn. Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, Killed in action 26 August 1914. age 21. Son of Mr and Mrs J Willey, of 14 Christopher Street, Belfast.

This information may explain why Alfred’s medals weren’t claimed until 1922, after his body was found. I’m sure this was of some relief to his family and gave some closure, and a physical place to visit for his brother John.

Having completed this research I now feel a real family connection with Alfred, and a better understanding of my Grandfather (who I never knew).

We will remember them…

Robert Parker is a Genealogist and Trainer, based in Cambridgeshire. He delivers courses, coaching, talks, and research services for those interested in tracing their ancestors. See www.myfamilygenealogy.co.uk for further details. Contact Robert to discuss your requirements without obligation. What stories could your ancestors tell?

My blog next month:

Robert Parker, married 19 December 1881…

1The National Archives www.nationalarchives.gov.uk, WO95 – 1505 – 0 – 355

2Source: Commonwealth War Graves Commission (www.cwgc.org/) accessed: August 2014

Main picture (Poppies), extract from Richard Walker’s Great War Memorial, St Neots Museum, October 2014