Jump to content
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

War Office staff expected Arnside records to be evacuated to Wales


Justinth
 Share

Recommended Posts

Some new information on the Arnside War Office store:

24 July 1940:

‘Mr. C. Fountain, War Office (R.Records) called today [at the PRO]…As the R.Records branch is expecting to be evacuated to Wales very shortly, it was hoped that by making this preliminary enquiry, the possible transfer to P.R.O. could be expedited.’

From War Office Proposed Transfer of Miscellaneous Papers, 1940. National Archives (TNA), PRO 1/378

The staff and records in the custody of the Arnside Record Office (R.Records) were scheduled (or so the official believed) for evacuation from London. If this had taken place (it is not noted when the proposed move would take place) the WW1 Army service records might have survived as a more or less complete set.

In the same file the Deputy Keeper of the PRO (now the National Archives), wrote in response to a War Office letter about the fire ‘I am bound to add that whenever I visited Arnside Street I pointed out the danger of fire. That, however, in no way lessens my sympathy with you, and also with Nelson [J.R. Nelson M.B.E, effectively head of R.Records 1923- 1939] who looked after your archives for many years with skill and devotion.’ The PRO letter is dated 29 October 1940. A War Office official in a letter dated 25 October 1940 also included in the file estimates that of all the material stored at Arnside that ‘of some 1,400 tons of documents only approximately 300 tons will be saved.’

Background to R. (Records) 1922-1940

It is also possible via the ‘War Office List and Administrative Directory’ from 1922 to 1940 to track the development and transfers of records to what was to become the Arnside Office.

As has been correctly identified elsewhere on the Great War Forum, the original home for R. (Records) (which was based at Arnside in 1940) was at the Percy Schools, Isleworth (often called the Disposal of Records section in the early 1920s in addition to R.Records), see link to discussion about and letter from Isleworth on a service file here:

 

The War Office List first mentions this section in 1922 and other evidence from newspapers such as the Western Morning News and Mercury, for Wednesday September 27, 1922 shows how Isleworth became the new home for the WW1 Service and other older records:

‘War Volunteer Force Records

The records referring to the Volunteer Force which was raised during the late war have been transferred from the Infantry Record Office, Hounslow, to the Disposal of Records branch of the War-office, Percy House Schools, Isleworth, Middlesex, where correspondence regarding them should be sent.’

Similarly for the Corps such as the M.G.C. and Labour Corps which were disbanded in the years before 1922 newspapers provide further evidence for transfer of service files from the record offices to Isleworth:

‘It is announced by the War Office that the Labour Corps Record Office at Nottingham will be closed down on October 1. All documents and records will be transferred to the disposal of Records Branch of the War Office, Percy House Schools, Isleworth, Middlesex.’ The Evening News, Tuesday, September 19; 1922.

Apart from efficiencies to be gained from the centralization of such a large body of records and space saving in the records offices, the need to save money and manpower to meet the requirements of post WW1 austerity is apparent from this answer to a Parliamentary question from 1925, with one way to do this the amalgamation of record and pay offices http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1925/mar/04/royal-army-service-corps-clerks-pay#S5CV0181P0_19250304_HOC_273

To understand the functions of the R (Records) branch of the War Office it is best to start by looking at its functions as listed briefly in 1922:

‘Disposal of documents, &c., that have accrued since July 1914 in Units, Formations, &c., of the British Army, both at home and abroad.

All correspondence and enquiries relating to or arising out of such documents sent to the War Office for retention. Duplication of War Diaries. Questions regarding the disposal of War Office documents, except registered files.

All questions affecting Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps.’

By 1923 we can see the impact beginning of the WW1 and earlier records coming in from the Army Record Offices. The entry is as above with the last sentence changed to:

‘All questions affecting Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps, Labour Corps and Machine Gun Corps.’

Plus the addition of the sentence ‘All inquiries in connection with casualties of the Great War.’

In 1924 the following sentences are added to the description:

‘All inquiries relating to South African Irregular Forces, Prisoner of War Information Bureau, Irish Command Office, G.H.Q. British Forces in Turkey, and casualties of the Great War.

Custody of original Army Forms B. 199A (Record of Service of Officers) when no longer maintained.

Confidential Reports and Records of Service of non-regular Officers, with the exception of Officers of the Territorial Army.’

1925 adds the note to the last sentence above that ‘also officers who served in past centuries [Enquiries relating to serving officers should be referred to the M.S. branch concerned.)

1926 adds the ‘Women’s Forage Corps’ to the list of disbanded corps, but more crucially also notes that:

‘Miscellaneous Records (e.g. enquiries respecting old maps and plans, location of units, casualties, formation and disbandment of regiments), including all enquiries that necessitate reference to the Public Record Office, and also enquiries regarding soldiers who have been non-effective for 15 years or more.’

So the R. (Records) section was now advertising its responsibility for soldiers’ records before 1911. In 1927 it now takes full responsibility for:

‘All enquiries regarding soldiers who became non-effective prior to the introduction of Army Numbers (8th August, 1920).’

1928 adds ‘Enquiries regarding dates of soldiers’ marriages and dates of birth of soldiers’ children’ and the Corps of Military Accountants to the disbanded Corp list.

In 1929 the following Corp are added: Almeric Paget Massage Corps, British West Indies Regiment, West Indian Regiment and Anglo-Indian Force’. Plus ‘Replies to applications for addresses of non-effective officers and nurses’.

1930 defines when R. (Records) ceases to be responsible for casualty enquiries:

‘Enquiries relating to officers which occurred on or after 11th November, 1920, are dealt with by A.G.4 ( c) (see page 100); enquiries relating to casualties to soldiers which occurred on or after 8th August, 1920 are dealt with by Record Offices.’

The British Army of the Rhine’s records were also with R. (Records) from 1930.

By 1930 the selection of records that would by 1936 be located at Arnside (for newspapers mentioning the Arnside Record Office in 1936 and 1938 see

had been assembled (with the exception of the Slavo-British Legion, added in 1938 and some papers deposited between 1938 to 1940). The full list of papers destroyed in 1940, including some from WW2 can be found here http://tinyurl.com/no4qo5s

Links to my transcription of the full 1939 War Office List entry, including staff and functions are in the following post:

 

From 1927 onwards the War Office List stopped giving the address of R. (Records). However it is mentioned in the Stonyhurst War Record, published 1927 http://tinyurl.com/njwhcyu

and I have found the following mention of R (Records) still being based at Isleworth in 1932 here: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=u6gMAQAAIAAJ&q=isleworth+records+disposal&dq=isleworth+records+disposal&hl=en&sa=X&ei=D9imVJ_SG8LP7QaLmICYDg&ved=0CCwQ6AEwATgK

The mention is in the Air Estimates for 1933 (published 1932), but annoyingly can only be seen in snippet view. The date for the transfer between Isleworth and Arnside needs to be narrowed down, 1932 also clashes with the chronology given for the Isleworth site in general here http://ezitis.myzen.co.uk/percyhouse.html

Regards

Justin

My analysis of how changes in King’s Regulations reflect the submission of all WW1 (plus surviving older) service records to the War Office can be found here:

 

Reference to some hutted accommodation at Arnside here:

 

Two Links to lists of Regional Record Offices during WW1 can be found here:

Shorter

A handy list I found from a 1918 book 'War Pensions and Allowances' by J.M. Hogge, M.P. and T.H. Garside (Hodder and Stoughton) showing the Army Regional Record Offices in 1918 and the groups of regiments which they served (the description does not include the No given to particular offices). I have extracted the relevant pages which can be downloaded here: - https://drive.google...iew?usp=sharing

The full book can be found here: https://archive.org/...sallow00hoggric

A longer version including letter codes from themonsstar can be found here: - http://www.militarian.com/threads/silver-war-badge-swb.6525/

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Justin,

Thanks for sharing your detailed look at the history of Arnside's contents. Agreed, a great pity they didn't move the collections; probably it wasn't seen as a priority in wartime Britain.

Clive

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks Clive. I agree particularly considering the awful nature of the raids of the 7th/8th September 1940 on some parts of London of which Arnside was just one casualty. Still a shame for history though.

Justin

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Makes me realize even more now all that was lost when it was hit. Very sad indeed but as stated probably not a high priority in those dark days.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Admin

Justin

thank you again for some fine detective work.

An interesting comment by the Deputy Keeper about the dangers of fire considering what happened to the 1931 Census two years later in nearby Hayes.

http://www.1901census.com/1931-census/

http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://yourarchives.nationalarchives.gov.uk/index.php?title=1931_Census

Glen

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Glen

Thanks for the links. I knew that the 1931 Census had been lost in strange circumstances but the links and the letter makes it clear just how 'dodgy' the circumstances were.

I was thinking last night how important fire is in forming some of the limits of family history, with aside from the Arnside Fire and its impact the main other example from the British Isles of where fire has changed the way we research our ancestors (if you have any Irish ancestors) being the destruction of Irish PRO at the Four Courts in Dublin in 1922 (although some of the Irish Census returns had incredibly already been pulped).

First World War research has something in common with Irish family history research for the 19th Century, using substitutes/partial records and other contextual records to try and build a picture for the men whose records have been lost. The loss has helped force everyone here to become more of a historical detective than they would otherwise might have been, which in itself is not a bad thing, although I think none of us wouldn't change what happened to the Arnside records if we could.

Regards

Justin

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just to add that there was a branch of the Local Defence Volunteers (later Home Guard) based at Arnside, a civil servant called Frank Bryant's certificate of enrolment (he worked in R. Records) dated 22nd June is shown on p. 9 of David Carroll (1999) The Home Guard, Sutton: London. The caption under the picture says that alongside other colleagues who were in the LDV that his duties included coming out with his rifle 'whenever the siren' sounded to help guard the 'building and its valuable contents'.

Elsewhere in the same book Mr Bryant is shown in a picture from 1941 of his Cheltenham Home Guard Unit (p. 42) where he had been evacuated to with the War Office. The following make sense of Mr C. Fountain's comment about evacuation to Wales, revealing the scheme for evacuating the War Office to locations outside London (including Cheltenham, possibly where the remains of R (Records) ended up):

http://burlingtonandbeyond.co.uk/wp/part-1/

http://www.airfieldinformationexchange.org/community/showthread.php?6911-FIRST-amp-SECOND-WORLD-WAR-A-Short-History-of-the-War-Office-Pre-WWI-to-WWII

I looked to see if it was possible to find a contact email or address for David Carroll and any other obvious mentions of Mr Bryant, without success. What a shame the GWF or similar wasn't around in 1999 as it might have been possible to contact Mr Bryant and see what he remembered about the organisation of Arnside. If he is alive now Mr Bryant would be in his 90s.

Regards

Justin

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

I know that the Royal Engineers' record office was evacuated from Chatham to Halifax (or thereabouts) at some point during the war, though the source I have (the obit of someone who worked there after a long career in the RE band covering the First World War) doesn't state when the move took place, only that it came back to Chatham in 1947 - so I don't know if it was a reaction to the destruction of Arnside Street.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I believe I have posted on this in the past but there was a bit of a rush of gentry volunteering the use of their stately homes in order to house and protect the country's records. Probably because the government were requisitioning property to turn into hospitals and other uses and these folks didn't want their palatial property drastically changed or trashed. I believe there is a file on this at TNA.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

Hi All

Following research at the London Metropolitan Archives I can reveal a little more about the Arnside Record Office via looking at an entry in file ‘LCC/FB/WAR/02/005 ‘Original reports on incidents due to enemy action’. The following is taken from my transcription, the original can be found in the LMA.

An entry in this file on a ‘Report of Air Raid Occurrence’ from station 82, in F District reveals that the London Fire Brigade were called out at 01.25 in the early morning of 8th September 1940 and that the Arnside warehouse was one of a series of buildings burning due to incendiaries in that area of the Walworth Road (Arnside Street is next to the Walworth Road). Presumably Arnside had its own firewatchers as well as the LDV mentioned below but they were not successful in dealing with the incendiary/incendiaries which hit the building as part of the first big raids by the Luftwaffe on London. Arnside is described as being a single floor building estimated to be ‘200 x 130 feet’, with the contents subject to ‘severe’ damage from the fire. The building is said to have collapsed. When this happened is not specified, but depending on the way the building collapsed (roof/walls etc.) it would have had an impact on the fire and the survival of the records. It is also not mentioned how internally the building was divided, that is whether it was divided by internal walls or the exact method by which the documents were stored. One possibility would be in boxes as with the Guards’ records, but how they were stacked/shelved is not known (beyond the fact that there were clearly arranged by regiment or corps, surviving records are either referred to by numbers of documents or weight in tonnes). We also have no idea of the construction/materials used in the roof and walls of the building, which would have had an impact on the way it burned. The water and fire damage to many of the records presumably indicates that the records were retrieved post raid from the rubble of the collapsed building.

The description from the LMA file fits in with the 1938 map available here (Click on the link and then click on the button on the right hand side of the screen that says 1938):

http://maps.southwark.gov.uk/connect/southwark.jsp?mapcfg=Historical_Selection&x=532518&y=177977&z=10

The LMA file fails to mention the huts in the square presumably installed at the start of WW2 mentioned in relation to the destruction of Boer War records here:

 

Regards

Justin

Earlier Posts on Arnside and the Arnside Fire

Expected move to Wales, comments from the PRO on destruction after Arnside Fire and background to R. (Records) at Arnside:

 

Frank Bryant LDV and member of R. (Records) at Arnside, plus dispersal of War Office to Locations outside London (R. (Records) possibly ended up in Cheltenham):

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 year later...

Justin

thank you again for some fine detective work.

An interesting comment by the Deputy Keeper about the dangers of fire considering what happened to the 1931 Census two years later in nearby Hayes.

http://www.1901census.com/1931-census/

http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://yourarchives.nationalarchives.gov.uk/index.php?title=1931_Census

Glen

The folk who run the "1901 census" page are wrong.

The 1931 census for Scotland survived, it was stored in Ednburgh.

Oddly the national archives bit also fails to explain it was the England & Wales census, and not all of the UK data destroyed.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...