CHARLES WILSON-WATKINS is a researcher and family historian. This month’s article will help those who want to find further information on military service papers. If you need help in tracing your family history, do get in touch with CHARLES, he’d be delighted to help
Since 2013, I have been researching the ‘Swansea’ men who fought during the First World War. These men either were born and enlisted in Swansea; born in Swansea and enlisted elsewhere; or born elsewhere and enlisted at Swansea. The research covers all the military services, Army, Navy, Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force (1918) and Mercantile Navy. My research works are now in the central library for reference.
The Service Papers for those who served with the Navy and Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force have survived and been digitalised and can be found on the National Archives web-site. The service papers of those who served with the Army are a bit hit and miss, as the building where the papers were kept during the Second World War was bombed. Numerous papers were lost in the fire that engulfed the building, so that is something else we can blame the Germans for! Service papers for men during the Second World War and onwards are not publicly available, but can be applied for via the MOD for a small fee of £30.
Another good source of information is the Common-wealth War Grave Commission www.cwgc.org.
I will discuss more fully the services of the Commission in my next month’s article.
So what do the service papers tell us?
They give us a comprehensive record of the individual military career. When applying for these papers, be very careful to have the individual’s correct date of birth.
It was only recently that I discovered two men buried at Danygraig Cemetery, St Thomas, are going to have military headstones erected over their graves either 2015/2016. I will be using these men as examples for this article, and hope that someone will know or have any connections to them.
The first man is DAVID JAMES MITCHELL
From the information from his service papers we can see that he was born on 30th April 1883, St. Marys, Swansea. He was a painter by trade and his religion was Church of England. He enlisted on 2nd May 1902 at Bristol at the rank of Private and during the war he rose to the rank of Gunner. The service papers are a bit ‘messy ‘ in indicting who his next of kin is. We are very lucky, without the aid of pictures, to have a description of him. David was 5’8” when he enlisted in 1902, tall, fair complexion with light brown hair and blue eyes. When he left the service he had grown to 5’11”. The service papers state marks, wounds and scars. David did have several tattoos. The papers list all the ships on which he served during his time in service. 6th March 1916, David was invalided out at the Royal Navy Hospital, Haslar, Gosport. Less than a year later he was dead, dying from Pulmonary Tuberculosis. Right are his service papers and below is his death certificate.
We can see this death certificate is completely different from Edgar Evans, see last month’s article.
The information from death certificate includes:
Where and When Died
This column should provide date of death and a location or full address. People didn’t always die at home. In our example, 26 Sebastopol Street, St. Thomas, 19th March 1917.
The informant gives the deceased’s age at death to the best of their knowledge. This is not always correct. In our example, 33 years old.
This will be last known occupation of the deceased. Females were usually described by their relationship to husband or father. In our example, Painter (Harbour Trust), also (Naval Pensioner).
Cause of Death
If the word “certified” appears it means the cause of death was given by the doctor in medical attendance of the deceased. If there
was an inquest, that will also be noted. In our example, Pulmonary Tuberculosis, Certified by Goronwy Jones.
Signature, Description and Resident of Informant
Often a spouse or other close relative, if the address is the same as the place of death. After 1875, the relationship to the deceased was declared! In our example the mark of Mary Ann Jones, 26 Sebastopol Street, St. Thomas. Further research in Mary Ann Jones, shows that she purchased the grave in Danygraig Cemetery.
The date of death was registered. This was shortly after the death as a certificate was needed before a burial could take place. In our example, 19th March 1917.
The next man is CHARLES JAMES GODFREY
From the information on his service papers, we can see that he was born 21st December 1894, Swansea. He was a Labourer and his religion was Wesleyan. He enlisted on 29th November 1914. His rank at the time of December 1915 was Able Seaman, Bugler. His next kin was his father, Mr. Charles Godfrey. His description was height, 5’3” ¼, with a fair complexion and brown hair and hazel eyes. His service papers are a little difficult to understand as they have various codes. By the looks of them he was invalided out in July 1918, only to die on 5th April 1919, from injuries sustained by shrapnel on active service. He had a Post Mortem and an inquest held in regards to his death. Unfortunately his inquest papers have not survived.
If there is anyone out there who has any connections with either of these two men, I would be delighted to give you all the information I have obtained. In my next article I will be writing about Remembrance.
My email address email@example.com and if anyone would like to contact me, I would be delighted to help with any enquires
In answer to my two questions regarding the mistakes in Edgar Evans’s Returns of Death, featured in last month’s TheBAY, these are common mistakes that can be made when looking up death certificates, so take good care and make sure you have looked at a few years either way of the said age.
The Returns of Death states that Evans was 38 years old, in 1912. When actually Evans was 35 years old. The other easy mistake that is common to make is the actual date of the death, which it is in this case. The Returns of Death, states 7th February 1912, when it should have been 10 days later on the 17th. We are lucky that we refer to Captain Scott’s journals as to what was happening on the 12th, he wrote “P.O. Evans, who is going steadily downhill” after Evans had cut his hand nearing the pole.
In answer into how the final photograph was taken at the South Pole: Bowers, who is to the left of the picture, attached a piece of string to the camera button, thus pulling it to take the photograph. There will a future article with regards to the development of photographs and the importance they hold for family history.