I’m confused as to whether my great grandfather was a Private or Sergeant. Can you solve this mystery for me?
QMy great grandfather, William Webb (b1872), joined the Lovat Scouts in 1915 (regimental numbers 4336 and 226118), which amalgamated with the Cameron Highlanders.
I have many photographs of him. In all but one he is a Sergeant, but in his Rolls Index Cards he is listed as a ‘Private’. He was given the ‘mentioned in dispatches’ leaf, also while being a Private according to the newspaper.
I would love to confirm he was ‘Sergeant Webb’. Do you know how I can do this?
Liz Beard, by email
AYou’re lucky to have so many items from your great grandfather – photographs, a letter and a certificate, almost all of which point solidly to him having the rank of Sergeant.
Except the one piece of surviving official paperwork, his Medal Index Card, says he was a Private! I’ve checked the actual Medal Rolls (WO 329/668 and WO 329/2805), which also have him as Private.
Official documents are by no means foolproof, especially when a man was serving overseas. For example, William clearly was “Mentioned in Despatches” (in the London Gazette of 12 January 1920), but there’s no mention on his Medal Card and no separate Medal Card for it.
The photographs are too varied for there to be any chance that William was pretending to be a Sergeant, in particular the group photograph of him with General Allenby.
There’s no surviving service record for William. Soldiers’ records were held by his Regiment and updated when information came in from his unit. The Lovat Scouts first went abroad (to Egypt, then Gallipoli) in September 1915 so if he was promoted while out there, it’s possible the information never got back to Scotland. There may also have been confusion when the Scouts became a battalion of the Cameron Highlanders in September 1916.
I’ve seen mistakes on service records before, sometimes where information’s omitted or where incorrect information is added, far worse than this.
He calls himself Sergeant when he joined Comrades of the Great War (predecessor to the British Legion), where men he served with would know his rank. William was a Sergeant and his men called him that, I’m sure.
The archives of the Lovat Scouts are held by the Highlanders’ Museum in Fort George ( thehighlanders
museum.com), which may be able to help you further.
The sign- off on this letter seems to suggest William was a Sergeant
William Webb’s Medal Index Card indicates that he was a Private
William’s Lovat Scouts uniform