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Can you tell me more about how my rel­a­tive died in the First World War? We help Lor­raine un­cover the life and death of her ri­flfle­man an­ces­tor...

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

I’ve just found out that a rel­a­tive of mine is buried in Beau­re­paire Na­tional Ceme­tery. His name is Al­bert Ed­ward Patch­ett. He was in the Duke of Ed­in­burgh’s Wilt­shire Reg­i­ment, reg­i­ment num­ber 27555, for­merly 38550 Ri­fle­man, and he died on 31 May 1918.

They say he died of wounds, but is there more in­for­ma­tion than this and why was he for­merly a ri­fle­man? Can you help me find out more? Lor­raine Wat­mough, by email

AIf you’re new to re­search­ing First World War sol­diers, there are some main sources you should be aware of. Since you know he died, the first is the Com­mon­wealth War Graves Com­mis­sion web­site ( cwgc.org), where you can search for ba­sic de­tails of your sol­dier, usu­ally next of kin, his bat­tal­ion and date of death, as well as lo­ca­tion of the ceme­tery if you want to visit. If you don’t al­ready have the sol­dier’s reg­i­men­tal num­ber (im­por­tant for iden­ti­fy­ing him later), you’ll find it here.

The two main on­line sources for First World War ser­vice records are Find­my­past and Ances­try, with The Na­tional Ar­chives (TNA) also hav­ing a large amount of in­for­ma­tion. Be aware, though, the ma­jor­ity of sol­diers’ in­di­vid­ual records were de­stroyed in 1940, so there’s only a 40 per cent chance of find­ing one for Al­bert. I’ve looked on Ances­try and Find­my­past and can’t find a ser­vice record but it might be wise to check again.

While look­ing, I did find a tran­script on Find­my­past from the of­fi­cial pub­li­ca­tion Sol­diers Died in the Great War, which added one de­tail – Al­bert had pre­vi­ously served in the Ri­fle Brigade as Ri­fle­man 38550.

With no ser­vice record, the next place to go is the sol­dier’s Medal In­dex Card. Th­ese can be down­loaded from Ances­try, The­Ge­neal­o­gist and TNA’s web­site. The im­age is bet­ter on Ances­try but the in­dex­ing is su­pe­rior on TNA, so I of­ten search there first, con­firm there’s a card, then down­load it from Ances­try. The card it­self con­firms Al­bert was in the Wilt­shire Reg­i­ment and his num­ber. No other reg­i­ment is men­tioned, mean­ing his ser­vice with the Ri­fle Brigade must have been in Bri­tain. If he’d served with them abroad, it would be on the card. There’s no men­tion of him re­ceiv­ing a 1914 Star or 1914- 1915 Star (they’d be men­tioned in black or blue ink), so he didn’t serve abroad be­fore 1916.

There’s noth­ing writ­ten in the box ‘Theatre of war first served in’, usu­ally in­di­cat­ing he first fought in France. The ref­er­ence in the middle of the card, C/1/102B10 page 1113, is to the ac­tual Medal Roll his name ap­pears in. ‘C’ in­di­cates the medals (The Bri­tish War Medal and Vic­tory Medal) were is­sued by Ex­eter Records Of­fice and 1/101/B in­di­cates the Wilt­shire Reg­i­ment. The roll it­self is on Ances­try and says he served with 1st Bat­tal­ion, Wilt­shire Reg­i­ment – if he’d served abroad with an­other unit it would also be recorded here.

There’s one other record for Al­bert. Ances­try also has the Sol­diers’ Ef­fects Reg­is­ter, de­tail­ing monies paid out to next of kin. Cu­ri­ously, it says Al­bert was pre­sumed dead on 27 May 1918. At some point the army changed its mind – I’ll leave that mys­tery for you to solve.

An­other in­valu­able web­site for First World War re­searchers is The Long, Long Trail at 1914-1918.net. It ex­plains much about a sol­dier’s life, re­cruit­ment, train­ing and ser­vice. Us­ing this, it’s pos­si­ble to work out the ba­sics of Al­bert’s ca­reer. He was prob­a­bly con­scripted in 1917 and did his ba­sic train­ing be­fore mov­ing to one of the Ri­fle Brigade train­ing bat­tal­ions. From here, he was posted to 1st Wilt­shire Reg­i­ment, prob­a­bly in early 1918.

You can down­load the bat­tal­ion War Di­ary (this is the daily ac­count of events) from TNA’s On­line Records at bit.ly/1TzQwq4. The 1st Wilt­shire’s di­ary is in sec­tions and you can buy the part cov­er­ing Al­bert’s ser­vice with them (1 Novem­ber 1915-30 June, 1918) for £3.30. A day-by-day tran­script of the di­ary is avail­able free from the Wardrobe Mu­seum in Sal­is­bury (Wilt­shire Reg­i­ment Mu­seum). On 27 May the bat­tal­ion were rest­ing, af­ter fierce fight­ing fur­ther north, near the River Aisne.

The Ger­mans launched a huge sur­prise at­tack: “En­emy at­tacked when, ow­ing to greatly su­pe­rior forces, the Battn was com­pelled to re­tire and, split­ting up into small par­ties slowly with­drew, fight­ing rear­guard ac­tions,” says the di­ary. Over the next few days, the bat­tal­ion with­drew, fight­ing as it went. Al­bert was wounded around this time, dy­ing from his in­juries.

Phil To­maselli

Al­bert E Patch­ett, shows up on this UK Army Reg­is­ter of Sol­diers’ Ef­fects from Ances­try

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