The Great War remembered online
11am, 11 November 1918
This morning at 11am thousands of people across the UK will observe two minutes' silence to mark the anniversary of the end of the Great War in advance of this Sunday's Remembrance Day ceremonies across Britain.
Distant as the events of 1914-18 now seem, there are few families who cannot count at least one relative among those who fought - and in may cases died - amid the carnage of the Western Front. Now for the first time, there is an online resource by which relatives can locate their ancestors' medal records from those of more than five million combatants from the Army and Royal Flying Corps.
The National Archives at Kew have pulled off the impressive task of assembling this huge database at www.DocumentsOnline.nationalarchives.gov.uk. Once you've found the required record, you can download a PDF for £3.50. The site gives a couple of famous examples to whet your appetite - those of Winston Churchill and the future King Edward VIII - at that time Prince of Wales and a Major in the Grenadier Guards.
It's an interesting choice of celebrities, given that the latter was later packed off to be governor of the Bahamas by the former due to what some claim was Edward's less than critical stance towards Adolf Hitler, but while many will find the high-profile servicemen of interest, it's the legion upon legion of footsoldiers that the archive is really about.
Our own John Lettice had a grandafther - William M Carnegie - who served in WW1 as a private in the 8th Hussars (Kings Royal Irish), so we thought we use this to check out the system. We assumed that with the full details supplied, it would be a pretty simple matter to pin him down, but the process proved rather more tricky than anticipated.
First up, the search timed out a couple of times. Fair enough - could be heavy demand. But when we did eventually get through, no results were returned with the fulls details entered. In fact, it's better to enter less (name only, for example) and trawl through the resulting long list. Beware initials as well - some people are listed with their names written out in full, others with middle names rendered as initials. This can throw the search engine.
Nevertheless, we got there in the end - a summary of the record with the opportunity to buy the PDF of the original.
The National Archive has also been busy providing WWI-related resources for schools in the form of its www.learningcurve.gov.uk/greatwar site offering a summary overview of the conflict with contemporary archive material.
Among the documents are the battalion orders for the 1/7th Battalion the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, dated 21st September 1916. Given the ongoing controversy surrounding those soldiers executed for cowardice - once again in the news following the Irish government's renewed lobbying for a retrospective pardon for 26 of its nationals "shot at dawn", one extract is particularly pertinent:
No 20062, Private J Anderson, 12th Bn. King's Liverpool Regt. attached 8th Loyal North Lancashire Regt., was a member of a working party in the trenches on the night of 4/6th August 1916. While the party was proceeding up the front line there was some hostile shelling; the accused then left the party and went back to his dugout.
He was tried by Field General Court Martial for "Misbehaving before the enemy in such a manner as to show cowardice." He was found guilty and sentenced to death.
This sentence was duly cariied out at 5.55am on the 12/9/16. This order is to be read out to all, at the first opportunity.