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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Alias names in the war


W.J.Caughey

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I am a bit intrigued with Alias names at moment, example would be John Canavan also served under the alias GREEN, John (187492, Royal Field Artillery) and died whilst serving under the alias GAVIN, John (309926, Royal Air Force).

Some were not found out until they died or those who survived received there medals with wrong name and had them returned for correction.

Not looking for reason why one conceal their identity, but can't understand how an alias would received there mail, etc

Was it a terrible offence in the military to give a false name, what would happen if found out while serving? or did the military authority just ignore it?

Any thoughts or source would be appreciated.

Walter

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When they attested they swore an oath that the information they had given was true. Perhaps it was better stick with it, same probably applied to underagers.

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Hello Walter

It was not particularly rare to enlist under an alias. Usually the reasons were being under age; not wanting families to know (especially among some religious or cultural groups); apprentices without their masters' permission; those who had served before but been discharged for misconduct; and those escaping the clutches of the law.

Technically it was an offence under the Army Act ("giving a false ansdwer on attestation"), as johnboy points out, but it was not usual to prosecute for it. The alias became the man's "Army name" and there was even provision in King's Regulations on the procedure for a man to declare his real identity and have his enlistment papers annotated accordingly.

Ron

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It can also be interesting to figure out why and how they chose the false name that they did. My own grandfather did this when he served in the Royal Marines around the turn of the century. We know why - he did not get on with his stepfather and left home - but the name he gave has no family connection, was not a neighbour's name, and we can't see any other connection. Just randomly out of the blue. Grandad had previously served in the Militia and later served in the RFA, both under his own name. When he attested for the RFA he answered 'no' to 'do you have any previous military experience'.

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Not that unusual to use a other name at this period for all sorts of reasons ,have seen this a fair bit in East London ,known as one name north of the river then use a diffrent one south of the river ,joining up under not your birth name would just be part of the game so to speak ,reasons have seen is ,so its difficult for debt to chase you around , then the women , jewish people having a non jewish name i have a 1914,1915 trio 18th London to a Jewish lad who joins up with a alias ,it seems to be one of the things that people did back then that now seems odd.

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Some men who had a name that might be perceived as German sounding might use an alias, similarly names that "sounded funny" and could be used by one's fellow soldiers to poke fun might be avoided. Some men enlisted pre war to make a complete break with a less than happy past and taking a new identity was part of this. There have been a number of previous threads on this subject and the different reasons are both numerous and varied.

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My Great Uncle Harry served using his mother's madien name as an alias. Not a great deal of thought going into that one. Wasn't even a case of trying to hide his identity, more of a statement to his detractors. Family story has it that he endured some grief from his peers because his parents (my Great Grand Parents) weren't married when he was born. They just about managed it when his younger brother (my Grandfather) was born, getting wed 2-3 months before he arrived.

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Some men who had a name that might be perceived as German sounding might use an alias, similarly names that "sounded funny" and could be used by one's fellow soldiers to poke fun might be avoided. Some men enlisted pre war to make a complete break with a less than happy past and taking a new identity was part of this. There have been a number of previous threads on this subject and the different reasons are both numerous and varied.

My first post on here, so apologies if I am stating the obvious, but the quoted comment, tied in with the previous one, will have happened a lot of the time. Most British Jewish families originated from Central Europe & therefore had Central European (in wartime read 'German') sounding names. Life will have been difficult enough for civilians back in Britain with German or middle European names - how much more so under tensions of the trenches? Similarly, it should not be forgotten that anti-semitism was around at the time & life will have been far easier for Mr Cohen, when he enlisted, to use the name Clarke, or his neighbour Mr Bernstein to sign up as Mr Burns.
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Thank you for interesting story's and links, the soldier i am interested in, the few service papers, he enlisted August 1914 for 68 days and was discharged (not known why) and then enlisted

with another regiment, and went overseas after 31/12/1915 (Mic), Died of wounds 1917, no family inscription on CWGC headstone and no additional info on CWGC added by family.

Family placed an obit in newspaper with his correct surname no mention of Alias name.

Like Chris states interesting trying to figure out, i assume family got informed of his death, and assumed it was in Alias name, also BWM and VM medals would have been in Alias name.

Sorry seeming a bit secretive, don't wish to name on open forum at moment, but if anyone is interested in looking at what i have, PM me with email address and will send info, for i can't decide to try and get his true name added (if poss) or let matters rest!

Steve, i did try using alias before you posted and no luck and trying what you suggestion worked fine, it also give me the idea of inserting "served as" in additional info and this

give me 3,867 WW1 Alias names, so thanks for that.

Ps had just written this reply when your post came up Lawsyd, welcome to the forum.

Walter

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There were a few Jewish battallions eg 38th RF 39th RF 40th RF

41 &42 Reserve battallions RF 38th - 42nd Labour Battallions.

A quick glance at 38th RF casualties shows 34 from 52 who appeared to have kept their real names. The other 18 may have as well because they did not sound foreign.

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Something we have also come across many times is not so much an alias but stepsons using birth names or alternatively using their "new" surnames or mothers maiden name and often there is no indication that this may have happened. Sometimes we have drawn a blank but we now always check marriage records to see if there has been a name change in the family. It does work better with WW2 stuff as this will invariably have a mother's name after 1912, but it is always worth checking

Regards Steve

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In going through the CEF database I've come across a number of men serving under aliases, however there is no way of searching the database for them (with the exception of two names); however, when I have finished compiling my lists I should be able to provide a rough estimate using other methods.

Several years ago this interesting case was discussed here:

 

 

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Thanks everyone for links and advice, very interesting and useful.

Walter

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Well this was with the old database, which evidently has been removed during the last day or so. With the new set up it is possible to search for aliases / spelling variations by using either "AKA" or "SEE" in the Given Names field (another 24 by using AKA in the Surname field).

http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first-world-war/first-world-war-1914-1918-cef/Pages/search.aspx

On 13/03/2014 at 21:25, Ken S. said:

In going through the CEF database I've come across a number of men serving under aliases, however there is no way of searching the database for them (with the exception of two names); however, when I have finished compiling my lists I should be able to provide a rough estimate using other methods.

Several years ago this interesting case was discussed here:

 

 

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  • 1 month later...

My great uncle enlisted with an alias of sorts. He was S/10445 Rifleman Alexander Arthur John Evans but enlisted under the name John Alexander Evans, of which there are dozens! He seemed to have vanished after the 1911 census and I wondered if he had enlisted so searched for service records and had almost come to the conclusion that there had been none or they had been destroyed but decided to search on in case there was an error. I did a search just on the surname (Evans), year of birth +/- 2, and place of birth and then went through the results and there was a John Alexander, approximate right DOB and the right place of birth and on reading the record I saw that he had named his father at the family address as NOK. The Alexander part of his signature matched a postcard (of the Rifle Brigade sent from Queenborough) I found in my grandfather's possessions and there was also a photo of a very young man wearing a Rifle Brigade cap badge (identified with help from here) and it all started to fall into place. I was able to match the photo with another taken with his brother prior to the war. He claimed when he enlisted that he was a year older than he actually was (he was 18) and the address he was living at was just 5 minutes walk away from the family home. I don't know why he changed his name or why he had left home as all his siblings (he was one of 13) remained at home until marriage. I wonder if there was a rift, an offence of some sort or maybe a girl. I'll never know.

Anyway, the records showed he was KIA on the first day of the battle of Flers-Courcelette. He was 19. The 9th Btn RB war diaries are thin with no useful information so I thought I'd take a look at the diaries of other battalions in the same battle and thankfully the officer of the 9th Btn KRRC which was in the line behind the 9th btn RB saw all that happened and wrote a brilliant diary of the advance and objectives and he even spoke with the OC of the 9th Btn RB before their fateful final advance. A German machine gun post killed all but one of the RB officers and most of the battalion. The officer from the KRRC took command of the remainder of the 9th Btn RB. The form that is sent to the NOK address of those KIA had been filled out with the names of his parents and all his siblings and even mentioned his twin brother so there was plenty of evidence it was him.

He was buried on the battlefield initially (map ref was kept by the CWGC) and later buried at Combles. Infuriatingly his death certificate also has the incorrect name and like most of those killed overseas has no information other than the (wrong) date of death and the country. His death date was logged incorrectly on his service records as 13th instead of 15th, an understandable error due probably to poor writing but as he was buried on the battlefield there's no doubt he died the 15th September 1916. After collecting the evidence I convinced the CWGC to correct his date of death and add his parent's names to his record. It makes me happy that he's now someone's son and not just a name on a headstone.

So, in my case a 'happy' ending but so many never knew what happened to their relatives if they used an alias and the answer for many is perhaps there in records under another name. So sad.

Sorry, as ever I waffled on :glare:

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I read a book "KILTY McCOY" by an American who served in British Army in WW1. Real name was Van Putten, Dutch ancestry but was told by recruting Sgt it was too German. The Sgt suggested Patrick Terrence McCoy & he took it. Joined Scottish Rifles but went over to France to Royal Scots. Was WIA at Arras, lost use of an arm, recd BWM & VICTY & SWB. Came home to US & wrote book. Has photo of letter from CO of his Battn, can't recall 11th or 16th RS. His MIC is under his alias as is his passport to sail home with a pic of him in unform. He was from Michigan. Oddly, NO pension papers could be found for him when searched yrs ago, Haven't tried since then. But a real alias & reason for it too.

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loader

and of course The King also served under the alias of Windsor and his cousin Mountbatten for the same reasons as McCoy. :hypocrite:

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  • 5 years later...

Old thread I know. But witnessed in war diaries,(Only With Honour") September 1914, Private Abraham Beverstein of East London joined the army using the name(alias) Abraham Harris. He had not told his parents until afterwards, he was afraid they would have stopped him, he was 18 years old, there only son. From his training camp he wrote home "I was very sorry to leave you and very sorry to see you cry, but never mind, I will come back some day, so be happy at home. From your loving son Aby."(*the wartime memories project - the great war website)

Witnessed by William Hannay Fothergill, 20/03/1916 the execution of Aby G/1799 11th Middlesex regt... along with 21161 Harry Martin 9th Essex regt. Desertion. Labourse communal cemetery. 

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On 15/05/2014 at 18:20, bill24chev said:

loader

and of course The King also served under the alias of Windsor and his cousin Mountbatten for the same reasons as McCoy. :hypocrite:

And another cousin served as Billy Hohenzollern.

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 Dai Bach I have just noticed Maggie Simmons has opened in the last few hour under Soldiers And Their Units (enlisting under false name).

Hohenzollern! I would imagine people would (re)"doubt" that .

Cheers

Dave D

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