Southwark’s Blue Plaque nominees 2017: Southwark Charities

Voting has opened for this year’s Southwark Heritage Association Blue Plaques scheme. There are seven worthy nominees, of which only one will get a plaque this year. But who are they and why should they get your vote? To help you decide we’re featuring one nominee per week over the 7 weeks of voting.

This week, read on to discover more about Southwark Charities.

Southwark Charities is an organisation with a history spanning four centuries, starting with a man called John Wrench, a tenant farmer who lived in the vicinity of what we now know as Stamford Street. In 1603 he left a bequest for the maintenance of the poor people of his home parish of Christchurch. This was the first of many charitable gifts and legacies that would form the Southwark Charities.

Over the course of the following 382 years 47 different charities were formed within Southwark with similar aims. The most recent was the Joseph Collier Holiday Trust, which started in 1985. From the 19th century onwards the older charities had begun to form unions, and in 2010 all of them were brought together to form the organisation we see today.

Southwark charities 3One of the more significant early charities was founded by Edward Edwards and this year is the 300th anniversary of his death. In 1717 Edwards left the leases of his land and buildings to trustees, the income of which was to be used for charitable purposes. Some of the money raised was used for the construction of almshouses in the area bordered by Church Walk (now Burrell Street) and Charles Street (now Nicholson Street). The almshouses were rebuilt in 1895 with an inscription from one of the original buildings set into one a new wall. They were rebuilt once more in the 1970s and were officially opened in 1973 by Princess Anne. The new building, Edward Edwards House is now the headquarters of Southwark Charities.

Southwark Charities almshouses

In addition to the traditional functions of providing accommodation and maintenance grants for older people, Southwark Charities also delivers social and community events such as day trips, visits to the theatre, garden parties, and week-long holidays at a specially adapted holiday village. The number of participants in these outings and holidays in 2015 was almost 700.

In Summary:

A 400 year legacy of charitable works in Southwark, showing that the people of this borough have always looked out for each other. Will you #VoteSouthwarkCharities?

Voting ends on 15 September 2017. You can vote by emailing Southwark Heritage Association: admin@southwark.org.uk or the Southwark News: owen@southwarknews.co.uk. You can also vote in person at all Southwark libraries and at both the Mayflower, Rotherhithe Street and Half Moon, Herne Hill.

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Southwark’s Blue Plaque nominees 2017: The Half Moon

Voting has opened for this year’s Southwark Heritage Association Blue Plaques scheme. There are seven worthy nominees, of which only one will get a plaque this year. But who are they and why should they get your vote? To help you decide we’ll be featuring one nominee per week over the next 7 weeks of voting.

This week, read on to discover more about The Half Moon

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The Half Moon has had more celebrities pass through its doors than any other pub in this borough. In recent years musicians like Kate Tempest, Anna Calvi and La Roux have made important debuts here. The pub has also been a major comedy venue, attracting performers like Eddie Izzard, Omid Djalili and former local resident Jo Brand. To some, it would be performances by the likes of U2, Van Morrison and the Police in the 1980s that make the Half Moon worthy of a blue plaque, while if you are a fan of folk music, the 1960s were the pub’s heyday, when acts like Bert Jansch and Gerry Lockran performed for the proprietors Ed Parslow and Charles Pearce.

Stepping back a little further, the 1950s was the era of one of the pub’s most celebrated regulars, the poet Dylan Thomas, who may well have named his famous drama Under Milk Wood after nearby Milkwood Road. He was one of many Welsh visitors who came for a drink and a sing-along after matches played by the London Welsh Rugby Football Club. The team had their home at nearby Herne Hill Velodrome, where drinking was not permitted by the landlords, the Dulwich Estate.

The land on which the Half Moon stands is also owned by the Dulwich Estate, (formerly Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift). An inn has stood here since the 17th century. One particularly longstanding and enterprising tenant, John Webb was somehow in the possession of the original tombstone of the Elizabethan actor and founder of Dulwich College, Edward Alleyn. The stone had apparently been used by Webb and his father before him as a talking point for visitors to the pub’s tea gardens. It was presented back to the college in 1844.

The imposing grade II* listed Jacobean revival edifice we see today was built between 1894 and 1896 to designs by local architect James William Brooke. It boasts a number of fine interior features, including six newly restored back-painted mirrors depicting aquatic birds. After four years behind builders’ hoardings these features can now be seen again. The Half Moon reopened in March 2017 and in May hosted its own Dylan Day celebrations in honour of the Welsh poet.

In summary:

South London’s premier music venue for half a century, frequented by poets and an official asset of community value. Will you #VoteHalfMoon?

Voting ends on 15 September 2017. You can vote by emailing Southwark Heritage Association: admin@southwark.org.uk or the Southwark News: owen@southwarknews.co.uk. You can also vote in person at all Southwark libraries and at both the Mayflower, Rotherhithe Street and Half Moon, Herne Hill.

Southwark’s Blue Plaque nominees 2017: Sir James Black

Voting is open for this year’s Southwark Heritage Association Blue Plaques scheme. There are seven worthy nominees, of which only one will get a plaque this year. But who are they and why should they get your vote? To help you decide we’ll be featuring one nominee per week over the next 7 weeks of voting.

This week, read on to discover more about Sir james Black

The story of Sir James Black (1924 – 2010) is closely tied to Kings College Hospital on Denmark Hill. The hospital itself has a fascinating history, which began in 1840 on Portugal Street, close to Lincoln’s Inn Fields and King’s College London itself. The move to the present site came about in response to the increasing population in the suburbs of Camberwell, Peckham and Brixton towards the end of the 19th century. The new hospital opened in 1909, incorporating modern features such as electric clocks, an internal phone system (the second ever to be installed in the U.K.) and electrical power produced by its own diesel generators.

Kings college hospital on SW corner of Denmark hill and Bessemer Rd, P12805, 1980

Kings College Hospital, Denmark Hill, c.1980

In 1984 Sir James Black became Professor of Analytical Pharmacology at the Rayne Institute, part of King’s College Hospital Medical School. During that time he established his own research laboratory, the James Black Foundation and led a team of 25 scientists. In 1988 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his work in drug development (along with two American scientists, Gertrude B. Elion and George H. Hitchings). His major breakthroughs included work on gastrin inhibitors which can prevent a number of stomach cancers, anti-ulcer drugs and most famously, propranolol, the first generation of a range of drugs known as beta blockers, which are now commonly used to treat angina and to protect the heart from future attacks. They have benefited millions of people around the world.

Black was well known for his modesty and desire for privacy. He described his feelings on learning that he had won the Nobel Prize like this: ‘It was like being kicked in the stomach; I was in an absolute funk. I went to the pub and contemplated my fate.’ But he should have been used to the limelight by this time. As well as the Nobel Prize, he had won the Wolf Prize for Medicine in 1982 and had been knighted for services to medical research in 1981. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Societ0,y and in 2000 was appointed to the Order of Merit.

In Summary: A great example of the hard work and innovation that goes on to this day at King’s College Hospital in Camberwell. Will you #VoteSirJamesBlack?

Voting ends on 15 September 2017. You can vote by emailing Southwark Heritage Association: admin@southwark.org.uk or the Southwark News: owen@southwarknews.co.uk. You can also vote in person at all Southwark libraries and at both the Mayflower, Rotherhithe Street and Half Moon, Herne Hill.

Southwark’s Blue Plaque nominees 2017: The Kennington Theatre

Voting has opened for this year’s Southwark Heritage Association Blue Plaques scheme. There are seven worthy nominees, of which only one will get a plaque this year. But who are they and why should they get your vote?

The Kennington Theatre is one of the nominees. For all the lowdown on its history we couldn’t really improve on this article on the Arthur Lloyd Music Hall and Theatre History Website!

 

Kennington theatre 1933

 

Historic Walworth

Southwark’s historic villages: Walworth

The name Walworth is Saxon in origin and has been recorded at various times as Wealhworth, Wealawyr, and in the Domesday Book, Waleorde. It translates roughly as ‘farm of the Britons.’ The name Newington is thought to have been given more specifically to the area around the church, which stood on Newington Butts, where the road bends to the south-west. The buildings erected around it in the middle ages gradually acquired the name of ‘the New Town’ and the parish as a whole was named St Mary Newington.

The area around this junction is also known as Elephant and Castle. This name comes from the coaching inn that once stood at the crossroads where we now have the roundabout and the Faraday memorial. As with other inns at major transport intersections, such as the Angel and the New Cross, the Elephant and Castle gave its name to a railway station and is now used to refer to the surrounding area more generally.

P02207 Newington Causeway

The Elephant and Castle c.1860

One of the earliest references to the manor of Walworth is its presentation as a gift by Edmund II to a court jester named Hitard in c.1016. Hitard in turn made the lands of Walworth over to the monks of Canterbury Cathedral and to this day certain parts of Walworth are still owned by the Church Commissioners.

Walworth was once famous for producing and selling fresh fruit and vegetables. Much of the area consisted of orchards and gardens where special varieties  such as the Newington Peach were grown. In 1792 James Maddock, florist, of Walworth published The Florists’ Directory; or Treatise on the Culture of Flowers. At about the same time John Abercrombie published a book on flowers which included an account of the then newly introduced chrysanthemum. Walworth was also known far and wide for the Surrey Zoological Gardens, which from 1831 occupied the grounds of the former manor house.

Two particularly remarkable residents of Walworth were Richard Cuming  and his son, Henry Syer Cuming. Between them, during the late 18th and the 19th century, they acquired all kinds of objects from around the world, which became the Cuming Museum.

Mini museum and catalogue

The Cumings’ original catalogue and Richard Cuming’s childhood collection

The 18th and early 19th centuries brought many changes to Walworth. New bridges over the Thames and improved roads made it easier for richer people to live just outside of London and commute into town every day by carriage. They would have occupied grand Georgian houses like those still standing in Surrey Square. The Elephant and Castle area became a thriving shopping area with its own department store, Tarns,  and many other places to spend money on clothing and cosmetics.

 

Factories, warehouses and railways replaced many houses in the centre of London, which meant that London’s overflowing population spread out into Walworth. As a result, Walworth changed from a small community into a highly populated area. In 1801 there were 14,800 people in Walworth. By 1901 the figure had risen to 122,200, much higher than it is now, which shows how cramped conditions must have been. It is no wonder that in the 1880’s and 90s poverty increased. For the poorest in Walworth this meant being admitted to the Newington Workhouse. In 1896 a seven year old Charlie Chaplin briefly became an inmate there, with his mother, Hannah and half-brother, Sydney.

In response to this legacy of poverty Walworth became the location for some pioneering social work and  services. It boasted the first family planning clinic in the country, while its celebrated health services department in Walworth Road brought all health facilities under one roof for the first time in London and preceded the NHS by ten years. The Clubland youth club, which started in rooms below the Walworth Methodist Church in 1922 provided life changing opportunities for thousands of teenagers in the area and improved public attitudes both to young people and to the less privileged in society.

The first and second World Wars saw Walworth take heavy casualties both civilian, during the London bombing, and in the field. The Elephant and Castle area was so ravaged by bombing that it had to be rebuilt practically from scratch, although the Metropolitan Tabernacle managed to survive the Blitz unharmed. Post-war planning by the London County Council resulted in The Elephant & Castle traffic scheme and the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre, the first covered shopping mall in Europe. Today we are seeing more dramatic changes to the landscape. Whatever the outcome, Walworth will remain an important focal point for Southwark, attracting travellers from all over London and the world.

Elephant and Castle Redevelopment

The Elephant and Castle during redevelopment, 1963

 

Historic Camberwell

Southwark’s historic villages: Camberwell

Camberwell’s landscape is divided into two distinct parts: an area of high ground to the south including Denmark Hill and a flat plain extending to Walworth to the north. The higher ground is thought to have been the first area of settlement in Camberwell as it provided a strategic point for a Roman encampment.

Denmark Hill

The view from Denmark Hill in the 18th century

By the 11th century Camberwell was one of the more important developments within the area we now know as the London Borough of Southwark. It is mentioned in the Domesday Book as being owned by Haimo, half-brother to William the Conqueror. It had land for ploughing and corn, 63 acres for cows, and woods that fed 60 pigs. Its importance is shown by the fact that it had a church, unlike the neighbouring hamlets of Dulwich and Peckham.

From Haimo the manor descended through his son Robert Fitz Haimon to Mabel, a ward of Henry I. Henry, on the basis that neighbouring Peckham was held by his son, Robert of Caen, married the two to consolidate royal influence in the area. In the process Robert was made the First Earl of Gloucester. Later the lands became the property of the Duke of Buckingham and control rested with that family until 1521, when the then Duke was executed for “treasonable thoughts.” After passing through various hands, it was purchased in 1583 by Sir Edmund Bowyer, whose descendants retained ownership of a considerable portion of the land until well into the 19th century.

Bowyer Manor House 1826

The Bowyer mansion, c.1800

Until about 1800 Camberwell was a farming village surrounded by woods and fields.  The village was based around its High Street, now called Denmark Hill in honour of Prince George of Denmark, the husband of Queen Anne, who had a residence there. The village contained a traditional village green, which still exists, and it was here that Camberwell Fair was held. The earliest record of the fair is in 1279. It was abolished in 1855 as by this time it “attracted too many undesirables.”

The rural nature of the area in the 19th Century is revealed by the rewards available to residents who killed vermin. The produce grown locally went for sale at markets such as Covent Garden and hence animals could cause a real problem by eating the produce. Rewards of 4d per dead hedgehog, 1s per dead polecat and 4d per dozen sparrows were available. Records suggest that once the dead sparrows had been thrown out they were often collected up and presented again as freshly killed!

St Giles Cambwerwell 1750

St Giles’s Church, 1750

There were a number of mineral wells and springs in the area until about 1850. One of the village wells was reputed to have healing properties and from this legend comes a possible explanation for the name Camberwell. The old English word cam means “crooked,” so Camberwell may have meant “the well of the crooked,” suggesting that it was a place where people with physical injuries or impairments could seek a cure. It is perhaps significant that the local church is named in honour of St Giles, the patron saint of disabled people.

St Giles Church Camberwell plan 1842

Plan for the new St Giles’s church, 1842

St Giles’s church still stands on its original site. The first church is estimated to have been built in the 7th century AD.  It was rebuilt in stone in 1154, and underwent many alterations over the centuries before it was destroyed by fire in 1841. The new church, finished in 1844, was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and contains stained glass windows designed by John Ruskin.

Camberwell Green 1700s

Camberwell Green c.1800

The 19th Century saw more affluent people moving into the area as the construction of Westminster Bridge (1750), Blackfriars Bridge (1769), Vauxhall Bridge (1816), and Southwark Bridge (1819), all made it easier for them to commute to work in Central London. Despite the population growth Camberwell was still an area of beauty. In 1842 the composer Felix Mendelssohn stayed with his wife’s relatives at Camberwell and was inspired to write “Camberwell Green”, now better known as “Spring Song”.

As with much of South London the coming of the trains led to a dramatic change in the landscape. The first trains arrived in 1862, and over the next six years a plethora of tracks were laid. The trains offered a new, cheap way to travel meaning more people could afford to live in the suburbs. In 1801 the population of Camberwell was 7,059, one hundred years later it was 259,425. During the building boom some slums were created and subsequently written about by philanthropist and social reformer Charles Booth in 1902.

Camberwell Town Hall 1939

Camberwell Town Hall with sand bags, 1939

The Second World War hit Camberwell badly with 937 people killed and nearly all its buildings damaged, many beyond repair. Today much of the Georgian and Victorian architecture has been replaced or supplemented by large 20th century developments such as the Denmark Hill Estate and Dawson’s Heights.

Modern Camberwell is a highly residential area with a shopping centre and a thriving community. As you stand on Camberwell Green today, amidst all the modern hustle and bustle, it seems impossible that it was once a traditional village green in a small farming village.

We will continue our look at Southwark’s historic villages in future posts. Next up: Historic Walworth.

Researching the First World War: Searching for someone outside the UK

By Patricia Dark, Archivist at the Southwark Local History Library and Archive

This is the fifth post in a series exploring ways to find out more about the part your family, school, workplace, or neighbourhood played in the First World War.

The First World War was the first truly global war, and you may be looking for someone who lived in the wider British Empire, one of the Allied countries, or in one of the Central Powers who fought on the opposite side of the war. Many of the important points discussed in the second part of this series – major types of heritage organisations, digitisation of primary sources, and the challenges of using historic records – are true for records relating to the experiences of people in the Empire, Allied nation, or the Central Powers. You will also usually need to know the same basic and specific information, like full name and date of birth, service number, date(s) and place(s) of service, as you would to find British military personnel or civilians.

However, there are some challenges unique to using foreign records. In order to use undigitised foreign records, you will need to travel abroad or hire a local researcher to consult them for you – this includes many Commonwealth countries, who took responsibility for service records on achieving independence. Language may also be a challenge, both in terms of accessing documents and finding a local researcher. Finally, not all countries hold military service records in a central archive. This means that you will need to know where the person you’re interested in enlisted – and may need to travel to the appropriate regional archive to do research.

British Empire Forces

Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force

When the First World War started in 1914, Britain administered a world-spanning empire (whose symbolic successor is the Commonwealth).  Australia, Canada, Newfoundland, New Zealand, and South Africa were self-governing units known as Dominions: each Dominion had its own legislature and made local laws, but the UK controlled their international relations. India had a more complicated system that was, in practice, similar to Dominion status; for this reason, all six of these states entered the war in August 1914. Colonies in Africa, Asia, and the West Indies had more limited self-government, and their casualties were accounted with that of UK forces.

Since the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) has a Commonwealth-wide remit, you should be able to find troops from all over the empire in its database of war dead; however, it’s important to note that men from the colonies are included under “United Kingdom forces”, Newfoundlanders under “Canadian”, and all troops from the Indian subcontinent under “Indian”. The Imperial War Museum (IWM) also has a Commonwealth-wide remit, and you can find details of those who served with imperial forces on the Lives of the First World War website.

Australia, Canada, New Zealand, India, and South Africa also have their own war museums (not all founded in the immediate aftermath, however); similarly the website Soldiers of the First World War provides access to digitised service records for Canadian and Newfoundlander troops; Discovering Anzacs, the AIF Project, and New Zealand Anzacs in the Great War do the same for Australian and New Zealander service records. Indian Army records for the time are generally at the British Library, and are not available online. You can also find some Indian Army unit diaries at the National Archives’ Operation War Diary website. South African records are available through the South African National Defence Force Documentation Centre; records of the King’s African Rifles, a unit based in Kenya, are available at the National Archives.

Allied Forces

Records of “doughboys” – American military personnel of the First World War, who joined the war in 1917– are held by the American equivalent of TNA, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). They were badly affected by a catastrophic fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St Louis, MO, in 1973: many of the surviving records are available on Ancestry or Family Search. The American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) is the equivalent of the CWGC, and its website allows you to search for burials in American military cemeteries. It’s important to note that, in contrast to British policy, American policy gave bereaved families the choice of whether or not to inter war dead in battlefield cemeteries. This means many American war dead are buried in their hometowns, and so don’t necessarily appear on the ABMC database. You may also find useful information on the website of the American National World War I Museum.

In France, the Ministère de la Defense (the Ministry of Defense) is in charge of service records, while the Ministère des Pensions (the Ministry of Pensions) is the official war graves agency. For poilus – French military personnel of the First World War – the Memoire des Hommes website provides access to digitised military and war graves records. Some of its background material and database fields are in English, but most of its results are in French and may require knowledge of that language to use.

Italy also fought on the side of the Allies in World War I. Service records there are held at regional centres, and most are not digitised; you can find more information on how to access them at Family Search. Russian records are particularly challenging to use: records are scattered, fragmentary, and generally not online. To make use of them, you will need to have good knowledge of Russian and read Cyrillic. One place to start is the World War I project of the Russian genealogical society Союз Возрождения Родословных Традиций (Union Revival Bloodlines Traditions, SVRT).

Central Powers forces

If you are searching for an ancestor who was in the military forces of the Central Powers, the situation is more complicated. At the end of the war, the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires broke into pieces; like British colonies, the military records of different newly-independent areas became the successor states’ responsibility. Many of these nations also hold military records on a regional, not national, basis; many of these records were lost in the bombings of the Second World War, and relatively few of them are online.

Ottoman service records are likely to be held by the archives of the Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Millî Savunma Bakanlığı (Republic of Turkey Ministry of National Defense). These records are likely to be very difficult to use unless you are familiar with Ottoman Turkish and its Arabic-based script.

Service records of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (which included modern Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia, Slovenia, and parts of Poland, Romania, Italy, Ukraine, Moldova, Serbia, and Montenegro) are held regionally; the vast majority of them are handwritten in German. The Österreichisches Staatsarchiv (Austrian State Archives) leaflet on military genealogy (in English) contains an overview of resources available at the Kriegsarchiv Wien (Vienna War Archives), as well as contact details for regional archives. The Österreichisches Schwarzes Kreuz (Austrian Black Cross) is the equivalent of the CWGC: you can make a research request for information on an Austrian war grave. The Hungarian equivalent of the Kriegsarchiv Wien is the Hadtörténelmi Levéltár (Hungarian Military History Archives) in Budapest: its website is entirely in Hungarian.

Many German service records for the First World War did not survive the 1945 destruction of the Prussian military archive, in Potsdam, near Berlin; however, records for some semi-autonomous German forces (Bavaria, Saxony, and Baden-Württemberg) are held at regional archives. Ancestry provides online access to Bavarian service records, and the Generallandesarchiv Karlsruhe (General state archive, Karlsruhe) provides digital copies of service records for Baden-Württemberg. You may also find useful information on the First World War centenary website of the Bundesarchiv (German federal archive), including their introduction to military genealogy leaflet (German language only). The website of the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge (German War Graves Commission), the German equivalent of the CWGC, allows you to search for a soldier buried in a German war cemetery.

This is the final post in a series exploring ways to research the First World War.

Researching the First World War: Searching for civilians

By Patricia Dark, Archivist at the Southwark Local History Library and Archive

This is the fourth post in a series exploring ways to find out more about the part your family, school, workplace, or neighbourhood played in the First World War.

Civilian men and women served on the home front, either in their usual jobs or in war service. The largest group of civilian men involved in the war effort were the officers and men of the Merchant Marine, hundreds of whom died at sea.

Women were vital to the war effort, entering the industrial workforce in large numbers to free men for combat. In some cases, they simply stepped into jobs men going to the front left behind, as they did on the Tube. The Women’s Land Army aimed to boost agricultural production by training women to work on farms. “Munitionettes” made and filled artillery shells with TNT: the chemical stained their skin a distinctive yellow, giving rise to their other nickname, “canary girls”.  Hundreds of them died, either in workplace explosions or from exposure to toxic chemicals. The Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) of the Joint War Committee trained civilian women in first aid and general nursing. Most VADs served at home in support roles, but some, like Vera Brittain, saw service overseas.

Personnel records for civilian workers can be very patchy. In some cases – like the Women’s Land Army or munitionettes – they simply don’t survive. Some Merchant Marine records were not systematically kept, while others were lost in the Blitz; you can access surviving ones via the National Archives, Find My Past, or Ancestry. The British Red Cross (and to a lesser degree St John Ambulance) hold VAD records. Once again, knowing the basic information of full name and birth date and place is vital to search these records; knowing date(s) and place(s) of service helps as well.

Civilian internees

As the lights went out in Europe, thousands of civilians (both visitors and expatriates) became “enemy aliens”: citizens of a country at war with their country of residence. Their hosts viewed them as potential saboteurs – men were particularly dangerous, since they could boost the enemy’s fighting strength if they went home. To prevent this, enemy aliens were usually held in internment camps, similar in purpose and conditions to POW camps. By the end of 1918, more than 100,000 German men were interned in Knockaloe Camp on the Isle of Man; among the approximately 5,500 Allied internees at Ruhleben near Berlin were English international footballer Steve Bloomer, future Nobel Prize winner James Chadwick, and media personality Prince Monolulu. The ICRC held oversight of civilian internment camps, and you can search their Grande Guerre website for more information on camps and individual internees. Very few British records on internees survive, but those that do are at TNA; they don’t usually contain details on individuals. As well as the basic information of full name and date of birth, you will need to know the nationality of the person you’re looking for. As with civilian war workers, knowing date(s) and places of internment can make searching easier.

Camberwell during the First World War (p22945)

Military service tribunals and conscientious objectors

As the war dragged on, central government instituted the draft in March 1916, as well a system of local military service tribunals. In theory, these tribunals could authorise non-combatant status, civilian service, or an absolute discharge from military service to applicants; in practice, the need to provide men for the front – and the active-duty officer on the tribunal – dominated, and their decisions overwhelmingly favoured active service.

In most cases, men applied because they were medically unfit, were already doing vital war work, or their conscription would cause undue hardship for family or business. Some 16,000 men, however, applied to the tribunal as conscientious objectors (COs). For them, being forced to serve and to kill would violate their deeply-held personal religious or philosophical beliefs. About 2,000 COs declared themselves absolutists: unwilling to be drafted, unwilling to follow orders, and unwilling to do any war-related work.

Tribunals usually viewed and treated COs as cowards, or even traitors. Often, absolutists received non-combatant status they could not accept; a CO who refused to submit to military discipline usually was sent to gaol. More than 5,000 COs spent at least one spell in prison: 35 were formally sentenced to death. More than 100 imprisoned COs died as a direct result of their imprisonment.

Records about military tribunals, and especially about COs, survive in a variety of places; however, the Ministry of Health destroyed the vast majority of files relating to individual COs in 1921. TNA holds records of the Middlesex appeal tribunal and the Central Tribunal. The Library of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) holds records of the Friends Ambulance Unit, staffed mostly by COs; the British Red Cross also ran similar ambulance units. The Peace Pledge Union archive has personal papers of COs and records of CO support organisations. Southwark Local History Library & Archive has files of presscuttings related to local tribunals.

As well as full name and date of birth, you will need to know the person’s place of residence and/or call-up date(s) to search the records for a conscientious objector. The tribunal probably focussed on, and may mention, details such as family circumstances, occupation, or religious/philosophical beliefs. Knowing some or all of these may make it easier to find someone who went before a tribunal, especially if they have a common first or surname.

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Researching the First World War: Searching for military personnel

By Patricia Dark, Archivist at the Southwark Local History Library and Archive

This is the third post in a series exploring ways to find out more about the part your family, school, workplace, or neighbourhood played in the First World War.

First World War recruitment (P5601)Millions of men – and thousands of women – served king and country in uniform during the First World War. Men served in the Army, the Royal Navy, and the Royal Marines. The Great War saw the creation of the Royal Air Force, after the 1 April 1918 merger of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service. Women served in non-combatant roles, freeing men for the front. These were either in the auxiliary forces of the Army, Air Force, and Royal Navy, or in the Army, Navy, or Air Force nursing corps.

With the basic information outlined above – full name and birth date and place – you should be able to find a tommy’s campaign medal record. While these records – originally large index cards – are not very detailed, they can often provide a broad outline of your tommy’s service. More importantly, they also provide your tommy’s  service number, which can be very useful to find other records.

Silver War Badge awarded to William Thomas Graham, Rifle Brigade (LDCUM2009.009.001)The most important of these other records is his or her service record, which may contain details of rank and regiment, promotion, moves between units, evaluations from superiors, next of kin, pension, or medical status. The Silver War Badge, noted in the campaign medal records, was awarded to all military personnel released from service due to war-related injury or sickness; if your tommy received one, pension records may provide more details of service and medical history. Pension records also record details of the families of those killed or missing in action.

Unit records

War is a surprisingly bureaucratic process, and records generated by military units at home or at the front also survive. As well as official reports and forms, units created photographs and even newspapers and magazines! The most common unit record to survive is its official war diary. They collected operational information for the official history of the war – that could also inform command decisions and tactics. They chart the day-to-day life of a unit, and provide a wealth of details about life and death on the front lines. Although these are not personal diaries, they do sometimes refer to individuals, particularly those being considered for a commendation.

Unit war diaries are series WO95 at TNA. By joining Operation War Diary, you can help make unit war diaries accessible by highlighting useful information in 1.5 million pages of digitised records. You may find other records generated by military units in local record offices or regimental museums.

 

 

POW records

If your tommy was reported missing, he or she may have been one of the some 200,000 service personnel who spent time as prisoners of war (POWs). The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) formed the Prisoner of War Bureau in 1914. The Bureau took responsibility for tracking POWs, keeping their relatives updated on their welfare, and keeping communication lines open between POWs and their families in most theatres of the war; it delegated this task to the national Red Cross of neutral Denmark for the Russian Front, while information about prisoners on the Italian Front went directly through the Italian and Austro-Hungarian governments. The ICRC also inspected POW camps and interviewed prisoners to monitor camp conditions.

The ICRC’s Grande Guerre website provides more information on POWs during the First World War – including a searchable database of their records. You may also be able to find more details of POW conditions and of individual POWs at the National Archives, the British Red Cross archive, or a local record office or regimental museum.

Cemeteries, war memorials and Rolls of Honour

The First World War killed on an industrial scale. Society struggled to cope: individual commemoration at home and repatriation were both impossible. Instead, in 1917, the Imperial War Graves Commission (IWGC) buried the fallen in specially-created war cemeteries near aid stations or the front lines. Rudyard Kipling provided the epitaph “Known Unto God” for those bodies that couldn’t be identified, while memorials to the missing served as a symbolic grave for men whose bodies couldn’t be found. Pilgrimages to these cemeteries quickly became popular with those bereaved who could afford it.

In 1960, the IWGC changed its name to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC); however, it retains its role overseeing war cemeteries and memorials to the missing. On its website, you can search its databases of cemeteries and war memorials and of war dead and missing from Commonwealth countries.

War Memorial on Jamaica Road to the 22nd Battalion, The Queens (pb02322)

However, many more relatives had to grieve at home rather than a war cemetary; private organisations and local governments created mass memorials in response to this need. Some, like the Cenotaph in Whitehall, were sculptural. Others, known as Rolls of Honour, were lists of those killed; some Rolls were plaques installed in the public areas of buildings, while others took the form of hand-written or printed books. These memorials often give the name, and possibly the service number, rank, and/or unit of casualties.

You can generally find Rolls of Honour in the local record office of the area they cover, or in the archives of the business that created them. Some were published, and may be available in local libraries. It is important to remember, though, during the Great War itself “Roll of Honour” often referred to lists of people (like members of an organisation or employees of a business) who were on active service – not necessarily lists of those who had died.

Researching the First World War: Introducing Archives

By Patricia Dark, Archivist at the Southwark Local History Library and Archive

This is the second post in a series exploring ways to find out more about the part your family, school, workplace, or neighbourhood played in the First World War.

The National Roll of the Great War: 1914 - 1918If you are interested in discovering more about an individual’s service, or what happened in your community, during the First World War, you will most likely need to study surviving records or artefacts from the period. These are usually held in heritage institutions like archives and museums – there are lots of different types, but we describe some of the most useful below (we’ll look at non-UK sources later in this series).

Central government archives hold records of national-level central government bodies. They will hold foreign service and diplomatic records that explain why and how the country went to war, military records that describe how the country fought the war, and civilian and military service records for millions of people in and out of uniform. The UK’s central government archive is the National Archives (TNA) at Kew: its website on World War I and research guidance on First World War personnel have useful background information.

War memorial museums collect, preserve, and display objects, documents, photographs, and film that record the experiences and commemorate the service and sacrifice of service personnel and civilians. The UK’s main war memorial museum is the Imperial War Museum (IWM), founded in 1917 to record, collect, and display material that recorded the experience of the peoples of the British Empire in the Great War.

Local record offices and museums hold records and artefacts relating to a specific geographic area. Their holdings may include local governmental and organisational records, audiovisual material, personal papers, and other reference material like newspapers, medals and personal letters. Many local record offices also hold records of individual military units associated with that area. Examples in the UK are the London Metropolitan Archives, the Cuming Museum or the Southwark Local History Library & Archives.

Camberwell during the Frist World War (P8868)

Other organisations, including businesses (like TfL or John Lewis), charities (like the British Red Cross or St John Ambulance), schools (like Dulwich College), or universities (like London South Bank  University) may have their own archives or museums that safeguard the organisation’s heritage. Alternatively, another archive or museum (often local government or university) may look after their records and artefacts. Specific military units, usually at the regimental level, often house artefacts and records of that unit in their own museums. The National Archives’ Discovery service can help you work out if an organisation’s records survive, if they may help your research, and which repository holds them.

In fact, many records are now available in digital form on the internet: you can see a copy of the original document – which were almost always hand-written – as well as a typed-out version of the information, known as a transcript. While some organisations put digitised records on their own websites, it’s much more common for them to be on pay-to-view genealogical aggregator sites like Ancestry or Find My Past.  Another excellent starting point is the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War website.

Sidney Cox postcard from Germany, 1918

There are two important things to note before you begin your research:

First, many records simply did not survive the hundred years between the First World War and today. Some UK central government records – especially military service records – were destroyed when the Public Record Office in Holborn was blitzed in 1940. Other records, like those of the Women’s Land Army or the military service tribunals (which we will discuss in the next few posts), were deliberately destroyed after the war.

Second, you may need to spend money or time to view these records. Some organisations make digital records available on a free-to-view basis; libraries in Southwark (and many other library services around the country) also provide free-to-view access to Ancestry on-site. However, if you want to use Find My Past, or to view Ancestry at home, you will need to pay. Other records are not on-line, so you will have to visit the archive that holds them to use them. Some archives will answer enquiries, but do not provide searchroom facilities for on-site research access. If you are interested in non-UK records (more about them later in the series), you may have translation or transcription costs, as well as travel costs.

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