Kather­ine Gwyn from the Cen­tre for Buck­ing­hamshire Stud­ies shares her love for the ca­su­alty books from the 1st Bucks Bat­tal­ion.

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WW1 ca­su­alty books from the 1st Bucks Bat­tal­ion

On 11 Novem­ber 1918 the Al­lies and Ger­many agreed an Ar­mistice, mark­ing the end of the First World War. By that time, about six mil­lion Bri­tish men had fought in the war, of whom 1.6 mil­lion were in­jured, 662,000 killed and 140,000 recorded miss­ing. At the Cen­tre for Buck­ing­hamshire Stud­ies, a set of four ca­su­alty books of the 1st Bucks Bat­tal­ion pre­serve the story of just a few of the men from the county who served, fight­ing on the West­ern Front from 1915 to 1917 and later in Italy. In this an­niver­sary year, Kather­ine Gwyn, the cen­tre’s com­mu­nity out­reach and projects ar­chiv­ist, told us more about the price­less in­for­ma­tion the books hold.

Can You De­scribe The Ca­su­alty Books?

The four vol­umes were cre­ated by the 1st Bucks Bat­tal­ion to keep a log of what was hap­pen­ing to its sol­diers.

They cover de­tails of in­di­vid­u­als’ health, in­juries, dis­ci­pline and rank, as well as when they got pro­moted and when they re­ceived train­ing.

Many other bat­tal­ions would have kept sim­i­lar vol­umes, but these are the only ones that we know to have sur­vived in Buck­ing­hamshire – I think this is be­cause af­ter the war these were pre­served lo­cally, rather than in cen­tral Army ad­min­is­tra­tion. It is frus­trat­ing that we have such good in­for­ma­tion on maybe sev­eral hun­dred in­di­vid­u­als, but noth­ing for the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple who served in the Buck­ing­hamshire reg­i­ments: the Ox­ford­shire and Buck­ing­hamshire Light In­fantry, and the Royal Bucks Hus­sars.

How Are The Books For­mat­ted?

They’re laid out like a grid. Each chunk re­lates to an in­di­vid­ual, and tells the story of their time with the 1st Bucks Bat­tal­ion, line by line, in­ci­dent by in­ci­dent. Typ­i­cally the first en­try in a per­son’s log will de­scribe the date and place they joined the reg­i­ment. Sub­se­quent lines might in­clude de­tails of when they moved with their unit or reg­i­ment, and when they re­ceived spe­cific train­ing.

Typ­i­cally ev­ery en­try will dis­cuss a sol­dier’s health. Shell shock is men­tioned, as are gun­shot wounds and wounds from shrap­nel, but also measles, sca­bies and in­fluenza – con­di­tions that you’d pick up when you’re liv­ing in re­ally poor con­di­tions close to lots and lots of peo­ple. The books record when the wound or ill­ness started and how it pro­gressed, so of­ten you can see peo­ple get moved fur­ther back from the front line, from ca­su­alty clear­ing sta­tions, to field hos­pi­tals, maybe to a hospi­tal ship, and even to a mil­i­tary hospi­tal in Eng­land, if the ill­ness or wound was se­ri­ous. Then you’ll get a date when they were fit and re­turned to ac­tive ser­vice.

How­ever, the books fea­ture lots of ab­bre­vi­a­tions

‘Peo­ple grav­i­tate to­wards them, al­though the hand­writ­ing is tiny’

and codes – you re­ally need guid­ance to un­der­stand sol­diers’ dis­ci­plinary records in par­tic­u­lar.

Why Did You Choose The Ca­su­alty Books?

I think they’re fan­tas­tic.

I take these doc­u­ments out to events with me, and peo­ple grav­i­tate to­wards them, al­though the hand­writ­ing is tiny. We know that the books would have gone to the West­ern Front, and in all this chaos there was some­one

tak­ing these pre­cise notes while the world fell apart.

The books con­tain a wealth of in­for­ma­tion for fam­ily his­to­ri­ans too. If we can find an en­try for some­one that they’re re­search­ing, it fills out the pic­ture of what their rel­a­tive was up to.

The books re­mind you that it wasn’t all trench foot and gal­lantry at the Front – it was just a hard, hard life. There were of­ten very mun­dane med­i­cal prob­lems – things that we would think of as not very se­ri­ous at all, like a cut that be­comes in­fected – that sud­denly be­come so se­ri­ous and life-threat­en­ing that the sol­dier can’t serve any more, and has to go to hospi­tal.

You also get the date and usu­ally cause of death, and of­ten a grid ref­er­ence to where sol­diers were buried. It’s re­ally use­ful. Be­cause there are four vol­umes a per­son will start off in the first vol­ume, and you trace them all the way through. It’s dev­as­tat­ing when they’ve en­dured so much, and die in 1917 or 1918.

What Other Doc­u­ments Do You Have Re­lat­ing To The First World War?

We have quite a few per­sonal col­lec­tions, in­clud­ing letters and post­cards home. We have records re­lat­ing to the Royal Bucks Hus­sars and the Bucks Bat­tal­ions of the Ox­ford­shire and Buck­ing­hamshire Light In­fantry, in­clud­ing trench log­books for that lat­ter group. We have pho­to­graphs of the Royal Bucks Hus­sars around the Mid­dle East, and cor­re­spon­dence from the Phipps and the Crouch fam­i­lies, whose sons were all of­fi­cers in the 1st Bucks Bat­tal­ion, which gives an in­sight into life at home.

In ad­di­tion, read­ers might like to know that the Great War Buck­ing­hamshire Project web­site at buck­ing­ham-coun­try archive.daisy.web­ shares the sto­ries of peo­ple from the county dur­ing the war, at home and abroad.

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