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...
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 nationalarchives.gov.uk/ 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.
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