My an­ces­tor fought in the Boer War. Can you help me to o find out more about his life?

Mil­i­tary his­tory ex­pert Phil To­maselli un­earths more de­tails to help reader Ge­offff Hen­son...

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - QUESTIONS & ANSWERS -

QI am re­search­ing my mil­i­tary an­ces­tor Peter McCal­lum. I don’t know his ser­vice num­ber, but he was born in Glas­gow c1880 to John McCal­lum and Mary or Mar­garet McFarlane and fought in the Boer War. In 1901, he was at the HM Bar­racks in Coven­try as a gun­ner with the Royal Field Ar­tillery. In 1902, he mar­ried Beatrice Clark – the cer­tifi­cate shows that he was a Pri­vate in the 118 Bat­tery ar­tillery. How can I find out more?

Ge­off Hen­son, by email

AYet again, the 1940 de­struc­tion of the sol­diers’ records raises its ugly head. In many cases, un­less the name is un­usual, it’s not pos­si­ble to iden­tify a sol­dier, even in the Medal In­dex Cards, with any de­gree of cer­tainty with­out ad­di­tional clues such as a ser­vice num­ber. You don’t have one for Peter, but I am pretty sure I’ve been able to iden­tify him, and get some pic­ture of his ser­vice.

In the pho­to­graph, the old fash­ioned grenade on his col­lar, the pill­box cap and crossed gun bar­rels on his sleeve show he’s an ar­tillery­man, con­firm­ing the 1901 census. The crossed gun bar­rels show his Bat­tery had been awarded a gun­nery prize; below the badge there’s a Good Con­duct Chevron sig­ni­fy­ing two years of clean con­duct. So he’s a good sol­dier.

We know, from the census and mar­riage cer­tifi­cate, that he was born around 1880 so he prob­a­bly en­listed in 1899 or 1900. At that time, a sol­dier en­listed for 12 years, which, for an ar­tillery­man, meant six years ac­tu­ally in uni­form and six years in the re­serve (when he could be called back in the event of war and still re­ceived some pay). You could ex­tend time in the re­serve by an­other four years, with the same pay and obli­ga­tions. The 1911 census shows Peter, with a wife and four chil­dren, still liv­ing in Coven­try and em­ployed as a carter in a flour mill.

On the out­break of war re­servists were called back “to the colours” and used to fill gaps in ex­ist­ing units. Even if his time in the re­serve was up, Peter was young enough to have been con­scripted af­ter 1916, so it’s un­likely he didn’t serve at all and, as a Gun­ner, he’d have gone back into the Royal Ar­tillery.

I next tried look­ing for Peter’s Medal Card. TNA usu­ally has the best in­dex­ing for th­ese and it pro­duced only one card – for Gun­ner Peter McCal­lum, Royal Field Ar­tillery and Royal Gar­ri­son Ar­tillery with Reg­i­men­tal Num­bers 651285 and 307716 re­spec­tively.

There’s an im­age of the card on Ances­try but it says his medals were on the Ter­ri­to­rial Force (TF) Roll and, while it’s not im­pos­si­ble, it’s un­likely a for­mer reg­u­lar, who could have still been in the re­serve, would be serv­ing as a TF vol­un­teer.

Search­ing “WWI Ser­vice Medal and Award Rolls, 1914-1920” on Ances­try seems to con­firm this – the Roll is for The City of Ed­in­burgh Heavy Bat­tery RGA and it’s again un­likely a man liv­ing in Coven­try in 1911 and dy­ing there in 1964 would have served with Ed­in­burgh vol­un­teers.

The search did, how­ever, pro­duce an­other Gun­ner Peter McCal­lum, Reg­i­men­tal Num­ber 3300, be­ing awarded the Bri­tish War Medal and Vic­tory Medal for ser­vice with 108th Brigade RFA. Cu­ri­ously, I can’t find a Medal Card for this award, even know­ing the num­ber, on ei­ther TNA web­site or Ances­try!

Search­ing for McCal­lum, with­out an ini­tial and just us­ing the num­ber did pro­duce a fur­ther Medal Card, though, for Gun­ner P McCal­lum, 3300, be­ing awarded the 1914 Star, hav­ing gone to France in Au­gust 1914 with 34 Brigade RFA. Though such de­tails don’t of­ten ap­pear on the cards, they do more fre­quently for units go­ing over­seas in 1914. I’d sug­gest this is your Peter McCal­lum.

This Peter was called up in Au­gust 1914, posted to a Bat­tery in 34th Brigade RFA and went to France with 2nd Divi­sion. De­tails of RFA Bri­gades can be found on the ex­cel­lent Long, Long Trail web­site at 1914-1918.


At some point, prob­a­bly around Jan­uary 1917, when there was a whole­sale re­or­gan­i­sa­tion of the Ar­tillery Bri­gades, he was trans­ferred to 108th Brigade.

War Di­aries for the Bri­gades can be down­loaded from TNA web­site (for a fee) at na­tion­ records/war-di­aries-ww1.htm but Peter is un­likely to be men­tioned. Naval and Mil­i­tary Press have re­cently re­pub­lished

The His­tory of the Se­cond Divi­sion

by Ever­ard Wyrall.

Phil To­maselli

Top: Peter McCal­lum Medal Card from 1914; Above: Peter’s mar­riage cer­tifi­cate fol­low­ing his wed­ding to Beatrice Clark in 1902

Peter McCal­lum in his Boer War ar­tillery­man uni­form

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