Guardian Newspaper publishes collection of Untold Stories of World War One

The Guardian Newspaper has just published online a collection of “Untold Stories of the War” referring to World War One.

These short stories are told by twelve familiar British authors: Jeremy Paxman – HMS Audacious sunk on 27 October 1914 yet spent the whole war on the official complement of the Royal Navy throughout the war; Michael Morpurgo – who after talking with two old veterans decided to write about the war from the perspective of a horse, creating the book War Horse, later turned into a popular movie; Sebastian Faulks – the horrors seen by the soldiers; Margaret MacMillan – Britain declaring war in the “proper manner” , Richard Curtis – discusses the comedy in the War leading to the writing of the sitcom Blackadder Goes Forth and the power of the final minutes of the sitcom; Terry Pratchett – How the soldiers became known as “Tommies”; Pat Barker – the humanizing of the wounded soldiers in the pastels of Henry Tonks a surgeon and illustrator; Richard J. Evans – the surrender of German officer in New Guinea after the end of the war; Max Hastings – the bloodiest day of the war – 22 August 1914 when the French lost 27,000, the bloodiest day for the British was the 1 July 1916 with 20,000 fatalities; Antony Beevor – tells of the divided views of how historian’s view the war, but ends with the personal diary entry of his grandfather-in-law winning the DSO; Douglas Newton – discusses the behind the scenes maneuvering by British politicians that led to its commitment to war; and Helen Dunmore – explains a game of Bomb Ball to be found in an official pamphlet on games, which is in reality an understanding of the rules for handling grenades.

This is a long piece by newspaper standards but worth reading for the fascinating vignettes told about the war.

I want to thank John Reid who brought this to my attention in his blog – Anglo-Celtic Connections.

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Book Review: Tracing your Army Ancestors. Second Edition. By Simon Fowler

Tracing Your Army Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians, Second Edition by Simon Fowler

Tracing Your Army Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians, Second Edition by Simon Fowler

Tracing Your Army Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians. Second Edition. By Simon Fowler. Published by Pen & Sword Family History, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2AS, UK www.pen-and-sword.co.uk. US Distributor: CasemateAthena 908 Darby Road, Havertown PA 19083. www.casemateathena.com. $24.95. Australian Distributor: Gould Genealogy & History, P.O. Box 119, St. Agnes SA 5097. www.gould.com.au. AUS$34.95. 2013. x, 192 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover.

British Army research is a vast subject. This book breaks it down into manageable pieces. But how one does research depends upon the time period, rank, service specialty and the specific war. So the book’s chapters cover: organization of the army in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; the army before 1660; officers; other ranks – enlistment and conditions of service; medals; casualty rolls; discipline and desertion; pension records; militia 1757-1914; women; British in India; dominion and colonial forces; Boer War; First World War; Second World War; 1919-1969. Appendices address: army service numbers; problem solving; TNA research guides; and army ranks. Each chapter begins by providing historical and social context for the subject under discussion. This is followed by detailed guidance on the records, what they contain, how to access them and how to interpret what is found. Most subjects include bibliographies for additional reading. The chapters are well illustrated especially in terms of sample documents.

It should be noted that although there is a growing body of military records available online, it is highly unlikely that it will ever all be online. Many original records will need to be accessed in person, or through hiring another researcher, at The National Archives in Kew.

I have read and used numerous how-to-books over the last 30 years for tracing my military ancestors and can heartily recommend this one. With any good book on the subject there will be a mental interaction with the book saying “I need to try that” or “I need to check out that source”. As you do research you find more about your ancestors, and you learn more. You are in a constantly changing place, and hopefully you have tried the obvious, but maybe you haven’t because more records are coming online all the time. Reading a book such as this will give you additional clues, indexes, sources that need to be checked out making it a book worth reading again and again as you make progress. I know I marked numerous record groups, indexes and published sources that I need to examine for my growing number of army relatives.

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World War I Publications on Sale

Naval and Military Press Special Great War Catalogue cover

Naval and Military Press Special Great War Catalogue cover

Naval and Military Press has just released a Special Great War Catalog with over 400 titles in this one publication. It provides a full range of Divisional Histories all at 50% off. There are numerous Regimental and Official Histories, contemporary memoirs and more.

Some of the databases sold can be found online at some of the commercial websites so be careful. But this is a goldmine for readers wanting to know that a particular book even exists, or for those wanting to fill in the gaps in their personal library, or wanting to know more about the regiment or division in which their ancestor served, or learn specifics about the battles in which they served or died.

If you have an interest in World War One do download a pdf of the catalog, linked here. One of the benefits of downloading the pdf, or opposed to getting the newsprint version of the catalog which I was also sent, is that you can search it for any regiment, division, battle or word which is very handy in this packed catalog.

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WWI Centenary: The Path that led from the Playing Fields to Flanders Fields

Here is a good newspaper article in today’s Online Telegraph by Jeremy Paxman looking at “The Path that led from the Playing Fields to Flanders Fields”. It especially examines the role of the public schools in England the role they had in providing officers for the military, and the effect on the schools and their staff – think lots of women coming into teaching for the first time.

 

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Registration for British Institute 20-24 October 2014 now open

British Institute Program details from website

British Institute Program details from website

Registration for the 2014 British Institute is now open. The British Institute is 20-24 October, 2014 at the Salt Lake Plaza Hotel, Salt Lake City, Utah, and arranged by the International Society for British Genealogy and Family History.

The classes are small enough to allow for good student / teacher interaction in 20 hours of classes, plus one on one guidance sessions with the instructor next door in the world renowned Family History Library.

This years instructors are: Tom Jones - From Simple to Complex: Applying Genealogy’s Standard of Acceptability to British Research; David RencherResearching your Irish Ancestors; Paul MilnerScottish Research: The Fundamentals and Beyond; Darris WilliamsWelsh Family History Made Simple.

Note – Early Registration ends 15 August and the price goes up. These courses do fill up so make your reservations early.

Come join us as this will be a great learning experience and you can immediately put what you learn into practice in the best genealogy library in the world.

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Unlock The Past 8th Genealogy Cruise from England to the Baltic Seaports 11-25 July 2015

Saturday 11 July 2015 to Saturday 25 July 2015 Baltic Cruise

8th Unlock The Past Genealogy cruise from Southampton to the Baltic Seaports 11-25 July 2015.

Unlock The Past has confirmed the key speakers on its 8th Genealogy Cruise for 14 nights from Saturday 11 July 2015 to Saturday 25 July sailing from Southampton England to the Baltic Seaports aboard the Celebrity Eclipse, operated by Celebrity Cruises.

The key speakers are Paul Milner (myself, just in case you came here via a search engine and you missed who’s blog you are reading); Cyndi Ingle of Cyndi’s List fame (http://cyndislist.com) from the United States; Carol Baxter, the History Detective, a great history writer from Australia (www.carolbaxter.com) ; and Chris Paton from Scotland who writes British GENES, a must-read blog for keeping up-to-date on the news from the genealogy world in the British Isles (http://britishgenes.blogspot.com). Other speakers who have provisionally signed up include Rosemary and Eric Kopittke, and Helen Smith from Australia; and Carol Becker from the United States. All but Cyndi Ingle have been on past Unlock The Past genealogy cruises, so are well known by this cruising audience.

This cruise will offer over 100 topics offered in 50 sessions; special interest groups; Research Help Zone times offering one-on-one and small group opportunities with the experts; opportunities to purchase Unlock The Past and author publications; with visits to some of the world’s great cities along the way.

From Southampton the cruies will sail to: Zeebrugge (Brussels) Belgium; Warnemunde, Germany; Muuga (Tallinn) Estonia; St. Petersburg, Russia; Helsinki, Finland; Stockholm, Sweden; Copenhagen, Denmark; and returning to Southampton.

To book the cruise or for more information check out Unlock The Past site at www.unlockthepastcruises.com/cruises/8th-unlock-the-past-cruise-baltic . If the schedule for this genealogy cruise does not meet your need, check out the upcoming Unlock The Past cruises sailing across the Atlantic; a European river cruise; or around Australia and New Zealand. There is certainly lots to choose from, and all are well organized conferences.

Come Join Us.

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Scottish Military Wills – Tips for Searching, Using the Results and Workarounds

Will of Peter Trainer of the Cameron Highlanders who died 24 Apr 1918

Will of Peter Trainer of the Cameron Highlanders who died 24 Apr 1918

Let’s take a closer look at the Scottish Soldiers wills so proudly announced as being available on ScotlandsPeople in the last post I made so we understand how and why the records were created, collected and how to search them – without wasting lots of money.

What’s there? – There are 32,932 wills in this collection. Approximately 26,000 wills from ordinary Scottish soldiers who died in WWI, another 5,000 from WWII, several hundred from the Boer War and the Korean War, with others from conflicts between 1857 and 1964.

How did they get there? – When a soldiers estate was settled by the Effects Branch of the War Office their wills were no longer required. All documents were then passed along to H.M. Commissary Office in Edinburgh under the Regimental Debts Acts of 1863 and 1893. Later they were deposited with the National Records of Scotland, now in SC70/8.

The majority of the wills, especially those from WWI were the page(s) removed from the soldiers Pay Book (Army Book 64), or an equivalent Army form. Other documents might include personal letters from soldiers, a testimony by witnesses, both of which could be accepted in lieu of a will. The majority of the wills were written by men below the rank of officers, who were domiciled in Scotland. The example is for Peter Trainer of the Queen’s Own Highlanders who died 25 Apr 1918 leaving everything to his father Robert Trainer of 88 Gloucester Str, Glasgow. The will is one of four images in the file, which is common, the other images being of the army’s sheet for the will, plus two envelopes (inner and outer).

It is estimated that this collection of wills represents approximately 20% of Scotsmen who died during WWI and about 17% of those who died during WWII.

The records begin in 1857, but there is only one will for 1857 and that is for Private Roderick Alexander of the 71st Regiment of Foot [71st (Highland) Regiment of Foot (Light Infantry)] and his will is signed 19 Jun 1857 and importantly it is not the date he actually died, that is not stated on the document [SC70/8/7/1].

Performing a Search

You have the options of searching on surname, forename, date of death – from and to, service number, rank, battalion, regiment, theatre, and cause of death. The reality is most of us are going to use surname, in possible combination with forename if we get to many results.

Date of Death – this is a key searching point. If you know you are searching for someone killed in WWI then change the dates appropriately. Generally I would recommend leaving the defaults at 1 January 1914 and 31 December 1948 and it will search everything in the database and include them in the results, even when the event occurs outside these parameters or the date of death is not stated. Change either date and it does limit the search to the period chosen.

Table of Results for search on ScotlandsPeople for Jo Hunter

Table of Results for search on ScotlandsPeople for Jo Hunter

Let’s do a search for Hunter without adding or changing anything. I get 134 hits. Viewing the search results is free, so I could look at all 183. Instead I want to limit my options and I type ‘Jo’ (without ‘’) in the forename field and select ‘forenames that begin with’ from the adjoining menu. Now I have 18 options and that is a more manageable number, so I look at the results. Quickly scanning the list shows that I have found multiple Johns, a John Alexander, two Josephs and a Jonathan.

I have 15 John’s, or which 13 John’s died in WWI. At ₤2.50 or 10 credits for each will downloaded that is too many to just randomly pick. So use other options to eliminate some of the other choices. The best place to start, which is free, is the Commonwealth War Grave Commission website and search for the records of each of these soldiers. You are looking to see if there is mention of family members and or place of residence in the comments field. Look at my earlier blog posts for examples and explanation of how to do this (WWI – Finding the Dead – Commonwealth War Grave Commission – part 1part 2part 3)

Workaround for Results with Missing Dates -

National Archives Scotland Search screen for the will of Jonathan Hunter in SC70/8 - Scottish Soldiers Wills.

National Archives Scotland Search screen for the will of Jonathan Hunter in SC70/8 – Scottish Soldiers Wills.

In our results table you will see Jonathan Hunter, rank unstated, of the 91st Regiment of Foot, who died, with no date or place given. We know that regimental numbers were no longer being used by WWI, so we can safely guess that this is a pre-WWI soldier. That however is still a potentially big time period 1857-1914. So how can we narrow down our options to see if it is worth spending the money on getting the will?

Go to the free website of the National Archives of Scotland at www.nas.gov.uk and select Catalogues and Indexes from the top menu, then NAS Catalogue, then Search. You have three search fields – in the search for field type the name of the person you are seeking (surname or both forename and surname if too many results) – in the reference field type SC70/8 plus select the ‘starts’ button and this will search the collection of Scottish military wills – leave the date from field blank.

In my case I am going to search for Jonathan Hunter in SC70/8. I get one matching record which I can display. The full reference is shown SC70/8/2/3 with a title of “Will of 3938 unstated Jonathan Hunter, 91st Regiment of Foot, cause of death: died” all of which is given in the search on ScotlandsPeople. The one additional piece given is 20 Apr 1864, which is the date his will was signed. If this was your ancestor you could then return to ScotlandsPeople and download a copy of the will with more confidence that it matched the time frame for your ancestor.

Will of Jonathan Hunter.

Will of Jonathan Hunter of 91st Regiment of Foot, leaving everything to his wife Isabella Hunter in Glasgow, dated 20 April 1864 from Scottish Military Wills Collection

Will of Jonathan Hunter of 91st Regiment of Foot, leaving everything to his wife Isabella Hunter in Glasgow, dated 20 April 1864 from Scottish Military Wills Collection

The will on Form of Will, No.1 states “to be used by a Soldier desirous of leaving the whole of his Effects to one person. Jonathan Hunter No. 3930, of the 91st Regiment of Foot, do hereby revoke all former Wills by me made, and declare this to be my last Will. After payment of my just Debts and Funeral expenses, I give to my wife, Isabella Hunter of No. 5 Waterton Street, Mile End, Glasgow, absolutely for her sole and separate use, her receipt being a sufficient discharge; the whole of my Estate and Effects, and everything that I can by law give or dispose of.” The will is then duly signed by three witnesses.

At the bottom of the form there is a Declaration of the Medical Officer. “I declare that I was present at the Execution of this Will and that Jonathan Hunter, the Testator was at the time in a fit state of mind to execute the same.” Signed by a member of the Medical staff.

Reverse of Will of Jonathan Hunter of the 91st Regiment of Foot, notice the rules for writing the will, and the faint reference SC70/8/2/3 in the upper left.

Reverse of Will of Jonathan Hunter of the 91st Regiment of Foot, notice the rules for writing the will, and the faint reference SC70/8/2/3 in the upper left.

On the reverse, which is actually the outside of the document when it is folded is a summary – The Will of Jonathan Hunter of the 91st Regt. Of Foot dated 20 April 1864. W.O. Form No. 897.

Written faintly in ink on the side of the form, upper left, is the NAS reference number SC70/8/2/3. Interestingly this is the only place to find it. The reference number is not printed out on the image header. You can however figure it out from the full reference if you save it with full ScotlandPeople reference.

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News Release: Historical Wills of Scottish Soldiers Go Online

Photo of Private Andrew Cox of the Highland Light Infantry killed in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, aged 22. Photo courtesy of National Records of Scotland

Photo of Private Andrew Cox of the Highland Light Infantry killed in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, aged 22. Photo courtesy of National Records of Scotland

Historical Wills of Scottish Soldiers Go Online

The last wishes of Scottish soldiers at the Front: The National Records of Scotland release Soldiers’ Wills from WW1, WW2, the Boer War, Korean War and other conflicts between 1857 and 1964

The wills of 31,000 Scottish soldiers are being made available online by the National Records of Scotland as part of commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. The poignant documents include the last wishes of 26,000 ordinary Scottish soldiers who died in the Great War.

The new records contain the wills for ancestors of some famous Scots. For instance, John Feeley, the great-great-grandfather of the Paisley musician, Paolo Nutini, is included. Private Feeley served in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and died of wounds sustained during the Battle of Arras on 23 April 1917. Feeley left all of his property and effects to his wife, Annie, who lived until 1964.

Will of Andrew Cox in his own handwriting leaving everything to his mother - Elizabeth Cox. Image courtesy of the National Records of Scotland

Will of Andrew Cox in his own handwriting leaving everything to his mother – Elizabeth Cox. Image courtesy of the National Records of Scotland

Researchers at the National Records of Scotland have also discovered the will of Andrew Cox, the uncle of Dundee-born actor, Brian Cox. A rope-worker before the war, Private Andrew Cox served with the Highland Light Infantry and was killed in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, aged 22 – sadly, his body was never identified. Like many unmarried soldiers, Andrew Cox left all of his possessions to his mother, Elizabeth.

The records are drawn from all the Scottish infantry and cavalry regiments, as well as the Royal Artillery, Royal Army Medical Corps, Royal Army Service Corps, the Machine Gun Corps and other units, and a few who served in the Royal Flying Corps and the RAF. Almost all the wills were written by soldiers below officer rank, but some wills for commissioned officers are also included.

In addition to the wills from the Great War, there are almost 5,000 from Scots soldiers serving in all theatres during the Second World War, several hundred from the Boer War and Korean War, and wills from other conflicts between 1857 and 1964.

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs in the Scottish Government, said: “These small but powerful documents are a testament to the sacrifice in wartime made by thousands of Scots, not only the soldiers themselves, but also their families and loved ones.”

Tim Ellis, Registrar General and Keeper of the Records of Scotland, said: “We are privileged to be marking the centenary of the start of the First World War by making these remarkable records available. They give us a unique insight into the service of Scottish soldiers during the First and Second World Wars, but also in other conflicts before and since.”

Annelies van den Belt, the CEO of DC Thomson Family History, who enable the ScotlandsPeople website on behalf of the National Records of Scotland, said: “We’re very pleased to add this new set of records to the ScotlandsPeople site. These fascinating documents make for poignant reading and we’re sure that anyone who views the wills will feel a strong emotional connection to those who lost their lives in these conflicts.”

The Soldiers’ Wills are available at www.ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk, at the ScotlandsPeople Centre in Edinburgh, and at local family history centres in Glasgow, Kilmarnock, Hawick and Inverness.

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Worldwide Indexing Event – Mark the Date – Sunday July 20, 2014

 

FamilySearch Indexing page where you can learn how to index and find a project to interest you

FamilySearch Indexing page where you can learn how to index and find a project to interest you

Worldwide Indexing Event

FamilySearch is hosting a Worldwide Indexing event with a goal of reaching 20,000 participants involved in one 24 hour period. The period is from Sunday July 20, 6 pm (MDT – Mountain Daylight Time) to Monday July 21, 6 pm (MDT). Participants will be encouraged to work on projects from their native language and world region but you do have the freedom to choose where you want to get involved.

FamilySearch has accomplished some impressive indexing goals. The whole of the US 1940 Census was indexed. Since then the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Community Project completed the indexing of over 75 million records.

The One Billion record milestone was reached in March 2013. As of Tuesday May 20, 2014 a total of 1,162,470,188 records have been indexed. This is an impressive number that continues to grow. If you want to check out the current total you can do so at https://FamilySearch.org/indexing. 2014 has been designated as the Year of the Obituary and so far over 17 million names have been extracted and indexed from obituaries.

Don’t wait to the last minute to get involved. Go to https://FamilySearch.org/indexing and find a project that interests you and get involved. Do some practicing before the July 20, 2014 Indexing Event. There is a new indexing program coming soon with no software to download, you can index anytime you are connected and you will soon be able to index from your tablet.

Share the news about this Worldwide Indexing Event and get involved.

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WWI Soldiers – Online records – pt3 case study William Henry Milner

Ancestry search results for William Henry Milner in WWI 'Pension Records' WO364 - note multiple options, with at least two being the same soldier.

Ancestry search results for William Henry Milner in WWI ‘Pension Records’ WO364 – note multiple options, with at least two being the same soldier.

British Army WWI Pension Records – “Unburnt Series” – WO364. This set of records is incorrectly called the pension records for they are not pension records in the classic sense. After the destruction of many of the Army records during the Second World War the War Office needed to find a way to supplement the records that had survived in what is now WO363. An appeal was made to other government departments that might hold records of service. The largest collection, but not only collection, came from the Ministry of Pensions – thus this collection is commonly known at the British Army WWI Pension Records or the “Unburnt Records

The records typically relate to regular soldiers serving in the army prior to the war who were discharged at the end of their service, those receiving a war pension who had since died or whose claims were refused, or men who later claimed a disability pension from either wounds or sickness. The collection does not include soldiers who signed up for the duration of the war unless they received a pension on medical grounds since such a soldier was entitled only to a gratuity upon demobilization.

The image shows part of the results of a search for William Milner. I am looking for the William Henry Milner from the Hundred of Hoo in Kent with 8 pages in the file. This is a good example though of the problem with landing pages which I touched on in the first blog posting in this series. An algorithm was used to find the attestation papers and discharge papers in the file. However, in this case there are two sets of attestation and discharge papers for the one soldier in the file. The entry below, again William Henry Milner does not show a place of birth, but is actually the same soldier and this can be confirmed from the details in the files.

1892 Attestation Form for William Henry Milner into Royal Artillery

1892 Attestation Form for William Henry Milner into Royal Artillery

Let’s examine some of the pages in the file and see the value of what is in the records.

William Henry Milner, No. 93560, attested on 18 October 1892 (yes 1892), joining the next day the Royal Artillery at Dover, Kent. At the time he was 20 years 8 months, born in the Parish of the Hundred of Hoo in or near the town of Rochester, Kent. This is all on Army Form B. 265. At the time he is 5 ft. 6 ¼ inches, weighs 126 lbs, with a chest measurement of 35, expanding to 36. He has fresh complexion, brown eyes and hair and by religion is a Bethel Congregationalist.

 

Military History Sheet for William Henry Milner showing service in England, India and Aden

Military History Sheet for William Henry Milner showing service in England, India and Aden

Thankfully William has a Military History Sheet in his file. This shows that he was home (i.e. serving in England) from 18 Oct. 1892 to 8 Feb 1894. He then went to India from 9 Feb 1894 to 11 Dec 1896, then on to Aden 12 Dec 1896 to 29 Mar 1901. Back to England from 20 Mar 1901 to 20 Apr 1902, then went onto active reserve being finally discharged 17 Oct 1904. He served a total of 12 years but only had 9 years 185 of pensionable service. The same form shows that his next of kin was his father Henry Milner, Isle of Grain, Kent. However the form also shows that he married Elizabeth Lorden on 6 Nov. 1901.

So why is William’s record to be found in WO364 for World War One? The simple answer is he attested again on 25 November 1915 into the RGA – Royal Garrison Artillery as a gunner with a regimental number of 7491. He is by now 43 years 403 days old, and living at Lower Street, Leeds, Kent. The new attestation form mentions his earlier discharge after first period limited engagement. His religion is Wesleyan. His next of kin is his wife Mrs. Elizabeth Milner of Lower Street, Leeds, Kent. This form adds to their marriage date of 6 Nov 1901 the place of Lower Stoke, Kent. They also have two children Ruby born 14 Aug 1902 in Gillingham, Kent, and Violet Grace born 20 Apr 1914 in Leeds, Kent.

WWI Discharge Papers for William Henry Milner

WWI Discharge Papers for William Henry Milner

William was discharged from the army on 16 Dec 1916 as medically unfit. His cause of discharge is described – “originated 1900 in England. Suffered from bronchitis every winter since 1900. Is frequently laid up. Has a severe bronchial cough, + for his age, is much debilitated. Eyesight weak. Not result of, but aggravated by military service. Permanent. Prevents ¼.” He was admitted to pension on 6 Dec 1916 and awarded 5 shillings per week. On 11 July 1917 his award was increased to 8s. 3d. and 2s. 9d. for two from 4 Apr 1917 to 16 Jun 1917, then 50 Pounds gratuity. The gratuity is 25 pounds for permanent disability and 25 pounds for 10 years of service.

Some points to note. Because William Henry Milner did not during WWI serve overseas he will not appear in the medal rolls. He did not die in service so will not appear on the Commonwealth War Graves website. This may be the only mention of his WWI service. However, he was in the army prior to the war and therefore when a search in WO97 Soldiers documents for pre WWI soldiers his records of service are found there.

Searching for a soldier is always a matter of exploring what records may have been created by your soldier and searching to find which of them may have survived.

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