Sunday, 13 March 2011

The National Roll (written November 1999)

The Society of Genealogists has of course a considerable amount of information, especially for the First World War, which may be of use to researchers. In particular it has the excellent 'Soldiers died in the Great War' CD-ROM available in the Middle Library [Ed - Now online]. Here in the Upper Library can be found an incomplete set of 'National Roll of the Great War, which in the words of its editor claimed 'to supply a wonderful memorial of splendid services truly worthy of the thankful remembrance of a grateful Empire.' It was ambitious project, nearly six million men served in the British armed forces during the First World War, of whom roughly 700,000 lost their lives. And countless millions of other men and women were engaged in war work of one sort or another.
Unfortunately only fourteen or so volumes were ever published, although many more were planned. A complete set is held by the Imperial War Museum, but so far as I know the SoG is the only other place that has a set, although it is incomplete. The Society has volumes for men (and some women) from London, Leeds, Birmingham, Bedford and Northampton. Volumes 4, 9-11, 14 are missing. [Ed – the roll is now available both on Ancestry and Findmypast].
Each individual has an entry which briefly explains his or her war service and medals gained. Judging by how they are phrased these entries were completed by the individuals themselves or their families. Perhaps they also payed a few shillings to see their war service commemorated. When during the early 1920s people began to want to forget the war and their part in it, fewer and fewer people subscribed to the 'National Roll' so the project collapsed.
Opening a page of the first volume at random one comes across Mrs A.E. HANCOCK 'Special war worker'. 'During the war' here entry reads 'this lady rendered valuable service in the employ of the General Post Office and thereby released a man for military service. Her duties were carried manner, and she was commended for her patriotic work.'
Her husband Bombardier E.T. HANCOCK RGA [Royal Garrison Artillery] 'joined in October 1916 and was sent to the Western Front. He took part in many important engagements while in this theatre of war including those at Arras, Messines Ridge, Passchendaele and Vimy Ridge. In March 1918, during the German offensive he was wounded and invalided to England, and in June of the same year was discharged medically unfit for medical service owing to his wounds. He holds the General Service and Victory Medals.' They both lived at 94 Bronsart Road in Fulham.
The Society also has a number of other published rolls of honour, generally regimental rolls for officers and men of a particular regiment. There are also a few rolls for companies such as, English Electric and Refuge Assurance.
My favourite however is one published by the Croydon Library Committee in 1920 and can now be found on the Surrey shelves in the Middle Library. 'Croydon and the Great War' offers a history of the work of the council during the war, as well as a roll of honour for local men.
Some personal details are given. Frederick Thomas ALLEN of the Border Regiment, for example, was employed by Messrs Sainsbury in Purley. He enlisted in May 1915 and wound in 1916. Another ALLEN, Harry, was married with a son and had been employed by Croydon Tramways. He died of pneumonia while a prisoner of war in Germany on 29 June 1918. He served with the London Regiment.
The war service of the councillors themselves and their children are also marked. H. BISHOP, son of Councillor Samuel BISHOP, 'having only one eye, was refused by the Army and served as a Special Constable from December 1917, until demobilisation.'
Mrs Dorothy DICKINS, the daughter of Councillor John PELTON worked at Purley War Hospital between 1915-1917, before going to Le Havre to help in the YMCA canteen there. Her father himself served with the local volunteer battalion, although he may have been too old to see active service. 

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