Posted by: mcfinder | November 8, 2010

Help The British Legion Become Number 1 in the Charts!

What a great idea – the British Legion has released an iTunes track to raise money for this years Poppy Appeal, and many music experts think it could reach number one in the charts — despite being two minutes of silence.

The track “2 minute silence” is being released by The Royal British Legion on iTunes and contains no music or speaking at all.

A ‘music’ video has even been produced which features a host of celebrities including Bruce Dickinson, Andy Murray, David Tennant and Mark Ronson, all not singing.

Money raised from the £1 downloads of the single — which each come with the video — will go towards furthering RBL work in supporting serving and ex-Service personnel.

It’s hoped the silent single will be a poignant reminder of Remembrance Sunday… and not just make people think their iPod is broken when it comes up on shuffle.

So show your support and purchase your copy now at www.silentsingle.com or from iTunes.

Join us in our mission to make chart history by reaching number 1 by Remembrance Sunday and show your support by joining the official Facebook™ page facebook.com/poppysingle2010.

You can access a preview of the video and behind the scenes footage at: www.youtube.com/user/royalbritishlegion.
So Come on! Download your copy of the single now from itunes and let’s get the Legion to Number 1 in the charts! It’s got to be better than that dross that is being churned out from Xfactor!?!

Posted by: mcfinder | October 23, 2010

Somme Ceremony for Football Battalions

A couple of years ago I wrote, on this blog, about the famous ‘Football Attack’ on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, and how some of the war diaries for these football battalions were now available online to view.

The Footballers’ Battalions were formed partly in response to criticism that the 1914-15 league season had not been cancelled despite the outbreak of war, with many members of the public suggesting strongly that players should be drafted to the army instead of continuing to play football.

In remembrance of these football battalions, on Thursday just past, more than 100 people gathered in Longueval on Thursday morning to attend the unveiling of a memorial. You can read a description of this service on the BBC website – a very good blog post written by Paul Fletcher.

Football is hugely popular, and rightly so, it is still the ‘beautiful game’, however in a week where the media went into meltdown because Wayne Rooney said he may leave his club, and the hysteria continues to envelope Liverpool because they have lost a couple of games, let’s take a second to take stock of life and put a few things into perspective…these old footballers swapped football boots for Lee Enfield rifles and the trenches, many of them paid the ultimate sacrifice on the Somme. Soldiers are still putting everything on the line and are being wounded and killed in Afghanistan.

When a footballer gets injured or throws his toys out of the pram to get a few extra ‘noughts’ on his already huge contract, or your club loses a few games…let’s put it into perspective. It isn’t exactly life or death now is it?

Posted by: mcfinder | October 17, 2010

How will you raise money for the 2010 Poppy Appeal?

This time last year I was in the final preparations for my cycle ride along the entire WW1 Western Front  trench lines. Steve and I raised about £3500 for the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal, of which we are both very proud.  This year, unfortunately I have not been able to repeat such a feat, however from now until the end of November, for every sale of my book, For Conspicuous Gallantry: Winners of the Military Cross and Bar During the Great War, I will donate £5 (25% of the cover price) to this year’s poppy appeal.

You can find out about my book by clicking on the ‘For Conspicuous Gallantry’ tab at the top of the page. If you want to purchase a book, just email me at mcfinder@sky.com or DM my twitter account @military_search

In addition to this I will be running a repeat of the cliche tax I ran a few months back in the office to raise some money for the appeal too, last time it was successful, so I hope to have a repeat performance from my office colleagues!

So, what are you doing to raise awareness and money for the 2010 poppy appeal? Leave a comment on this blog and I will retweet it to all of my followers and try and get you some additional interest and awareness.

Let’s help each other make this Poppy Day one to remember!

Posted by: mcfinder | September 26, 2010

Using the Internet to search for Militia Ancestors

If your ancestors served in the Militia it may seem that trying to trace their careers is significantly more difficult than those men that served in the regular army. But there are some great websites that can help you in your search.

What is the Militia?

The Militia was a part-time voluntary civilian force organised county-by-county, which was formalised by the Militia Act of 1757. The list of able-bodied men that were drawn up under this act can serve as a kind of census. The militia was widely embodied at various times during the French and Napoleonic Wars. It served at several vulnerable locations,  particularly the South Coast and in Ireland.  The militia could not be compelled to serve overseas, but it was seen as a training reserve for the army, as financial incentives were offered to men who opted to ‘exchange’ from the militia to the regular army.

In general the best advice to trying to find ancestors who served in the Militia is to go local and talk to the local records office, family history society or regimental museum. However there are a number of websites that may also be of use..So, in no particular order here are some good websites to help you in your search.

Genuki (www.genuki.org.uk)

This is a great place to start your search. Type in Militia to the Genuki search box and you will get 1066 matches. All of which are links to other sites that have Militia relevant information on them. These could be the Militia lists and Musters for Cambridgeshire, or it could be information on Sir John Reresby’s Militia Troop

The National Archives (www.nationalarchives.gov.uk)

As always, the National Archives is a great source of information. Their specific webpage for the Militia is http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/catalogue/RdLeaflet.asp?sLeafletID=26&j=1 The Archives hold a great deal of information on various aspects of the Militia including soldier and officer papers, commission books, muster rolls, casualties and medal rolls.

Militia Attestations Index (www.originsnetwork.com)

This Index currently contains the names of over 110,000 recruits to militias in Cheshire, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Durham, Essex, Hampshire, Kent, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Middlesex, Norfolk, Northumberland, Suffolk, Surrey, Wiltshire and Yorkshire, and in south and central Scotland; the Irish Origins database contains an index to a further 12,500 men who applied to militias in Ireland. These recruits came from all over the British Isles. 

They also have a digital archive of the complete WO96 section from TNA. Available for search and download at £10 per soldier. Or you can use the information here to access the documents in person at the Archives.

As I have already said, the best place to start your search maybe your local records office. Once you have an idea of where/when your ancestor served you can go through the Access to archives and the National Register of Archives to fins records held in local offices. Some of these archives may provide online indexes while others will demand that you visit in person. Many regimental museums will also hold relevant information, and while most offer a visit-by-appointment, many do offer research services. The best place to track down your regimental museum is at www.armymuseums.org.uk

Posted by: mcfinder | September 7, 2010

Why The Bomber Command Memorial Matters.

Now, I don’t normally read too many newspapers, firstly because I don’t get a great deal of time to do so, but mainly because I am not that interested in which footballer is bedding which whore, or if Paris Hilton is partying in Vegas without any knickers…

But today is different, because as I was perusing the front pages of the dailies in my local Tesco Express, I came across the headline of the Daily Express. ‘DON’T MENTION THE WAR’ with the sub headline stating that German politicians are trying to stop Britain building a memorial to honour the heroes of Bomber Command.

I have to say I find this incredulous. Firstly it is a memorial to 55,573 aircrew who bravely took to the skies during World War 2 to defend our island from the Nazis and never returned home to their families. It is NOT a celebration or some crass gesture to Germany to say ‘we bombed more cities than you’, and it is certainly not a tasteless gesture aimed directly at towns such as Dresden, Cologne, and Frankfurt that suffered so terribly during the war. Despite what some German politicians might think.

In face, not having a memorial to Bomber Command is tasteless. These guys suffered huge casualties, indeed 10% of all war casualties were from Bomber Command, and it is the only sector of the armed forces to not have a formal memorial dedicated to their memory. Surely we owe it to them, the airmen and airwomen, to remember their brave deeds and actions?

According to the Daily Express, Helma Orosz, the Mayor of Dresden, is quoted as saying “A memorial like the one which is planned in London would not be part of the culture of reconciliation.” She also added: “The emotions of the people in Dresden are running high. It is against our culture of remembrance.”

Well excuse me, but surely if Britain chooses to build a memorial to British airmen and women, who fought and died for Britain, and to build it in London, then isn’t that down to us? Without being rude….it really is none of your business, love.

If they (The Germans) were to succeed in ensuring this memorial wasn’t built, then what next? Are they going to tell the Jews to tear down their memorials of the Holocaust? Should we then tear down all the memorials and statues in London? The Cenotaph would have to go…Nelson’s Column would probably be on the list, plus thousands of town and village memorials up and down the country. While we are at it, let’s close down all the museums, burn all the books and pretend it all didn’t happen. That’s a sure-fire way of our kids making the exact same mistakes again, and WW3 would be on us in a jiffy.

To not build this memorial would be a huge injustice for all the heroes of the RAF and Bomber Command. We should be proud of them, not hide them away incase they embarrass us or another country. Let us celebrate their actions, remember their memories and make sure that we don’t need to build any more memorials in memory of another 55,000 hero’s.

So, with that, I am going to stick 2 Churchill-esque fingers up at those damned German politicians. Keep your noses out of our business. The Bomber Command Memorial needs to raise £2 million by the end of 2010 to enable it to be built, I am going to donate £20 right now. I ask all of you that read this to donate a small amount too…let’s show the world how proud we are of our history, our heritage, and our RAF.

You can read more on the Bomber Command Memorial, and donate to the cause at www.bombercommand.com

Posted by: mcfinder | September 6, 2010

Finding War Graves and Memorials on the Internet

The are literally ‘some’ splendid websites out there where you can find details of the final resting place of your family hero who made the supreme sacrifice so we can eat cheeseburgers in peace…here are a few of my faves. 

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (www.cwgc.org

In my opinion, this is the daddy of them all. Their Debt of Honour Register is the single most important registry of war dead that exists and should the first stop for anyone searching for fallen ancestors from the two World Wars. It contains details of some 1.7 million men and women who died during these conflicts as well as information on the 23,000 cemeteries and memorials around the world where they are commemorated. 

You can search the register by surname, initials, year of death, conflict, area of service and nationality. This will give you a number of possible matches, once you have found your ancestor another mouse click will give you extra information such as regiment, age, cemetery or memorial, date of death and often details such as address and next of kin. 

cwgc example

cwgc example

The website is not just a database of the war dead though, there is a great ‘histories’ section which gives a good overview of some of the major conflicts including The Somme and Ypres. There is a section for schools and a great audio/video section with some excellent videos especially on the new Fromelles Cemetery. 

One thing that there isn’t, is individual images of headstones, memorials. They (the CWGC) do not offer that service. But that doesn’t matter because, my next website of choice, The War Graves Photography Project, does. 

The War Graves Photographic Project (http://twgpp.org

The guys behind this project are working towards the not insignificant task of putting together a photographic record of every single CWGC headstone and memorial. To use this site simply input your ancestors name into the search box and see what appears. If nothing is there it may be that the chaps with the camera has not got to that particular cemetery/memorial yet, so it is an idea to return to the site every now and again to check their progress. Once you have found your person, there is a small charge (£3 for electronic, £5 for printed copy) to order your photograph. 

So, what happens then, if your ancestor was killed in action during one of the World Wars, but for some inexplicable reason he or she is not on the CWGC ‘Debt of Honour Register’? Well, fear not my lovelies, a great little project called In From the Cold will help you out. 

In From the Cold (www.infromthecold.org

This project is dedicated to tracking down those names missing from the CWGC ‘Debt of Honour Register’. So, if your search brings up a blank, get in contact with these chaps and they will do some digging on your behalf with the aim of getting official commemoration of the ancestor in question. Splendid. 

WW1Cemeteries.com is a terrific site that acts as a comprehensive guide to all the memorials and military cemeteries in France, Belgium, UK, and worldwide. With easy to use indexes of all French, Belgian and Gallipoli cemeteries, a WW2 index, a VC index and a shot at dawn index this website is well researched and of great use. There are also thousands of photographs throughout.

Finally, We have all driven, walked or cycled past war memorials in or near our home towns, sat on benches  or visited churches and schools which house memorial plaques and such like. The UK National Inventory of War Memorials (www.ukniwm.org.uk) is an ongoing project to compile a record of all war memorials across the UK, regardless of type. Covering all conflicts, more than 60,000 war memorials have been transcribed so far. The only downer on this site is there is no name search facility, however that will be added very soon. And there is a nice blog too. 

These are just a few interesting websites, there are many more including regional registers, regimental sites and others…So have a quick ‘Google’, you never know what you might find.

Posted by: mcfinder | August 20, 2010

‘The Few’ 70 years on.

Today, at 15.52BST to be precise, marks the 70th Anniversary of the famous ‘So Few’ speech from Sir Winston Churchill as he paid tribute to the RAF as they threw everything they had against the mighty Luftwaffe in The Battle of Britain.

To commemorate this anniversary, the speech will be replayed outside Churchill’s war-time bunker in Whitehall, at 1552 BST – precisely 70 years since Churchill stood up to give the address in Parliament. It will be followed shortly afterwards by a Spitfire and Hurricane fly-past over Whitehall.

In his speech that day, Churchill encapsulated the heroism of the RAF Fighter Command and the gratitude of a nation in one memorable, succinct sentence…

Never in the field of human conflict, was so much owed by so many to so few.

Victory in The Battle of Britain almost definitely put pay to a Nazi invasion of our island, without air superiority such an invasion would never have been successful. So, today, 70 years on from that remarkable speech, let us quietly say thank you to those 3000 or so RAF boys (and girls)who did so much for us…there are not many of them left now, they are fading quickly, but let us make sure that their memories and their brave deeds live on.

They should not be forgotten.

 

A full transcript of Churchill’s famous speech can be seen here. Also, the BBC has a wonderful microsite dedicated to all things Battle of Britain.

 

Posted by: mcfinder | August 11, 2010

Re-visiting some old friends on the Ypres Salient

Perhaps the only disappointing thing from ‘Cycling the Line’ was the fact that we couldn’t really spend much time looking around the places we were travelling through. This was especially true when we hit Ypres at the very end of the trip. My bike was in such a bad state I dared not do a metre more than was absolutely necessary, and as a result we missed out on a couple of areas that I wanted to visit – namely Tyne Cot cemetery and the area to the west of Ypres…Passchendaele. 

So, on a business trip to Belgium this week I decided to take a day’s holiday, hire a car and re-visit some of the places we cycled to, or just missed, at the very end of our trip. I had only 1 day so decided to  take in Tyne Cot cemetery, the village of Passchendaele, Polygon Wood, Sanctuary Wood, Hooge Crater, Langemark, Zonnebeke, and the Menin Road… 

My first stop was the largest commonwealth cemetery in the world – Tyne Cot -  with 11,908 individual graves and 34,927 names of soldiers who have no known resting place…near on 46,000 soldiers…There are many different emotions when you visit a place such as this. I was awe-struck, humbled, sad and proud all at the same time. There is a small information centre in front of the cemetery with artifacts and personal stories from soldiers that are resting in the cemetery near by. Th letters, photo’s, pieces of uniform and equipment, and medals are a stark reminder that each white stone and each name on the vast walls of the memorial represents a man; a son, husband, lover, father. And that 46,000 families were shattered when they received that telegram…‘it is with deepest regret…’ In the background while you visit the centre there is a female recorded voice reading a roll call of the officers and men that are in the cemetery. Benjamin Thomas Robins, aged 19; John Gibbs, aged 23…It is very haunting. 

Graves and Memorial: Tyne Cot

Graves and Memorial: Tyne Cot

The cemetery itself is vast. It is a remarkable place. I walked up and down the rows of graves of men…boys I never knew, are not distant relations,  but yet I found myself whispering a few words to the headstones and wondering what kind of people they were. Sitting on the steps of the cross of sacrifice (built on top of a German bunker) and looking out over the thousands of pristine white stones, I don’t mind telling you there was a tear. 

Next stop was Polygon Wood, the scene of bitter hand to hand fighting. The Polygon Wood cemetery is in stark contrast to that of Tyne Cot. Tiny in numbers and the graves are not set in neat rows, but rather randomly set. This was a front line cemetery and I guess it is difficult to bury your comrades in neat and straight lines when you are being shot at and shelled! In the garden in front of the cemetery was a donkey, obviously a pet of a nearby house… I couldn’t help thinking about the common feeling of the Lions being led by Donkeys. 

After a few hours visiting other cemeteries and the village of Passchendaele (including the memorial museum which is a must if you visit the area) I ended up on The Menin Road. I have strong memories of manically cycling up this iconic road, but desperately wanted to take time out to visit Hellfire Corner, Clapham Junction, Sanctuary Wood and the Hooge Crater. 

The preserved trenches at the Sanctuary Wood museum are unbelievable. They are one of the few places left where you can actually get some kind of idea as to what a real trench looked like…although the thousands of visitors to the site over the years have eroded the grass and moss that originally covered the ground – it is still an eery and remarkable place, even more so as I was the only person there at the time (one advantage of visiting during the school holidays!). 

So all in all a magnificent and moving day on the Ypres salient…I have taken lots of photos but am having trouble uploading some of them..I will upload them asap and link to them from here…

Photographs now uploaded to Flickr. You can see them here:

Posted by: mcfinder | August 7, 2010

Tank-tastic day at Bovington

Took the kids the other day to the tank museum at Bovington - Had a wicked time, I hadn’t been there for many years. The museum has under gone a very nice new facelift, including new exhibitions and facilities, and is a wonderful day out. From the very first tank ever (Little Willy – which has now got a beer named after it!) to the modern-day 21st century vehicles there are over 200 tanks and armoured vehicles that have seen action in every major conflict since 1915. 

I wanted to visit the Trench exhibition which allows you, the visitor, to follow in the footsteps of a ww1 army recruit. From recruiting office in England to mud and blood of the front line trenches. But my young boy, Honza, was scared of the exhibits and we didn’t go in…which is a shame, but I am sure we will get to go again! What has this got to do with a tank museum you may well ask? Well, actually, everything. The tank (or land-ship as it was originally called) was primarily invented (by the British) in an attempt to break the stalemate of trench warfare, and made its world debut in September 1916 near Delville Wood during the later stages of the Battle of the Somme. 

Another great exhibition is the Tank Story which follows the evolution of the tank from Little Willie in 1915 up to modern-day tanks and all in between. Including the daddy of them all – the Tiger.. 

After spending 4 hrs shouting ‘Daddy look at that big gun!’ my two lovelies dragged me to the souvenir shop where we purchased 2 (talking) soldier hats. Jan and Lenka both then ran to the car pretending to be tank soldiers, shooting imaginary baddies. We had a great day which ended up with both of the proclaiming loudly ‘Daddy, we LOVE tanks!’ 

TAAAAANNKKSS!!

TAAAAANNKKSS!!

So, why not get down to Bovington this summer – it looks like the sun has gone for the summer so you will probably be looking for somewhere indoors to take the kids…the tank museum is a great choice! 

Honza taking on 'the baddies'

Honza taking on 'the baddies'

The dedication of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery, Fromelles, northern France, will take place on Monday 19 July 2010. During the dedication, an un-named soldier will be buried.  He is the last of the 250 Australian and British soldiers found at the Pheasant Wood site to be laid to rest.     

Access to the site will be controlled, for security and safety reasons.   

Most invited guests will receive their invitations by post.  In the case of the families of Australian soldiers, they will receive their tickets direct. In addition to invited guests, members of the public are welcome to attend, and can apply for tickets for the event, under the following conditions:  

 - Tickets are free and must not be sold or used commercially.  

 - Applications must specify the names of all those who wish to attend.  

 - Unless travelling as part of a tour group, all applicants must apply individually and will be issued with a separate ticket.  Tickets will be issued in the name of the applicant.  Anyone who has received an invitation to the event does not need to apply for a ticket.  

 - Tour groups or associations may apply in bulk, as long as the application is accompanied by a list of the names of their party members.   

 - Tickets will allow access to the public area reserved for spectators and should be carried at all times.  

 - The field has a capacity for about 4,500 spectators.  Plots on the field can not be reserved.  

 - Spectators are permitted to bring lightweight folding seats or picnic blankets.  However, umbrellas, banners or other items that may block the view of others are not to be used during the ceremony.   

 - The consumption of alcohol is not permitted before or during the ceremony.  

 - Parking areas will be available, on the outskirts of Fromelles, for those travelling to the ceremony.  Access to Fromelles, and the parking areas, will be restricted to ticket holders/tour groups (other than local residents).  

 - The ticket will allow free use of the shuttle bus between the parking area and the village of Fromelles.  There will be a short walk from the drop-off point to the Cemetery and public viewing area.  

Placing a Gravestone at Fromelles War Cemetery

Placing a Gravestone at Fromelles War Cemetery

  

 Other than invited guests, and the families of Australian soldiers, anyone wishing to attend, including members of the public who may have already registered their interest elsewhere, is requested to order their free ticket from the Service Personnel and Veterans’ Agency (SPVA) by email.   

The email address for applications is:  

SPVA-Events@MOD.UK  

Those who do not have access to email may apply in writing to the SPVA at the following address:  

Service and Veterans Support Team, Service Personnel and Veterans Agency, Room 6108, Tomlinson House,   Norcross, Thornton-Cleveleys, Lancashire, FY5 3WP  

Timings – 19 July  

0930                   Park and Ride opens
1130                    Guests requested to be seated
1200                   Official ceremony starts
1300                   Official ceremony finishes
1500 – 1800    Private ceremony for families of named soldiers only
1900                   Cemetery closed for removal of event infrastructure  

Timings – 20 July  

0900 – 0945    Private reflection period for UK families
1000                   Cemetery open to public – see below  

Getting There  

Due to the limited capacity of the local roads, the Gendarmes will establish a traffic control zone on all the approach roads to Fromelles and access to the village will be restricted.  

By Car. If you plan to travel to Fromelles by car you will need to use the Park and Ride facility (see map).  

By Taxi. There are multiple taxi companies in Lille which may be able to take you to Fromelles. Prior to the event Taxis will be given access to Fromelles for drop off only and will not be allowed to wait in the village. For guidance the approximate fare from Lille to Fromelles is €50. Please do not pre-book your taxi for your return journey from Fromelles as taxis will not be allowed into the village after the event. A shuttle bus will be provided to take you to Beaucamps-Ligny where a taxi rank will be established for your onward journey.  

By Tour Bus. Tour buses are required to park at the coach park (see map) . The walk from the coach park to the entrance of the public event site is approximately 600 metres.  

All guests will need to show tickets at all Gendarme control points.  

Disabled Access  

There is a disabled parking area close to the village for those with Disabled Car Badges.
There will be spaces for wheelchairs in the public event area and, if required, disabled transport will also be available for the 200 metre distance from the vehicle drop-off point.  

The Event  

Background information about the Battle of Fromelles and the work leading up to the day’s events will be shown on a large screen at the site. The ceremony will also be shown on the screen. The dedication ceremony will include the re-interment, with full military honours, of an un-named soldier by a joint burial party from the Australian and British Armies.  

Facilities  

Toilets (including disabled toilets), a First Aid post, information displays and catering facilities where food and beverages can be purchased will be available in the public area, which is a field adjacent to the cemetery. These will be available both prior to, and after, the ceremony.  

Dress  

The weather in Fromelles in July can be difficult to predict, ranging from very hot and sunny to cool and wet. Please note this is an outdoor event; the public viewing area is in a field and you may be there for over two hours, so please dress and prepare accordingly. The ceremony will proceed regardless of the weather. There is no overhead protection from the elements in the public viewing area.  

Security  

All guests are to carry photographic identification (eg passport or national ID card) in case of security checks at the site.  

Mobile Telephones and Photography  

Please ensure that all mobile telephones are switched off during the ceremony. Photography during the ceremony is permitted but guests are reminded to pay due respect to the activity being undertaken.  

Access to Cemetery and Wreath Laying  

On 19 July, access inside the cemetery itself is limited to those participating in the ceremony and to the families of named soldiers buried within.  

Visitors wishing to lay wreaths on 19 July may do so near the entrance gate to the cemetery after 1315. At the end of proceedings all wreaths will be taken up to the Cross of Sacrifice.  

On Tuesday 20 July UK families will have an opportunity for a reflection period from 9am – 9.45am.  

The cemetery will open to the general public at 10am on Tuesday 20 July. Event infrastructure will be being dismantled at this time, but there will be pedestrian access to the cemetery. Safety of visitors is of utmost importance. The parking area will remain closed – visitors will have to park in the village and walk into the cemetery.  

Disabled Access – special arrangements  

If you think the arrangements above for disabled access may not meet your specific needs please contact SPVA in UK (SPVA-events@mod.uk) or the Australian Fromelles Project Group on (freecall) 1800 019 090 or email ahq.fromelles@defence.gov.au  

Details and image taken from the official CWGC Fromelles website: http://www.cwgc.org/fromelles/?page=english/homepage

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