During the early part of lockdown I signed up to be part of a volunteer project for the WFA. Project ALIAS was set up to look for aliases (false names) in the 800,000 Pension Record Cards held by the WFA and recently digitised by Ancestry. The cards will be tagged with both real and false names to build a database of all of the aliases. This will also allow CWCG records to be updated. The project was planned to take around 6 months but due to the enthusiasm of the volunteers it was completed in just 6 weeks! The next stage is to review the 10,000 sets of data that have been identified and this is currently underway.
So, what information is shown on a Pension Record Card? There is some variation between the printed cards themselves and also what information was recorded for each man. Generally name, regimental number, regiment or ship, date and cause of death, name and address of dependant (and relationship: could be wife, parent, child and so on), and various details of the pension if one was awarded. In some cases serving brothers were recorded on the same card too. Much of this information is research gold dust for linking family members and finding out the circumstances of a man’s death, particularly for those that have no surviving service record. And in a few cases the pension was refused as the record stated ‘man alive.’
Whilst searching through my allocation of Pension Record Cards for aliases I was interested to read the details on these cards. I began to notice some of the non-combat causes of death, from heatstroke, drowning, flu, pneumonia and suicide to acute alcoholism. Then I came across a card for Private Thomas Pickering (8491) 1st Royal Welsh Fusiliers who was killed by lightning on the 19th June 1917 in France. I thought this was a surprising cause of death so investigated a little further. The Register of Soldiers’ Effects showed him as Thomas Pickering, born at Bradwell Grove, Oxon; enlisted at Wrexham. The Regimental war diary provided further details:
“19th June 1917
Battalion at LOGEAST WOOD, Working Party & Company Training.
Casualties: 3 killed by lightning, 3 to hospital (injured by lightning).
CWGC showed these three men, buried alongside one another in Achiet-Le-Grand Communal Cemetery Extension (south of Arras) as follows:
1st Royal Welsh Fusiliers
Pte T Pickering 8491
Pte E Ashdown 6849
Pte Richard White 9069
A little more digging showed that Private White’s next of kin was his father: Mr W White, 3 Court 2 House, Powell Street, Aston, Birmingham. Private Edward Ashdown appears in the National Roll of the Great War as follows:
“Private E. Ashdown, Royal Welch Fusiliers. He lived at 3/26 Cherrywood Road, Small Heath, Birmingham. Mobilised from the Reserves in August 1914 he was immediately drafted to France, where he did good work with his unit in many of the earliest engagements of the war, including the Retreat from Mons, and the Battles of the Marne, the Aisne, Ypres, Neuve Chapelle, Hill 60, Festubert and Loos, and later, the Battles of Vimy Ridge and the Somme. After rendering services of a valuable character he was unfortunately killed by lightning in the trenches on the Ancre. He was entitled to the Mons Star, and the General Service and Victory Medals.
Being a volunteer on Project ALIAS was a great lesson in the varied and useful information that can be found on the WFA Pension Record Cards, and I hope the information collected and cross-referenced will be of great value to researchers in the future.
Dr Sarah Jane Veevers. www.veeversresearch.co.uk
The Diary of a Young Soldier in World War 1 by Dennis Hamley
This story is about a boy called Billy Warren who tells a lie to join the Army with his friends. He thinks it will be fun but it is not. His first uniform was like a postman! For his training he slept on the hard Town Hall floor.
Billy writes in his diary about going to France and what it was like being in the trenches. He got injured in the Battle of the Somme and was sent back to England. In hospital he met a nurse called Daisy and he knew she would be his young lady! I won't tell you anymore because I don't want to give away the end of the story.
I liked this book because it is written as a diary which made the order of events clear. I liked it that Billy found a girlfriend but it was sad that he got injured.
All of the things in the book are based on true events. I would recommend this book to children who would like to learn about what World War One was like. I really enjoyed it.
By Miles, Aged 8.
My thanks to Jane, and her son Miles, for these contributions, RL
‘OUR UNINVITED GUESTS’
by Julie Summers
I was attracted to this book as it relates to two of my interests, World Wars 1 and 2 and the decline of the British Country House. The book is about the use these houses were put to in World War 2 but families that were already suffering from the effects of the increasing tax burdens and often the loss of much loved sons found the costs of returning to their homes after World War 2 were too great.
Many stately home owners had realised following their experiences in World War 1 that if their homes were used as hospitals or centres for recuperating wounded, as the vast majority were in World War 1, they were far less likely to be damaged than if they were put to some other use by the Services. However from as early as 1924 The Committee of Imperial Defence was looking at the potential impact of aerial bombardment in any future conflict.
Thousands of houses would be needed for those evacuated from cities, including schools and hospitals and the three million Allied Troops that were in the country by 1944. Baron Braybrook must have been very disappointed when his house at Audley End was turned down as totally unsuitable as a hospital. It had two lavatories, two bathrooms and no electricity. It became Station 43 a training centre for Polish agents.
Tony Bertram in World War 1, fighting with the York and Lancaster Regiment, was badly injured in the Battle of Cambrai and his life was saved by a German prisoner who by good fortune was a doctor. He recognised the severity of his wounds and got him moved to a field dressing station for urgent treatment. Called up at the start of World War 2 he became a ‘conducting officer’ for SOE agents. His wife Nicky ran their home Bignor Manor near Tangmere aerodrome as a staging post for SOE agents as they waited to fly out to France.
The First Aid Nursing Yeomanry became universally known as the FANY’s. They had been set up in 1907 and as a ‘volunteer’ organisation and did remarkable work during World War1. They ran canteens and hospitals and for a time they were the only female ambulance drivers in France. They brought the wounded from the battlefields for treatment often in ambulances they had raised the money to purchase. They were often from wealthy families and as a ‘voluntary ‘organisation they paid an annual membership fee of £1 and provided their own uniforms.
In World War 2 it was decided that they should become part of the ATS, but be allowed to wear their own shoulder flash. Some were uncomfortable with this arrangement and set up the ’Free FANY’s’ with the help of Marian and Hope Gamwell. This was an ideal cover for women who later joined the SOE, and being so well connected they often found themselves in other confidential areas of operation. This included supporting the Polish agents at Audley End.
Women of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, somewhere on the Western Front,
doing some running repairs to their ambulance watched by some very interested