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Remembered Today:

The old way of applying for WWI soldiers' papers


wilsonrail
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Does anyone remember applying for WWI soldiers' papers before they went to the National Archives? Can you remember how it went, and what you had to do? I'm doing an article and it was before my time. I think it started in the 1980s when you could apply to the MOD.

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Hi,

Sorry can't help re that MOD process but I obtained my gf and his brother in law (my gu) service records from HQ Coldstream Guards with a simple letter request in about 1999/2000.

No NOK or Data Protection Act forms to complete and the papers were provide free of charge.

Regards

Steve Y

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When searching through service papers you'll sometimes come across correspondence from family members to the MOD dating from the 1980's in which they ask for details of their relatives' military service, together with copies of the MOD's replies. The MOD didn't appear to send photocopies of the original documents, and opted instead to send a transcript of what they had managed to glean from a brief examination of the papers. If you have a look at some of the enquiries that are posted on this forum, you'll see that people often misread dates and can't decipher old handwriting or odd abbreviations. The replies that I've seen from the MOD were very much like that - a brief 'bullet-point' resume of the key facts (date of enlistment, regimental number, rank, promotion, transfers, etc) but glossing over the hard-to-read bits or difficult abbreviations. They seemed to skim through the papers looking for dates of events and they didn't provide verbatim transcripts of things like medical reports and the like.

I contacted two of the families whose addresses were still the same (it would have been about 10-12 years after their letters - I had to check in the phone book rather than online!), and they were very surprised at how much interesting detail had been omitted. I remember one of them being very annoyed and saying that they were thinking of writing to the MOD and asking for their money back. From memory, I think they had been charged about £30.

What are you writing, btw?

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Thank you both. It sounds a bit like the difference between applying for ww2 papers now, when you get the photocopies, and before when you got a written transcript. We re-applied for my father's ww2 papers recently and discovered a lot of information that had been missing from the transcript we'd had previously so it's well worth re-applying for ww2. I didn't know that you could come across the letters from the families applying for ww1. I'll have to have a look!

It's only a minor part of what I'm writing, and a bit soon to give details (I don't know them myself yet) but I'll let you know if I find anyone to publish it.

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Yes, a few years ago my mother applied for my father's WW2 RAF record, and a colour photocopy of it was supplied from RAF Innsworth.

No transcription, just the record

Free of charge to a surviving spouse, but £25 I think to other specified relatives.

I gather that the original WW1 records were destroyed after microfilming.

Any idea when they were filmed and when they were destroyed?

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I didn't know that you could come across the letters from the families applying for ww1. I'll have to have a look!

I remember 2 letters; one was in an officer's file (I remember the man's name very clearly), the other was in an O/R's file (therefore available online - trouble is I can remember a lot about him, he was a L/Cpl in the 15th Londons, from London, a clerk at the Board of Trade, had red hair, died in the 1960's, his name was..... unfortunately I can't quite remember his name, I'll need to go through my notes!). Davies, I think. I'll get back to you....

I gather that the original WW1 records were destroyed after microfilming.

Any idea when they were filmed and when they were destroyed?

I'm pretty sure they weren't destroyed. Filming started in the mid-90's, funded initially by the Mormons(!) on account of their interest in family trees (in turn, a result of their belief in retrospective baptism). Later funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Last I heard they were stored in an old aircraft shelter/air-raid shelter 'somewhere in England'.

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I'm pretty sure they weren't destroyed. Filming started in the mid-90's, funded initially by the Mormons(!) on account of their interest in family trees (in turn, a result of their belief in retrospective baptism). Later funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Last I heard they were stored in an old aircraft shelter/air-raid shelter 'somewhere in England'.

I didn't realise it was as recent as that. I assumed that it was done soon after WW2.

Thanks.

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I didn't realise it was as recent as that. I assumed that it was done soon after WW2.

Thanks.

Nah, you might be thinking of the RAF officers files (AIR 79) - they were rather crudely microfilmed during the late 70's and the originals were then destroyed. As a result of the rather poor-quality reproduction (probably state-of-the-art for the period), many entries on AIR 76 can be rather difficult to read. Similarly, the AIR 79 files (RAF O/R/'s service documents) were originally indexed by service-number using a nominal index on a series of index-cards. The cards were microfilmed at about the same time as the AIR 76 docs, and the quality of the filming was pretty atrocious in places to the point of being barely legible. Until the documents themselves were scanned a few years ago the microfilm index was the only way of tracing RAF serviceman's papers. Unfortunately, the microfilm index contained subsequent service-numbers for men who had served in the RAF again following WW1 and whose files are therefore missing from the AIR 79 series. Those references were only available on the microfilm, which I suspect is now only available at Kew - I suspect that most people now think that AIR 79 is a complete series, which isn't the case.

Edit: I'm slightly embarrassed that I know this sort of stuff... *sigh* :blush:

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Hi, I wanted my grandfather's WW1 era service record which my mother had to apply for as next of kin. The office we wrote to was in Hayes, Middlesex and there was no charge. Not the copies of pages but a summary of them in letter form which I still have. It was in 1983. John

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I'm not sure where the orignal burnt records are WO 363 is described as microfilm copies http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/browse/r/h/C14567.

As to AIR 79, additional records have been accessioend recently which takes the series up to the late 20s, all these are available via FindMyPast (a handful may still be closed if the date of birth is less than 100 years ago, and the person is not known to have died). AIR 79 is fully name indexed in the catalogue now, and will usually give a later number if applicable, the catalogue description will say "[name], see [service number]" or similar as I recall.

The index cards form AIR 78, http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C2132 the microfilm has all been imaged and be downloaded free under the Digital Microfilm project (there's no transcription been undertaken, so you have to work your way through it page by page, just as you would the microfilm).

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Wilson

If you would like to see an example of the documentation that a family had to produce and the hoops that needed to be jumped through in order to secure access to WW1 service papers then have a look at William Butterworth 8175 Yorks and Lancs.

Ancestry link here if you have a subscription:

http://search.ancestry.co.uk/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=BritishArmyService&h=289944&ti=5538&indiv=try&gss=pt&ssrc=pt_t13864050_p6141591_kpidz0q3d6141591z0q26pgz0q3d32768z0q26pgplz0q3dpid

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Thanks very much to all. It's filled in a couple of gaps for me, anyway. And the National Archives say they received the docs from 95 onwards for microfilming, so that ties in with the eg which was 1992. It all seems a long time ago, when microfilming was the cutting edge of the available technology!

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  • 3 months later...

Hi All

I think I have found where and how the originals of the burnt documents are stored by the National Archives. Unsurprisingly it seems to be in the deep store in Cheshire. As can be seen from this image from a 2010 Guardian article:

http://i.guim.co.uk/static/w-1225/h--/q-95/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2010/8/10/1281452586588/Salt-mine-to-be-used-as-d-006.jpg

The full article is here: http://www.theguardian.com/uk/gallery/2010/aug/10/cheshire-salt-mine-national-archive

The picture seems to show a selection of the original 33,000 boxes of files transferred from Hayes by MoD and they are in alphabetical order. What made the identification for me is that the box L0001 begins with Austin Laban, the same name as the first name on the microfilm WO363/L1 and also looking for slightly more unusual surnames from the side of the boxes such as Charles Reuben Kurtz whose service record can be found on Ancestry and Leonard Charles Labram (his record is also on Ancestry).

Each microfilm obviously carries records from a number of boxes (it is interesting that the numbering on the boxes, which I presume to be from later than the records time at the MoD, leaves out even numbers). It seems a reasonable conjecture that the boxes represent the way that the burnt records were stored at Hayes, having at some stage been put into alphabetical order. It would also fit in with the alphabetical misfile series in the original microfilms.

FOI requests to both the MoD and National Archives in the last few weeks have revealed that they have little on file about the transfer of the records (from the National Archives FOI their unreleased file on the transfer is 3/RAA WO 363) and an MoD request stated that they have nothing on file about the storage and conservation of the Burnt Records whilst they were in MoD custody.

Regards

Justin

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I remember applying for my Grandfather's papers in the late 1980s. One filled in a form and sent it to Hendon rings a bell, but it could have been Hayes. A fee of £20 was demanded which was a large sum then. I received a letter back (which I still have somewhere) saying that they couldn't find anything.

20 years later some casual browsing on Ancestry produced a full set of Grandfather's papers.

Should I ask for my money back?

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