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Is it possible for someone not to have a death certificate?
QMy friend Roy Tubb, a local historian, is researching the bombing of Thatcham.
Vernon Watkins Urquhart was the lieutenant colonel in charge of the local ordinance depot in Thatcham (now a housing estate). He was killed by a bomb in 1940 when he was in the front garden of his house, near to the entrance of the depot during the Second World War (his wife survived). The bombing appeared in the Newbury Weekly News, but not Urquhart by name. Today there is a road in the depot named after him, he is listed in the UK Army Roll of Honour, on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website and in Shaw Cemetery records, and Roy has even visited the grave. He has probate records but is not listed on freeBMD or in the General Register Office records, and Newbury Register Office has no record of his death.
Are military deaths held in a different database or could it be that his wife thought the army would register his death and the army thought she would do it? David Clow, by email
AThe rules of registration in England and Wales are clear that any deaths occurring in the area should be registered by the registrar of the relevant district – that suggests that this death should be in the registers of the Newbury Registration District, which covered the Thatcham area at the time. But in the case of Lieutenant Colonel Urquhart, the General Register Office’s (GRO) indexes show no entry.
Recording the deaths of those who died in the armed forces, usually outside of the UK, was done through regimental registers and chaplains’ returns, and these sometimes have entries for those who died while serving in the UK. Most were later submitted to GRO and make up a set of indexes that can be searched as part of ‘British Nationals Armed Forces Deaths 1796-2005’ on Findmypast and elsewhere. Sadly, Lieutenant Colonel Urquhart doesn’t appear in those records either.
I made enquiries with GRO and they agreed with your suggestion that this record may have been one that slipped through the gaps in the confusion of war.
In practice though, the death registration – if it did exist – would give no more information than you already have, just confirming the date and place of death and the individual’s rank and name – the cause of death for those in the military records being very often a generic “of wounds” or “by enemy action”.
The Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) is now part of the Royal Logistic Corps (RLC) and it has a museum and archive ( royallogisticcorps.co.uk/heritage/museum). The archivists there have confirmed it doesn’t hold death registers, but it may be worth contacting them for advice.
Wartime newspaper reports of bombings were often lacking in detail to prevent the enemy getting feedback on the effect of their raids. Antony Marr
Lieutenant Colonel Urquhart’s burial record