1939–1956

With a bit of ef­fort, it should be pos­si­ble to build a good pic­ture of your rel­a­tive’s ca­reer in the Sec­ond World War or later

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - ARMY ANCESTORS -

Ap­prox­i­mately 3,800,000 men and women served in the Army in the Sec­ond World War, most con­scripted un­der The Na­tional Ser­vice Act, 1939. From ini­tial de­feats in Nor­way and France (in­clud­ing Dunkirk) the ac­tion con­tin­ued to hard fight­ing in North and East Africa then Italy and back into France at D Day and the lib­er­a­tion of Europe. Many oth­ers fought in the Far East against Ja­pan and en­dured jun­gle war­fare in In­dia and Burma be­fore Ja­pan sur­ren­dered in Au­gust 1945.

To most sol­diers the im­por­tant fac­tor was his Reg­i­ment or Corps. Corps were mainly sup­port troops such as Royal En­gi­neers, Royal Army Ser­vice Corps or Royal Corps of Sig­nals. Most Corps troops served in num­bered com­pa­nies and you’ll need to know which one. Reg­i­ments were the fight­ing troops; cavalry (al­most all ar­moured) fought as reg­i­ments of 800 to 1,000 men; in­fantry in bat­tal­ions of about 800 mainly in County Reg­i­ments such as the Nor­folk Reg­i­ment. You’ll need to know the bat­tal­ion num­ber.

For data pro­tec­tion rea­sons fewer records of in­di­vid­u­als are avail­able on­line but may be opened with their au­thor­ity or, if de­ceased, you are next of kin. De­tails of how and where to ap­ply, plus rel­e­vant forms, are on­line ( gov.uk/get- copy-mil­i­tary-ser­vice

records/over­view). Once you’ve got the ser­vice record you need to in­ter­pret it. Try to cre­ate a time­line show­ing, where pos­si­ble, units served in and then look for the rel­e­vant War Diaries on TNA’s cat­a­logue, Dis­cov­ery.

All Army Units kept a War Di­ary, record­ing daily ac­tiv­i­ties, in­valu­able for records of move­ments, train­ing and fight­ing. Diaries are at TNA but held by ‘theatre of war’. If a unit served in France in 1939, then in Bri­tain af­ter Dunkirk, later in North Africa, you’ll have to search sev­eral the­atres. Diaries may in­clude maps, or­ders, lists of men at­tached from other units or away on de­tach­ment and notes on op­er­a­tions. Un­like First World War War Diaries, most of which are on­line, all those for the Sec­ond World War still have to be viewed as orig­i­nal doc­u­ments at TNA. By dili­gently fol­low­ing them it’s pos­si­ble to build a good pic­ture of your rel­a­tive’s ca­reer.

The main the­atres of war were France and Bel­gium 1939– 40 (diaries in WO 167 se­ries), Nor­way 1940 ( WO 168), the Mid­dle East in­clud­ing North Africa 1941– 43 ( WO 169), Cen­tral Mediter­ranean 1943– 46 ( WO 170), France, Bel­gium, Holland, Ger­many 1944– 46 ( WO 171), In­dia, Burma, Malaya 1941– 46 ( WO 172), Tu­nisia & Al­ge­ria 1941– 43 ( WO 175) with units that served in the UK be­ing in Home Forces ( WO 166). Smaller the­atres are West Africa ( WO 173),

Sol­diers re­turn to Eng­land af­ter evac­u­a­tion from Dunkirk, June 1940

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