With the upsurge of an interest in family genealogy, many people very quickly encounter the period of the Great War – and hit a stumbling block.
Trying to find their relative among the records can be difficult, particularly if little or nothing about him has been passed down. Whenever I talk to people interested in the war many have had relatives who served, but often they have no idea where the medals are. Did they get thrown out, did they get sold? Many medals, photographs, letters or other artefacts failed to survive.
It is fairly safe to say that most families were touched by the First World War, whether their serving relative was a survivor or wounded, a prisoner of war, or tragically, as in so many cases, a casualty.
Indeed the Northumbria World War I project has estimated that almost 5,000 combatants from the modern borough of North Tyneside lost their lives as a result of the war. Many present day families are unaware of their connection.
Through painstaking research the project has been building an accessible, free database of the casualties, with the help of volunteers throughout North Tyneside. Many of these volunteers started by researching their own family tree, then became hooked on the Great War.
When Margaret was young her mother showed her the memorial at the side of the Memorial Hall in Frank Street, Wallsend, pointing out the name of D. Kelly, Margaret’s ‘Uncle Dan’. According to the 1911 census Daniel Kelly was a labourer in Wallsend’s B pit coal mine. By the time war came he was an apprentice at the shipyard of Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson in the town.
Dan was a son of Ireland. He was also a corporal in the 1st/5th Northumberland Fusiliers, a territorial battalion made up of reservists, part-time soldiers who were ready for the call to arms, the equivalent of today’s TA. He arrived in France in April 1915.
Margaret was to inherit from her gran, Dan’s younger sister, all the paperwork relating to his war service. This included his corporal’s notebook, communion cards and medals, including the Military Medal for bravery.
Dan’s brother Johnny felt guilty at surviving the war, dying in 1966. As Margaret remembered: “He never seemed to shake off the impact of those four years for the rest of his life.”
Daniel died on June 30, 1916, in Flanders as part of the daily drip of casualties along the front. A day later, on a different part of the frontline, thousands were to die on the opening of the Battle of the Somme.
Having researched Daniel’s records as far as she could, Margaret saw an article in the News Guardian and contacted the project. She was able to advance Daniel’s story further.
“Since joining the project I’ve learned what great resources are available, such as the Medal Rolls Index and Effects registers for individuals, and the Battalion diaries for the overview of where they were serving and what they were facing,” said Margaret.
She is now researching 30 men from the 1st/5th battalion and feels she is getting to understand them and what they went through.
“What comes across is how young they were, mostly between 19 and 22. Also they joined together, marched together, trained together, went to war together and, more often than not, died together,” she said.
Because of Margaret’s research we are asking any relatives of 3057 Private Henry Palmer 1st/5th Northumberland Fusiliers, from Station Road, Wallsend, who died on October 27, 1916, to get in touch.
Visit www.northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk if you are interested in helping with research or if you have information about any person killed or who died as a result of the war. Alternatively, email tommy@ northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk
The project workroom at Room B9, Linskill Community Centre, Trevor Terrace, North Shields, is open from 10am to 4pm each weekday. Send correspondence to c/o Essell, 29 Howard Street, North Shields NE30 1AR.