Friday, 18 January 2013

Sources, and the Search for the "Grail"

Looking for the footsteps left behind by these men can be very difficult and involves a lot of lateral thinking and bringing two and two together. There are a lot of documents, records, and archives out there to be found but the one holy "grail" of a man's military life  is the Service Record. If only they all survived..... but alas, the complete archive of service records including duplicates, was hit by a bomb during a raid on London in 1940. About two thirds were destroyed and many only survive in part and very badly damaged. However, there are some that do survive complete, and Pension Records were not affected. My one dream is that somewhere, out there buried in an unknown archive, there is a whole collection of duplicate records and I finally find out in what Royal Engineer unit my great grandfather served! It's a vain hope, I think.
The bomb that fell on Arnside Street and started that disastrous fire becomes even more of a behemoth when you do actually find a complete record. I have seen letters written by relatives, lists of a dead man's possession's to be sent back to relatives, telegrams telling a loved one of their death, exact burial sites, medical records, charge sheets, and their family details, all in these scanned & microfilmed documents. It is such a shame that so many were lost. A whole generation's memories gone in one night.
But there are one or two collections turning up as more and more archives are investigated and put on line. They do not always carry the detail that service records can give but add a bit more information to the picture. For example, Surrey have recruiting records; Manchester has details of local men enlisted into local units; Regiment s like the Royal Artillery are publishing their research online. Local councils are finding things in their basements, I think! Or in practically all cases, there is the poor little archive rat at the bottom of it who has made it their life's work to publish online. Much like me!!

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