Wellington Remembers’ thanks you, our readers. By Mary Rogers
The Wellington Remembers project would like to say thank you to all the people who are helping them write the Lych Gate biographies.
In issue 221 of Wrekin News we appealed for information about Harry Johnson. I am pleased to report that I met members of the Johnson family in Wellington Library recently to talk about Harry. As a result we know a lot more about the Johnson family.
When I meet with local families, some bring a medal or a faded photograph of their great uncle in uniform, which helps us write the soldier’s biography. Others have no mementoes, but want to know about a long lost uncle or grandfather.
If you are just starting your research, here are a few tips that will help you discover some basic facts about his life.
How do I start to research my WW1 Soldier?
In the aftermath of the First World War, the medals and mementoes of those who served were carefully preserved. Medals were often put in frames, proudly displayed in the home of the grieving family, as a reminder of a dearly loved husband, brother or uncle. As time has passed, memories have faded and these precious family history mementoes have been thrown away, sold or stored in the grandma’s attic. This means they may not be readily available, you may have to ask your family what documents they have and where they are stored.
The first, and most important, activity is to ask the older members of the family if they had relations who served in the armed forces in World War 1.
You need to record what they say, include as much detail as possible:-
The soldier’s full name, date of birth and where he lived
His mother and father’s name, date of birth and addresses
Names of any brothers or sisters
If there are any of the soldiers medals, postcards or photographs available, ask if you can see them, scan an image and store for further reference.
Of great help is the soldier’s regimental number. It will be on the rim of most of the common WW1 medals or any correspondence relating to the soldier.
If you take the information you have collected down to Southwater Library on a Thursday between 1100 and 1230 or Wellington Library on a Friday between 1100 and 1230, a Community History Volunteer will be available to help you with your research.
A Useful Source of Information
Old postcards are a particularly useful source of biographical details. To illustrate the sort of information they contain, I have included two cards from my own collection. I have also suggested other documents you might look at.
Postcard 1 – Battery Sgt Major Harling Royal Artillery. This is the photo on the front of the postcard. It shows a mounted military unit.
The message on the back tells us that Battery Sergeant Major (BSM) Harling of 131 Battery, Royal Field Artillery, sent it to Master P Bayston when he was at Okehampton camp in Devon. It is likely that BSM Harling is in the photograph
This card, told me that BSM Harling was a Royal Field Artillery senior non-commissioned officer. He was likely to be a pre-war soldier of some experience. He served with 131 Battery, part of the Royal Field Artillery. The recipient of the card, Master Bayston, was likely to be the young son of a friend or relation. The battery had a practice camp at Okehampton in Devon, a fact which I could verify from the battery war diary.
Using this basic information, I used ancestry.co.uk to search for further details of BSM Harling’s life and military service.
What information is available online?
I was very pleasantly surprised to find his service record. From this document I discovered that he was a pre-war soldier, who enlisted in the army in 1894, and promoted sergeant in 1900. He was discharged in 1912 and re-joined on the outbreak of war, quickly promoted to Battery Sergeant Major. It also provided information about his health, family and service during the war. Electoral registers, records of birth, marriages, death, and probate records, enabled me to draw his family tree, incorporating his wife, family and his addresses up until the 1928, when he died.
Postcard 2 – Charles Thomas of Crosshouses
At some time between 1920 and 2017, the family of Charles Thomas of Crosshouses gave away or sold this picture. It’s unlikely we will ever know why his image ended up in a card sale in the Belmont Hall Wellington, but now I am giving someone in Shropshire the opportunity to tell me something about him.
Charles is smartly dressed and we know that he survived the war, as he is wearing the British War Medal and Victory Medal. If any Wrekin News readers know anything about him please let me know.
In this short piece I have introduced Wrekin News readers to the idea that their family story might be discovered in the dusty corners of granny’s attic. So before discarding old photos and postcards, have a look at them and ask the question ‘can I find out who this is and where do they fit into my family’s story?’ If you really haven’t got room for them, think about donating them to the Shropshire Archives, so that future researchers have access to them.
If, however, you chance upon a card or photo or letter from one of the 184 names commemorated on the Wellington Lych Gate, please contact the Wellington Remembers team. We will be very happy to include your memento and memories in our material.
In conclusion, good luck with your research and I hope you enjoy rediscovering your World War 1 soldier ancestors.