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delta

WFA secure Pension Record Card collection - news flash

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delta

Received this wonderful news from WFA

http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-current-news/pension-records.html

The Western Front Association preserves a major Great War archive of 6.5 million records

The Western Front Association (WFA) is delighted to announce that it has secured the safe storage of a major archive of over six million Great War soldiers' pension record cards.

Some two years ago, the WFA learned that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) was no longer able to retain and manage its archive of Great War soldiers' pension records cards and related archives. The MoD had held these cards, passed to it from prior custodians, all of which date from the time of the conflict.

There was a possibility that the records would have had to be destroyed unless they could be passed for safe keeping to a reputable organisation. The WFA has, in this time, made a study and catalogued the primary information for of each group of records in the archive, and arranged the safe transfer and storage of the records to the WFA's secure premises.

Background to the archive

During the Great War, dependents of each serving British soldier, sailor, airman and nurse who was killed were entitled to a pension, as were those service personnel who were wounded or otherwise incapacitated due to the conflict. There is a card for each. These are:

  • Other Ranks Died (this contains nearly one million individual records)
  • Widows and Dependents of Other Ranks Died (in excess of one million records)
  • Other Ranks Survived: Requested/Rejected/Receiving Pension (over 2.5 million records)
  • Officers survived and Officers' Widows (approximately 150,000 records)
  • Merchant Naval Cards (about 5,000 records)

Originally, the cards were maintained regionally and it was only much later that they were collected into a single group. The Pension Records cards were held regionally because many claimants - especially those who were wounded or suffered ill-health aggravated by their service in the conflict - had to attend regional assessment boards to ensure their entitlement remained valid. These assessments created a further invaluable archive, known as the Army, Navy and Air Force Registers, all of which are held in ledger books. These ledgers also record the outcome of assessments.

What do the records tell us?

The key aspect of the records is that, uniquely, they unite genealogical information with military information.

What will the WFA do with the records?

The WFA's aim is to preserve the archive for as long as possible. Included in this is our aim to make the records available to the public for individual family research, to find the records of their forebears and to learn more about their war service. We also believe the Pension Records will be invaluable to Great War historians and for academic research.

In order that the information on the card records can be preserved for posterity, we wish to create an online, searchable archive. We plan to scan the records digitally and to make them findable with a searchable database.

This is a major undertaking, not just to scan every record (a major task in itself), but to ensure each record can be "tagged" with sufficient data to make the search useful.

The WFA intends to determine the best methods of digitisation with archiving organisations, and to discuss potential partnerships to undertake the work. We also intend to seek out sources of grant and other funding for the task, and we will soon launch a fund-raising campaign to help preserve the records in the meantime. Prior to the records being digitised and made available online, we will offer a manual look-up of records through application via our website.

Summary

Bruce Simpson, Chairman of the Trustees of The Western Front Association, commented, "In this week of Remembrance, less than two years before the commemorations of the Centenary of the Great War begin, the WFA is honoured to be entrusted with the preservation and safe-keeping of these important records of those who bravely fought and died in the conflict."

Professor Peter Simkins MBE FRHistS, President of The Western Front Association, added, "These records constitute a valuable resource to both the military and social historian with particular reference to the study of the Great War. Hitherto, the study of individuals has concentrated on those who died, whereas the Pension Records also provide a valuable glimpse into those who survived."

David Henderson, Project Leader for the WFA's Pension Records Archive, said, "Family research is a very popular and compelling pastime for many people. Key to understanding who you are, and your past, is an understanding of the Great War period and the impact that total war made on your forebears, both at the time and in its aftermath. The Great War Pension Records cards will unlock a significant amount of new information for many researchers."

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Alan Tucker

This is fantastic news but how could these records ever have been considered for destruction! Well done WFA

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keithmroberts

That's the best use of my subs yet.

Keith

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Malcolm Linham

I agree this is excellent news and look forwarding to using them in the future.

I just wonder if this was closely guarded secret that they existed as I have never heard of them before or have I missed something.

Malcolm

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David Tattersfield

Many thanks for the supportive comments. These records were unknown to the WFA until we were contacted by the MoD a couple of years ago, since then we have maintained the news black out until today.

The significance of this cannot be overstated, for example:

1) It enables the researcher to identify for certain individual soldiers and their units. For example if Great Uncle was “John Smith” and his unit was not know, it is very difficult to identify from existing sources which unit he was in. Using there records, it will be far easier to get a certain match to “Great Uncle” as the addresses of the soldiers (both those who survived and those who died) have been preserved.

2) It provides details of next of kin (names addresses and dates of birth etc)

3) It provides in many cases details of wounds received and illnesses incurred.

4) It shows in a high number of cases the rate of recovery from these wounds and illnesses.

5) Other valuable pieces of information are also available (for example amounts of pensions paid, details of re-marriage of widows, competing claims for pensions etc)

This is a major development for both military and family historians. The scale of the archive is enormous (the relocation involved three HGV’s each packed with the records) and the archive in itself may give an insight into the larger question of the types of pensions paid to soldiers and their dependents.

David

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ulsterlad2

That's fantastic news. Well done to everyone at the WFA.

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annswabey

Brilliant news. I knew about these records as I obtained a copy of my Grandads card from the MOD some years ago, and have wondered why they were never mentioned.

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saw119

This is really fantastic news and well done to everyone at the WFA who was involved in this enterprise.

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Chris_Baker

Well done, WFA. Just don't let those Ancestry indexers anywhere near it!

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David Porter

Without a doubt the biggest development in WW1 research since the Service & Pension Records were released on Ancestry. It is plain to see that what happened to the widows or those badly injured is not fully covered and this will fill the gap. A great many artillery records of men who died were part of the set that was destroyed in the blitz. This will be invaluable archive material and I'm glad to see colour examples appearing that helps chart the progress of pension claims.

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Charles Fair

An exciting development to find an almost unknown but presumably reasonably complete source. Well done to the WFA.

The indexing will be critical, and those of us who are unit historians will be hoping that the index includes regimental number, regiment and battalion.

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joan bourgeois

Wonderful news!!

Joan

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keithmroberts

Now wouldn't it be a good use for some of that 100th anniversary dosh to be used to fund the copying and indexing and to make it free to all through either the National Archives or the IWM on-line systems.

Keith

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delta

That would indeed be a very beneficial use of the "dosh".

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David  B

What I can't understand is why essentially a public record has been handed over to a private organisation when as far as I am concerned (which is little as I am essentially a foreigner these days)

the keeping of these records should have been a responsibility of the National Archives. Does this mean that the NA only keeps records that it thinks that it should keep, rather than everything

that passes through the realms of government ?

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spof

What I can't understand is why essentially a public record has been handed over to a private organisation when as far as I am concerned (which is little as I am essentially a foreigner these days)

the keeping of these records should have been a responsibility of the National Archives. Does this mean that the NA only keeps records that it thinks that it should keep, rather than everything

that passes through the realms of government ?

David

These records were never handed over from MoD to TNA.

Given that the MICs were/are the property of WFA why don't they set up their own subscription site to include MICs and these new records? I'd rather pay WFA (and I know there are people who don't like them) than some US company who is only concerned on their share price.

Glen

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ss002d6252
Given that the MICs were/are the property of WFA why don't they set up their own subscription site to include MICs and these new records?

Which is another issue regarding why public records were passed to a private organisation (don't get me wrong, the fact the records are preserved and available is great but its something the N/A should have done) . Presumably the WFA are now benefiting via a commercial deal from ancestry.

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David Tattersfield

Presumably the WFA are now benefiting via a commercial deal from ancestry.

I can confirm there is no commercial deal with Ancestry and, furthermore, we have not discussed this with Ancestry or any other similar organisation. We have given the preservation of these serious thought and believe that the preservation of these is in the national interest. We will be looking to obtain grant funding to enable digitisation to take place.

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ss002d6252
I can confirm there is no commercial deal with Ancestry

In respect of the MIC digitisation or the new pension cards ?

We will be looking to obtain grant funding to enable digitisation to take place.

So presumably that means your going to take the task on yourself with the help of a 3rd party ?

Sounds good though, it just shows how many records are still hiding away in warehouses.

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Chris_Baker

DavidB's point (post 15 above) is a very good one, not only for those of us with WW1/military history interest but in the wider context. Whilst I have no doubt whatever that the WFA will do as good a job with this collection as they have with the medal index cards, it does beg the question about the treatment of potentially most valuable archives by the Ministry of Defence (and no doubt other ministries too) and why they are not going to the care of the National Archives. It makes me wonder what records are being lost or destroyed along the way.

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Terry_Reeves

This is from the National Archives Annual Report 2011-2012. As you can see, there is a significant and ongoing problem in storing records, that is assuming TNA was offered them. This is the main reason that that only representative selections of certain classes of documents have been kept. As far as I am aware, Government departments have no obligation to pass departmental records to the National Archives.

Securing the government record

Each year we take in thousands of government records of historical value. Records are usually transferred to us, or another place of deposit, by the time they are 30 years old under what is known as the ‘30-year rule’. At this point, unless a Freedom of Information Act exemption applies, the records are made available to the public. But, as a major part of the Government’s Transparency agenda, this rule is to be reduced to 20 years, which will create a significant cultural change across government. In 2011-12 we

led work to develop the government-wide plan for the 10-year period, beginning in 2013, in which we will make the transition to the new rule. Over the next 10 years twice as much material as usual will be transferred to The National Archives, meaning we will need to catalogue and store double the usual number of new records and provide access to those of the additional records that are available for public release.

TR

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clive_hughes

Acceptance, storage and access can be a tricky balancing act from the word go. Up to the time they go "public", Government records are controlled by the relevant Department even if they are held in intermediate archive storage.

The vast amount of material generated in the pre-machine readable record era means that not everything can make it through to final NA custody. When I visited Kew as an archivist in the early 1980s I was told that some 10 shelf miles of records were placed in initial archive storage by Govt. each year. Of this, some 9 miles / 90 per cent had to be discarded, so the NA were still receiving 1 shelf mile per annum for preservation. The "weeding" was carried out by Departmental personnel, to a timetable (e.g., material would be assessed for preservation/destruction in say 15 years time. Some would be marked for destruction at the relevant time; some for review in 10 years with final decision then as to destruction; some clearly marked for preservation). Sampling of records from categories to be destroyed was not unusual.

In the ?early 1970s a vast archive of individual WW1 medical files was no longer required by Govt. I was told that it was offered to the IWM, but as the amount weighed 45 tons or more, they simply couldn't give it house room at that time. So the collection was destroyed, after a sample was taken. However, in the mid-1980s the sampling method was held up to us professionally-qualifying archivists as how NOT to do it. The files were in bin bags, and the samplers simply grabbed say one bag in ten or whatever, regardless of the contents. This meant that there were loads of, say, Irish officers but few Other Ranks; or lots of malaria cases but few of other conditions. It was a most unbalanced sample.

Historical problems also arose when the Depts. retrieved files and messed about with the contents. This led for example to the destruction of signals sent to the Lusitania on her final voyage (and seemingly the excising of items from the original police "Jack the Ripper" files). The samplers were also sometimes not well clued-up on historical value, so that Lenin's pre-WW1 British Police file was not recognised and fell victim to "weeding."

I remember being told categorically by a WFA Branch Chairman in the mid-1990s that the entire MIC collection had recently been destroyed because of some draconian Governmental decision; mercifully this didn't happen, but many other classes of record have been lost by official decision, which we would be grateful to have nowadays.

I'm glad the WFA have stepped forward and offered the facilities to take this archive on board: whatever arrangements they make for future access, with or without partners or payment, at least these records survive and we'll be able to read them in the future.

Clive

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mattgibbs

My father was always concerned about the delivery of archive material that has been paid for by the public purse, into private hands. I was brought up hearing about it during his own years of research in the pre internet age.

The information contains has already been paid for by the public purse and he had a great deal of difficulty in writing his books and articles being able to subsequently justify the costs involved when dealing with these records, formerly in the hands of public archives where he could get information for free, much more commonly now requiring a search fee.

Rather cynically now, with him in his advancing years, when seeing the term 'value' applied to them he and I do wonder about use of the word and its meaning, value in terms of the information, or value in terms of the burgeoining interest in family history and the profit that it can generate.

I almost feel sorry for TNA and its role, its almost in a can't win situation. It surely has to justify its costs at some point, yet there will always be a section of people who wonder why this or that wasn't kept. I wonder what its budget would have to be if it didn't ditch those 9 shelf miles per year of documentation, and how happy people would be at the amount their taxes increased to keep it.

Am I right in thinking that in recent weeks or months a complete set of copied MIC cards [several millions of them] was offered on ebay for sale? That must have taken some work in itself!

Well done to the WFA for saving these, it will be interesting to see how access to them is handled. My gt gt grandfather will be in there, severe lung troubles post WW1 meant he had to attend examinations regularly and he died prematurely in 1940.

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Terry_Reeves

Clive

The records you refer to are those in PIN 26 of which around 9,000 were kept and deposited at the then PRO in 1974. They contain similar information to that which appears on the record cards that are in the possession of the WFA.

TR

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clive_hughes

Thanks Terry!

Clive

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