The purpose of this presentation is to show how to conduct remote searches through the internet on those named on the Memorials to the Great War,
And to illustrate the types of sources and the information that can be revealed.
The technique can be termed ‘record linkage’
First port of call – a War Memorial
Stirling’s War Memorial
Stirling’s War Memorial is of the type we have classified as ‘fully democratic’. Only the names of the fallen are given, without any battalion, regiment, rank or other information.
The names are listed alphabetically.
While this ‘equality in death’ is admirable, the lack of other details makes it difficult to identify the individuals listed and so pursue remote searching and record linkage.
The first name on Stirling’s Memorial is:
The Roll of Honour
Fortunately the town of Stirling printed its own roll of honour, i.e the ‘List of Names of Men belonging to Stirling who fell in the Great War, as contained in the Book of Remembrance preserved in the Public Library.’
Though not consistent, in many cases the Roll of Honour does give additional valuable information. In the case of Thomas Abercromby:
With the limited but important additional biographical information on Thomas Abercromby it is possible to search other sources with some degree of confidence.
First of these is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
The CWGC was established in 1917 as the body responsible for constructing and maintaining the graves and cemeteries containing the bodies of the war dead and the memorials on which their names were engraved. The original remit of the CWGC included the injunction that the graves, headstones and memorials should be permanent. And that there should be no distinction made on account of military or civil rank, race or creed
The CWGC is charged also with keeping the records of the 1.75 million Commonwealth war dead. As well as preserving the original records the Commission has created an electronic version, which can be accessed via the Debt of Honour register .
Name: ABERCROMBY, THOMAS STEVENSON Initials: T S Nationality: United Kingdom Rank: Private Regiment/Service: Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Unit Text: "D" Coy. 2nd Bn. Age: 37 Date of Death: 25/09/1915 Service No: 4/9385 Additional information: Son of John and Isabella Abercromby, of 55, Upper Craigs, Stirling; husband of J. E. Abercromby, of 23, Lawson's Buildings, Stirling. Born at Bannockburn. Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead Grave/Memorial Reference: C. 5. Cemetery: CAMBRIN CHURCHYARD EXTENSION
In Memory of Private THOMAS STEVENSON ABERCROMBY 4/9385, "D" Coy. 2nd Bn., Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders who died age 37 on 25 September 1915 Son of John and Isabella Abercromby, of 55, Upper Craigs, Stirling; husband of J. E. Abercromby, of 23, Lawson's Buildings, Stirling. Born at Bannockburn. Remembered with honour CAMBRIN CHURCHYARD EXTENSION Commemorated in perpetuity by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Cemetery: CAMBRIN CHURCHYARD EXTENSION Country: France Locality: Pas de Calais Visiting Information: Wheelchair access to this churchyard is possible, but may be by alternative entrance. For further information regarding wheelchair access, please contact our Enquiries Section on 01628 507200. Location Information: Cambrin is a village about 24 kilometres north of Arras and about 8 kilometres east of Bethune, on the road to La Bassee. Cambrin Churchyard Extension is on the south side of the main road, 200 metres from the Mairie. The Commonwealth plot will be found behind the church. Historical Information: At one time, the village of Cambrin housed brigade headquarters but until the end of the First World War, it was only about 800 metres from the front line trenches. The village contains two cemeteries used for Commonwealth burials; the churchyard extension, taken over from French troops in May 1915, and the Military Cemetery "behind the Mayor's House." The churchyard extension was used for front line burials until February 1917 when it was closed, but there are three graves of 1918 in the back rows. The extension is remarkable for the very large numbers of graves grouped by battalion, the most striking being the 79 graves of the 2nd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and 15 of the 1st Cameronians (Row C), the 35 of the 2nd Royal Welch Fusiliers and 115 of the 1st Middlesex (Row H), all dating from 25 September 1915, the first day of the Battle of Loos. Cambrin Churchyard Extension contains 1,211 Commonwealth burials of the First World War, 8 being unidentified. There are also 98 French, 3 German and 1 Belgian burials here. The cemetery was designed by Charles Holden. No. of Identified Casualties: 1304
With the additional information from the CWGC it is now possible to search the Scotland’s people Web site for more biographical data. This data is not free but has to be paid for through a system of credits that are used when one views results (1 credit) and actual documents (5 credits). The current charges are £7 = 30 credits. So, in order to make the searches more efficient, and less expensive, the more information one has before beginning the better. Start with the freee surname search and then proceed further.
Possible records include:
Deaths: It is useful to start with the Death Register as we know from the CWGC exactly when the individual was killed or died. Unfortunately the ‘Return of Warrant Officers, Non-Commissioned Offices and Men Killed in Action’ contain only limited information compared to a standard, ‘civilian’ death register.’
The Census: The 1911 Census was taken just three years and four months before the declaration of War in August 1914. As such it allows for the possibility, or probability of identifying very large numbers of the fallen to their families and communities and thus providing a much more detailed picture of their lives in peace time.
Birth: Working back from our other data, particularly the Census it becomes more likely that we can now trace the birth details of the fallen. As well as further confirmation of age, the census also gives us the birthplace, in this case Bannockburn in Stirlingshire.
Additional Research and linkages
It is possible to do further research on Thomas Stevenson Abercromby. Indeed through the other censuses available and the civil and old parish registers we could do a family tree if we so wished. That is almost certainly too much but we might wish to look at Thomas and Jane’s marriage certificate, which should be relatively easy to locate given that the census tells us they had been married 8 years in 1911. The advantage of the Marriage Certificate is that it gives more detail on Thomas’s wife, Jane E. Spearing and her family, as well as giving an indication of religion; the couple were married ‘according to the Forms of the United Free Church of Scotland’.
The sharper eyed will have noticed the different spellings of Abercromby (all other sources) and Abercrombie (Census, Marriage). When searching one has to be aware of possible spelling variations and try these if the first search is not successful.
The type of remote search conducted for Thomas Abercromby can be done relatively quickly, though only after some initial work on the relevant Memorial and Roll of Honour (if available). Additional remote searches of other databases can be done, for instance of soldier’s military records and campaign medal rolls, but these have been ‘privatised’ and have to be paid for. Additionally only 40 per cent of WW1 military records survive, and many of these are in very poor condition. Currently we do not recommend using these sites, as the likelihood of making linkages is not sufficiently positive.
There are however other searches that can be started at least, and possibly continued at a later date. These include:
National Archives of Scotland for Soldier’s Wills (Ref: SC70/8). These documents are such a fragile state that they cannot be consulted in the search room, though digital images may be available. They are not extant and in the case of Thomas Abercrombie no will seems to have been made or to have survived.
The National Archives (Kew) holds an enormous amount of material on WW1, but all its genealogical data has been sold off to third parties. One area of possible future interest are the War Diaries (Ref: WO95) some of which have been digitised and can be downloaded (for a charge) as pdf files. It so happens that the Diary of 2 nd Battalion A & S Highlanders is one of these, and it contains a detailed account of the regiment’s attack on the German lines near Cambrin on 25 September 1915. As Pte Thomas Abercromby was ‘killed in action’ on that day and is buried in the Churchyard at Cambrin we can assume that he died in this battle.
One other necessary search is of the local press, particularly near the date of Thomas’s death, as it was usual to provide coverage of local losses.
War Diary, 2 nd Battalion Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, Aug 1914 – Nov 1915
The Battle of Loos, or the ‘big push’
The Assault on German Lines at Cambrin
The remainder were “wiped out’
The Announcement of Pte Abercromby’s Death
The press cover attempted to cover nearly every death of a local combatant. In this they were largely dependent upon information supplied by families rather than the military authorities. The two Stirling papers, the Stirling Observer and the Stirling Journal and Advertiser carried news of Pte. Abercromby’s death over three weeks after he was killed in action.
Both papers carried the same regular feature giving photographs with biographical details of local men who had joined up, ‘JUST A FEW OF OUR MEN’, which was intended to encourage volunteering.
From this source we can get some more detail about Thomas Abercromby, including the schools he atttended, the name of the firm he served his apprenticeship with and the fact that he and his wife had a third child sometime between the 1911 Census and his death.
Plotting Pte. Thomas Abercromby’s Life and Death
Born 1878: Bannockburn, Stirlingshire
Married 1902: 67 Wallace St, Falkirk, Stirlingshire
Parents’ Home 1915: 55 Upper Craigs, Stirling
Home 1911: 21 Firs St, Falkirk
Home 1915: 23 Lawson’s Building, Stirling
Death 1915: Cambrin Churchyard, Pas de Calais, France
Memorial 1922: Stirling
Links to other veterans and fallen ‘When you see millions of the mouthless dead Across your dreams in pale battalions go’ [Charles Sorley]
British casualties alone at the Battle of Loos amounted to more than 61,000. It has been commented that, ‘Casualties were particularly high among Scots units.’ [ The Long, Long Trail , http://www.1914-1918.net/bat13.htm ]
Alongside Thomas Abercromby, the dead included:
Captain Fergus Bowes-Lyon, elder brother of the Queen Mother
Lieutenant Jack Kipling, son of Rudyard Kipling
Captain Charles Hamilton Sorley, b. Aberdeen, one of the 16 Great War poets commemorated in Westminster Abbey.
Among the survivors were writers who subsequently wrote about their experiences in fiction and non-fiction: