Tracing Hampstead’s war heroes
Most of the people who fought in World War One were not professional soldiers but volunteered or were called up from ordinary lives and jobs to fight to protect our way of life and that of our friends. Many died or were wounded, and even those who returned home found that life was never the same again – war changes people. We remember their courage in serving our community each year on November 11th – the day that World War One came to an end in 1918.
It isn’t always possible to produce a satisfactory summary of their lives. There are often no service records, no letters, no photographs, no newspaper reports – just the fragments of history gleaned from the official records. But in focusing, understandably, on the men who served and died, don’t forget the ones who came home – irretrievably marked by their experiences, or the family they left behind. Commemoration is also about the mothers, wives and daughters who kept industry running and raised families, whilst hoping and praying for five years that their loved ones would return to them safely.
- Find a war memorial near you and choose a name of someone who died in World War One. See how much you can find about him and his family. The following websites will help you – there is a lot you can find out free:
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission – http://www.cwgc.org/debt_of_honour.asp – this will give you the full name, military unit, age, date and place of death of your serviceman, and tell you where he is buried/ commemorated; be sure to note the name of his regiment and the battalion number – this site is free
- Check in the “National Roll of the Great War” to see if there is any more information about him; sometimes it tells you where his parents lived: http://www.findmypast.co.uk/nmp-military-records-search-start.action?product=NR&redef=1 but this site will cost
- 1911, 1901, 1891, 1881 and earlier Censuses – http://www.findmypast.co.uk/home.jsp – you can look up your man and his family in the census records; see where they lived, what they did, and how many brothers and sisters there were – this site is free if you only look at the record summaries
- Birth Marriage and Death registers at FreeBMD – http://freebmd.rootsweb.com/cgi/search.pl – you can find out when and where your man was born or married, and the name of his wife – this site is free
- To find out more about where his unit was serving at the time of his death, go to http://www.1914-1918.net/army.htm and look up his regiment and battalion; this will give you an overview of their activities – this site is free
- If there is a war memorial near your school or home, copy down the names and details of each individual soldier and take a photograph of the memorial and email everything to firstname.lastname@example.org. Your information will be added to the list of Hampstead World War One soldiers that the Community@War team is compiling
- Remember the TV news stories about soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan? What do you think life is like for them now they are home? How do you think things have changed sinceWorld War One for wounded soldiers or for families who lose a loved one?
- These World War One diaries may give you an idea of what life was like for men at the front: https://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/library/search/?category=war+diary&tag=wwi
- For more recent stories, see the charity site at: http://www.helpforheroes.org.uk/how-we-help/hero-stories/
- For how the people at home thought about our soldiers, see the BBC newsreel and pictures at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/wiltshire/content/articles/2008/10/13/wootton_bassett_parade_feature.shtml
- Can you think of other examples of people who show courage and bravery – either in serving the community (eg firemen, paramedics, policemen) or in dealing with difficult circumstances (eg disability, poverty, rejection)? How do you think you would handle a major challenge like these? How would you want other people to treat you?
See the National Archives blog on finding a lost soldier
Watch the Imperial War Museum’s video about researching “Lives of the First World War”: http://www.livesofthefirstworldwar.org/
Information about the British Army in the First World War on The Long, Long Trail website.
This page was last updated on November 26th, 2014.