Posts Tagged ‘ the Great War ’
Our expert Stephen Rigden answers your questions:
‘My great uncle Tommy Venables was a private in the Cheshire regiment in the First World War. It was stated that he was ‘killed at home’ in November 1916, but no explanation is given, although we believe he drowned. Where can we go to clarify what happened?’ Irene Hartless
Steve says: “Soldiers Died in the Great War shows that Private Thomas Venables died at “Home”. Where the theatre of war is given as “Home”, this usually means that the soldier died either while serving within the UK (for example, in a reserve battalion or in a home service garrison), or else died back in UK of wounds sustained overseas without having been discharged from the army.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) website shows that he was buried in Toxteth Park Cemetery. If you have not already visited the memorial there, it is worth doing so in case a headstone gives more detail: however, it has to be said that this is unlikely unless the family met the cost (CWGC headstones are purposely standardised in design). The simplest way to find out the cause of death for a “Home” theatre of war casualty is to purchase a copy of the death certificate using the usual General Register Office (GRO) civil death indexes. Private Venables’ death appears to have been registered in the West Derby district in the March quarter of 1917. This delay (when registration would have been expected in the December quarter of 1916) may indicate that there was an inquest, which would be consistent with accidental death, such as drowning, which would require a coroner’s report. You can buy a copy of the death certificate for £7 online from the GRO’s website http://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificates or, if you live in Merseyside, you could visit in person the register office, which is located in Liverpool’s Cotton Exchange. The certificate may point you to a coroner’s report (if there was one: try Merseyside Record Office) and that, together with local newspapers, may fill in the background.”
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We were saddened to hear of the death of the oldest surviving First World War veteran, 111 year-old Harry Patch. This follows the recent death of fellow war veteran Henry Allingham, 113, and leaves just one surviving British veteran of World War One; Claude Choules, 108.
As this event drifts further into the past, so too do the memories of these men, and of the horrors of this massive conflict. Harry Patch was a gunner in the Light Infantrymen who survived one of the bloodiest British offensives, the Third Battle of Ypres, while Henry was a mechanic in the Royal Naval Air Service who among other postings, was put to work on the Western Front neutralising the booby trapped bombs left by the Germans as they retreated.
For many years both men refused to talk about their experiences, preferring to shut out the traumatic memories. But in later life, when they did speak, both recalled the nightmarish conditions of the battlefield with their permanently waterlogged trenches (Allingham remembered working up to his armpits in water), the disease and plague of enormous rats, and the smell of death. After the war these men returned to their ordinary lives; Henry as a mechanic and Harry as a plumber.
There were 16 million deaths and 21 million casualties across the countries involved in WWI, and if you have ancestry that is British it is highly likely that a member of your extended family served in the conflict.
And perhaps what is so extraordinary about Henry and Harry is that their experiences, which pushed people to the limits of human endurance, were mirrored by millions of others involved in the fighting, including your ancestors.
Claude Choules in 1911
Britain’s last surviving Great War veteran, Claude Choules, is also the only living person, of any nationality, who has served in both World Wars. In 1911, three years before the start of the conflict, he was 10 years old and lived in Wyre, Pershore in Worcestershire. Here he is on the 1911 census with his father (a clerk to a market gardener), and his two elder brothers, who were labourers: