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Deciphering War record - 16 th Rifle Brigade (?)

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At the moment i'm trying to research all my surviving relatives of WW1.  This relative in particular appeared to change battalions , and eventually became the cqms with the labour corps near the end of ww1  (that was the little information i had before researching/obtaining his record). I know he was pretty active but can't tell in what battles ect. The family have his medals, but not pictures or an understanding about what he went through as he spoke little of what happened. 


Herbert Mercer ( was very much beloved by my grandfather who passed away recently hence the research).

His regiment code appears as 3249 .


Any help would be greatly valued.

I find decoding war records exceptionally confusing. 





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Normally to make some sense of a service record I start with a timeline like that shown on his statement of service and then flesh it out with the detail in the rest of the record, amending items where it becomes clear there has been an error. Odd scraps of information can crop up all over the place - as margin notes and the like. Quite often the best source will be the Casualty Form - Active Service, but in this particular case I would expect there to be one for his earlier overseas service as well.


The Statement of Service tells us he was with 3rd Battalion Rifle Brigade as a Corporal at the start of the war, ("promoted 14-5-14").


His Medal Index Card (MiC) shows he first entered a Theatre of War, (i.e. France), on the 10th September 1914 and so qualified for the 1914 Star. MiCs can be seen on Ancestry with even the most simplest free account, or previewed in a watermarked version on the National Archive Discovery website. MiC's are literally that - a simple card created by record clerks in 1919 to keep track of the issue of service medals, and are not worth paying the £3.50 charge the National Archive have to download.


Our parent site has this to say about the 3rd Battalion Rifle Brigade at the start of the Great War.


3rd Battalion
August 1914 : at Cork. Under command of 17th Brigade in 6th Division. Moved to Cambridge but quickly on to Newmarket.
12 September 1914 : landed at St Nazaire.
14 October 1915 : transferred with Brigade to 24th Division



So looks very much like he went overseas with his unit.


Moving on to the 6th Division the Long, Long Trail adds

On the 10 September 1914 it landed at St Nazaire and proceeded to the Western Front, where it remained throughout the war. The Division arrived in time to reinforce the hard-pressed BEF on the Aisne, before the whole army was moved north into Flanders:


The actions on the Aisne heights
The Battle of Armentières


The action at Hooge



The book "A Short History of the Sixth Division" can be downloaded for free from here



He was still with the 3rd Battalion when he was appointed Temporary Sergeant (19-2-15) and then formally appointed Sergeant on the 20-3-1915.


At some point after that he was either wounded, fell ill or had an accident and was medically evacuated back to the UK. Soldiers didn’t routinely switch between battalions in wartime, so that the fact that he was posted to the strength of the Depot on the 3rd April 1916, can usually be taken as a sign that he was back in the UK. Note this doesn’t automatically mean he was physically at the Depot. It could simply mean he had been officially taken off the establishment of the 3rd Battalion, (i.e the number of men it could draw supplies for) and so was posted to the Depot for pay, administration and discipline puposes. That date could be the day he arrived in the UK or the day he was declared fit or anywhere inbetween.


What we do know from the Statement of Service is that he was posted to the 5th Battalion on the 5th September 1916.


5th (Reserve) Battalion
August 1914 : at Winchester. A depot/training unit, it moved on mobilisation to Minster (Sheppey) where it remained as part of Thames & Medway Garrison.



So this is most likely when he had recovered.


On the 11th November 1916 he embarked in the UK , landing the next day at Le Havre and marching into the 44 Infantry Base Depot. The same day he was posted to the 16th Battalion, Rifle Brigade, joining up with his unit in the Field on the 16th November 1916. H seems to have been with them, bar UK leave and a period in hospital with either an infected or inflamed Larynx, until the 1st June 1918.


16th (Service) Battalion (St Pancras)
Formed in the Borough of St. Pancras on 2 April 1915 by the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee.
August 1915 : moved to Hursley Park and came under orders of 117th Brigade in 39th Division. Moved to Aldershot in November 1915 and on to Witley in same month.
8 March 1916 : landed at Le Havre.
16 May 1918 : reduced to cadre.



The LLT has this to say about the actions that the 39th Division were involved in during his time with it.



The Battle of the Ancre heights* including the capture of Schwaben Reddoubt and Stuff Trench
The Battle of the Ancre*
* the battles marked * are phases of the Battles of the Somme 1916


The Battle of Pilkem Ridge**
The Battle of Langemarck**
The Battle of the Menin Road Ridge**
The Battle of Polygon Wood**
The Second Battle of Passchendaele**
** the battles marked ** are phases of the Third Battles of Ypres 1917


The Battle of St Quentin***
The actions at the Somme crossings***
The Battle of Bapaume***
The Battle of Rosieres***
*** the battles marked *** are phases of the First Battles of the Somme 1918
The fighting on Wytschaete Ridge++
The First Battle of Kemmel++
The Second Battle of Kemmel++
The Battle of the Scherpenberg++
++ the battles marked ++ are phases of the Battles of the Lys

After suffering heavy losses during the Battles of the Lys a decision was taken to reduce the Division down to a cadre. This took place by 1 June.



You will find a search of the Forum or a wider google search will generate a lot of information about those battles.


If you have paying access to Ancestry then you should be able to see the War Diaries for the 3rd and 16th Battalions for the periods he served with them. Otherwise thay are available from the National Archive for a fee. Other ranks are seldom mentioned by name – as a senior NCO there is a slightly higher chance you’ll find reference to him.


3rd Battalion for the period 1st August 1914 to 31st October 1915 is here:-


1st November 1915 to 31st March 1917 is here:-



16th Battalion for the period 1st March 1916 to June 1919 is here:-



I would normally recommend going for the Brigade War Diaries as they include a copy of all the sub-units War Diaries for each month and are typed up – Battalion ones are normally hand-written and so can be difficult to decipher. The Brigade ones quite often have the appendices and maps that have gone “walkies” from the Battalion copy. However the consequence is the periods for the downloadable chunks for the Brigade War Diary are much shorter, often no more than three months, so it can get expensive.

BTW – if you are in the UK, most public library services offer free access to Ancestry onsite, some have FindMyPast, and some have both. They also usually have access to the British Newspaper Archive, which might be a way to track possible newspaper reports of his Army career.


Hope some of that helps,



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Thank you very much. That helped a lot.  As far as my family know he was never seriously wounded . I did find his medical record ( very hard to read what he was in for) sounds likes just before the war ended he was deemed debilitated or something close to that word, they mention furlough. The last part of his sheet states he was in the labour corp before officially signing off. 


Again thank you so much for your help ! 


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Enlisted 1/1/1909 at 18 years 1 month old, Baker from Eastbourne.

He went to 19th Labour Company as number 575289 on 16/6/18. Then onto the Chinese Labour Corps, 152 Coy, as CQMS 17/8/18 then to 10 Coy, C.L.C. 23/8/18.

Was placed in hospital at Rouen 15/10/18 suffering with debility then sent to hospital in the UK on 27/10/18 ending up in hospital in Leicester until 11/12/18.

Unknown the reason for his first trip back to the UK on 2/4/16 from the 3rd to the depot, being posted to the 5th, on the Isle of Sheppey, 5/9/16 until he was sent overseas to the 16th RB on 12/11/16 by which time he had been promoted to C.Q.M.S. on 14/7/16.

He was placed into Army B Reserve on 26/2/19, and finally discharged on 31/12/20.

No mention in any re-enlistment book.



Edited by stiletto_33853

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