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Gardenerbill's Blog

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First Visit to National Archives Kew



On Saturday 5th of October I caught the 07:55 train from Manchester to London along with my wife and son for a long weekend. We arrived at London Euston at 10:00 and took the underground to Earls Court and dropped off our cases at our hotel. Then back on the underground to Kew station where we split up, my wife and son heading for Kew Gardens while I took the short walk to the National Archives building arriving at around 11:30.

After leaving my belongings in a locker on the ground floor keeping just my camera and notepad in the clear bag provided, I went to the second floor to register and acquire a reader’s card. This consisted of filling in an online form of the usual personal information and details of the 2 forms of identification I had brought with me. This was followed by a short video showing the correct way to handle documents. I then handed over my identification documents to the registration desk where they were checked, I signed a declaration to abide by their terms and conditions, my photograph was taken and my readers card issued. This took about 10 minutes as there was no queue.

I then went to the first floor and asked at the desk how to order my document, I was pointed in the direction of another set of computers where I swiped my new readers card through the card reader and selected order documents on the screen. First you answer a set of questions such as do you want a quiet desk, do you require a seat by a window etc. you are then allocated a seat number and advised to write it down. The computer then asks for the document number, in my case WO 95/4827, it finds the document and shows the details and asks if you require any more documents, in my case I didn’t, it showed the status of my document order and I completed the order process by clicking exit.

It takes around 45 minutes for documents to made available, so I went down to the cafeteria for a coffee at about 11:50. At 12:00 the Café started serving food so I bought a sandwich while I waited. There is a card reader and computer screen in the café where you can check the status of you document order and at 12:20 mine was ready so I made my way back up to the reading room.

Once through security (they check the contents of your clear plastic bag) I went to the document pick up area where there are a set of lockers with desk numbers on, mine contained a document box which I took over to the desk I had been allocated. It turned out to be near the windows but there were desks by the windows free so I went to one of those instead.

The box contained folders for the XIV Corps units that were not part of the divisions, e.g Cyclists, Signal Company, Sanitation etc. and there in the middle was a brown folder for the 801 Co ASC MT. It contained nearly 200 loose pages held together with a treasury tag. I started photographing the pages at 12:55 and was finished by 13:55. I packed away the documents and took the box back to the returns desk and headed off for Kew gardens to find my family.

Overall my experience was a positive one; I found the computer systems intuitive and easy to use, the staff were friendly and helpful, and the facilities were excellent. The only complaint I have is that one of the computer screens in the cafeteria was not working, some sort of network error, and the other one was behind a table and seats in the coffee shop so not easily accessible if someone was sitting there, but it’s a small niggle in another wise flawless day.

I know have 193 document images to work through, they are hand written and full of the usual jargon and abbreviations, happy days.


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Funnily enough I went to the Archives at Kew yesterday 8 Oct and registered just like Gardener Bill and knew what I wanted before I got there and asked for an album of photos of Air crew in WW2 only some of the photos I wanted were missing. However I did as Gardenerbill and photographed them. I also was interested in the docs they have on the No1 School of Instruction at Reading where they trained RFC Pilots and I now have photographed various Items such as the use and construction of phosphorus bombs with information on how to attack kite balloons. Also 4 one hour lectures on initial pilot training with a letter of criticism and some notes on weapons training. All very interesting. They really seemed to have made it up as they went along. My Uncle worked as an engine fitter airman there and then went onto pilot training there and was commissioned and became a pilot. Only the documents did not show much about the personnel that passed through the school. Although I did photograph some letters/notes about getting other ranks to do aviation training.

If anybody is interested in any of the docs I am willing to e-mail the ones they would like to look at. I am going again tomorrow to get the AIR 79 information I need for when my uncle was an RFC Engine Fitter. I currently only have his AIR 76 record for when he was an officer. This should cast more light on the working of the No 1 School I hope.

Also some documents in the file I was looking at had a great deal of information about the engines they used for training, but I did not copy them as there are only so many hours in the day.

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Posted on behalf of Member Zoe4

If you do not have a camera with you, documents can be scanned and either copied on paper for 25p, or sent free of charge to the mail address inscribed on your card(remember to register your e-mail address when you obtain your reader's card). You have then a whole week to look at the images through links, and print or download them on your own PC, before the links is cancelled. The scanners allows you to see the image before accepting to send it to your mail-address, so you can rectify if it is not satisfactory. The process is quick, free and convenient.
On the negative side, you should be aware that you cannot have any eraser in your clear plastic bag, not even a pencil with eraser on the end, you cannot have brown envelopes and do not use (like I did once) an old-looking paper as a draft for instance because you are not allowed "any paper more than 30 years old" (I quote what I was told).
Last if you ask a member of staff a query and nothing is found, try another of the many people ready to help at different desk. I was looking for letters from the General Rochambeau while he was a prisoner in England during the Napoleonic wars, that would have been kept by the English, and the new Discovery catalogue was not giving much about Rochambeau - the old catalogue did but I had mislaid the reference from years ago. One lady tried to find it for me, but sent me to another lady who happened to be French but she did not manage to find anything. At the end of the day, I asked a man at the enquiry desk, and he found it by entering "letters prisoners" and by specifying dates. In the bundle I ordered were 2 letters from Rochambeau and few others from "distinguished prisoners"... So it is always worth asking different people as we all have different knowledge.

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