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Remembered Today:

Help Needed to identify a soldier


ID Walker
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Good afternoon, I'm writing from New York and was hoping for some input from this group if possible. I am a member of a research organization, with a partner in Germany, that returns items found in Europe from WWI and WWII, to their families if possible. These items generally consist of dog tags, bracelets, knives, and anything else that can be traced. Most of our project are from WWII but we do on occasion receive items from the first war. We have returned 54 items since June 2020 with many more projects ongoing. We have a high success rate of return, currently over 90%.
 
Recently, we were contacted by someone who found an ID tag of sorts bearing the text, "A. Dickson F BTY RHA Londonderry". We are trying to determine the prospects of identifying Mr. Dickson further based on the limited information and there is no service no. etc.
If anyone might have any input, we'd greatly appreciate it. We are limited in what we can research or access outside of the USA but are happy and eager to look into this project. We likely will need research assistance to complete this project and return it to any family, if possible.
 
Thank you!
Iain Walker

Tag.JPG

Edited by ID Walker
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  • ID Walker changed the title to Help Needed to identify a soldier

I can tell you that the stencilling is of the type made via the hammer and alphanumeric punch set issued to every cavalry squadron, infantry company, and artillery battery.  They were intended for marking kit and equipment such as mess tins, knives forks and spoons, etc.  They could also be used to make key fobs or labels, as in this case.  The holes in each corner are commensurate with nails used to secure the label to a wooden object such as a soldier’s foot locker, although there are a variety of other possibilities.

F (Sphinx) Battery RHA

The unit was raised in India in 1800 as an experimental Brigade of Bengal Horse Artillery, part of the army of the East India Company. 
As one of the consequences of the Indian Mutiny, the regiments of the HEIC were transferred to the Crown and in 1861 the Troop was designated A Battery, B Brigade.

World War One

At some point at the beginning of the 20th century the Battery was designated F Battery RHA. In WW1 they were part of 14th Brigade RHA which in turn was part of 7th Divisional Artillery. During Oct 1914 they were engaged in the Battle of Ypres. On 23 Oct they were in action about 600 yards behind the line held by the Grenadier Guards just west of Kruiseik. They sent a section forward in close support which dealt most effectively with some enemy machine guns. Two days later a single gun was run forward close up to the trenches of the Gordon Highlanders and was of great assistance to the infantry. On 26 Oct when the fighting became more intense they withdrew but continued to inflict heavy losses on the advancing Germans. At the crisis of the battle on 31 Oct the battery at first assisted a French attack but were compelled to withdraw to Sanctuary Wood. leaving a section on Hill 60. The battery was also in action at Loos, The Somme, Arras and Cambrai. From the Western Front they were posted to Italy.

N.B. In 1999 F (Sphinx) Battery were part of the newly formed 16 Air Assault Brigade. In 2003 they had the distinction of firing the first shots of any coalition troops in the ground campaign in Iraq. When they were posted to Afghanistan in June 2006, Captain Jim Philippson became the first British soldier to be killed in Helmand Province. Not long after that Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson had the unfortunate distinction of being one of the most seriously injured British soldiers to survive the fighting there.

The honour title Sphinx was awarded to the Battery on 18th October 1926 for services in the 1801 campaign against Napoleon's Army in Egypt.

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Edited by FROGSMILE
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Thank you very much for this detailed information.  It’s very helpful as we continue to research. 

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8 minutes ago, ID Walker said:

Thank you very much for this detailed information.  It’s very helpful as we continue to research. 

I realise that it only gives a little background information, but I hope that one of our residential genealogical detectives might be able to dig up some details about A. Dickson.   I don’t know when F Battery were based in Londonderry (in Northern Ireland), and am wondering if it might have been their station when war was declared in 1914.  Generally batteries changed stations periodically, usually after at least 10-years or so I think, although the interval changed over time.

N.B.  The photos are all of F Battery, but I am cognisant that several of them post date WW1 and include them just for visual interest.

Edited by FROGSMILE
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The only A Dickson RHA that I can find on medal rolls and MICs is an officer, : Lt-Maj A G Dickson (CWGC) and I'm trying to link him to F Bty.

 DICKSON.JPG.38faa302917cb1f2b9f9fcb2af6b24a1.JPG

Acknown

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14 minutes ago, Acknown said:

The only A Dickson RHA that I can find on medal rolls and MICs is an officer, : Lt-Maj A G Dickson (CWGC) and I'm trying to link him to F Bty.

 DICKSON.JPG.38faa302917cb1f2b9f9fcb2af6b24a1.JPG

Acknown

I suspect that’s him and that he was with F Battery prewar when they were presumably at Londonderry.  Finding out the date they were there via Army Lists will focus your search.  If he survived the war then I suppose it’s always possible they were at Londonderry post war.  The battery officers are listed in each year’s (Hart’s annual) Army List.

Edited by FROGSMILE
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4 hours ago, FROGSMILE said:

Finding out the date they were there via Army Lists will focus your search.

@ID Walker

Hi and a belated welcome to the forum.

F Battery was recorded at Ipswich, Suffolk, England at the start of 1911, according to Harts Annual Army List for that year.

The 1911 Census of England & Wales, taken at midnight on the 2nd April 1911, also records “F” Battery, Royal Horse Artillery at Ipswich. There is a multi-page institutional return for a barracks there, but no obvious Dickson.

Harts’ Annual Army List for 1913, (“correct to the 31st December 1912”), places F Battery at St Johns Wood, (London). They were still there on the 1914 Annual Army List. Both lists have no Dickson on the Officer establishment of the Battery.

I’m scratching my head wondering at the rational of adding Londonderry to such an identifier if it in use where F Battery is stationed – surely they would all be there.

Given that this is most likely a label to be attached to a trunk or personal locker, isn’t it more likely that Londonderry represents a destination for the trunk \ locker to be sent to, possibly on discharge, and therefore more relevant to the individual.

And unless he was an officer – and the finishing seems rather crude for an officer – then that might explain the lack of a service number. But if that’s the case then this could relate to pre-Great War, Great War, Inter War, WW2 – quite a large period. Unfortunately with the bulk of Great War era other ranks service records lost in WW2 when German bombs hit the London warehouse where they were being stored and the post 1921 records not yet available that does rather handicap the search. Similarly looking for an A.Dickson with some connection to Derry \ Londonderry is a bit of a needle in a haystack when so few of the genealogical records relating to Northern Ireland are available on mainstream sites - and thats if they have even survived.

I've tried a few searches of the Irish newspapers available via FindMyPast but other than a Colonel Dickson of the Londonderry Artillery who crops up in the 1850/1870 period, no other likely candidates.

Sorry I can't be more helpful, but unless one of the forum artillery experts like @David Porter can point you in the direction of RHA sources for Dickson I think there may be too little information on this item to make a positive identification.

Cheers,
Peter

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There is a Gnr. Dickson, A. date of disembarkation 15-6-15 (3) on the 1914/15 Star Rolls for RHA; discharged 25-8-19.

Does (3) indicate a theatre of war?

Regards,

JMB

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For what it’s worth I agree that the label is poorly made up for an officer and more likely for a soldier, although the punch sets were notoriously hard to keep steady as you struck out each letter and most examples of their usage tend to have uneven lettering.  A foot locker / trunk does seem a likely use and, as Peter says, the Londonderry destination would be more likely if a soldier was on his way there with his luggage in a ships hold, etc.  I too found the Ipswich location via Army Lists accessible online, but no date, so knowing now that they were there prewar perhaps suggests a later move  to Londonderry, where incidentally Ebrington Barracks (on the River Foyle) was an combined artillery and infantry station at the time.

Edited by FROGSMILE
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8 hours ago, JMB1943 said:

Does (3) indicate a theatre of war?

In June 1915 Theatre of War (3) would have been Egypt. However not unusual, particularly for men serving with one of the Corps, or subsequently transferred in prior to the Rolls being produced, for this code to be used when actually the first Theatre of War they served in was Gallipoli (2b). Their ship may well have docked at Alexandria on the way there - and they may well have been let off ship, (one draft I am interested in was sent on a march to get their land legs back) - but their unit was not officially on the strength of the force in Egypt at that time.https://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/soldiers/how-to-research-a-soldier/campaign-medal-records/how-to-interpret-a-campaign-medal-index-card/medal-roll-theatre-codes/

8 hours ago, JMB1943 said:

There is a Gnr. Dickson, A. date of disembarkation 15-6-15 (3) on the 1914/15 Star Rolls for RHA; discharged 25-8-19.

Sorry, can see the rolls - do you have a service number?. Only likely MiC I can see is for a Gunner T610403 Alfred C. Dickson, Royal Horse Artillery. However he only qualified for the Victory Medal and British War Medal, so did not serve in a Theatre of War until the start of 1916 at the very earliest. https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/D2622379

Not spotting any surviving service records for that man on FindMyPast. Card is blank as far is fate is concerned, but as there is no match for a "Dickson" and "610403" in the First World War records on CWGC it is to be hoped he survived. No obvious match in the casualty lists available via Newspapers & Periodicals on FindMyPast.

Cheers,
Peter

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F Battery RHA spent a long time in India during the Victorian era before going to Ipswich after the 2nd Boer War, and post WW1 spent a number of years in Egypt, before returning to Britain at St John’s Wood in the mid 1920s.  It seems to leave very narrow windows of opportunity (although I think that they must be there) for a period stationed in Londonderry.  It’s all rather intriguing in the sense of searching for that slot in time.
When marking up freight (usually various sized boxes) for unit moves it has been standard practice for many generations to mark name, unit, and as brief as possible description of the destination.  The nailed on aluminium label implies very personal items, as most other boxes were painted using simple, open stencil techniques.

Edited by FROGSMILE
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Sorry, my omission.

Gnr. Dickson, A. 549, RHA

Regards,

JMB

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1 hour ago, FROGSMILE said:

F Battery RHA spent a long time in India during the Victorian era before going to Ipswich after the 2nd Boer War, and post WW1 spent a number of years in Egypt, before returning to Britain at St John’s Wood in the mid 1920s.  It seems to leave very narrow windows of opportunity (although I think that they must be there) for a period stationed in Londonderry.

Just before WW1 the Bty was heavily involved in ceremonial duties incl funerals in London (not Londonderry) and were mobilized in England so I couldn't see any visit pre ww1 to Londonderry. This after looking through the Battery digests 1900-1923 available through AMOT

Charlie

Edited by charlie962
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16 hours ago, Acknown said:

The only A Dickson RHA that I can find on medal rolls and MICs is an officer, : Lt-Maj A G Dickson (CWGC) and I'm trying to link him to F Bty.

 DICKSON.JPG.38faa302917cb1f2b9f9fcb2af6b24a1.JPG

Acknown

Thank you!

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7 minutes ago, charlie962 said:

Just before WW1 the Bty was heavily involved in ceremonial duties incl funerals in London (not Londonderry) and were mobilized in England so I couldn't see any visit pre ww1 to Londonderry. This after looking through the Battery digests 1900-1923 available through AMOT

Charlie

Thank you Charlie, that’s very helpful and makes sense as St John’s Wood was used as the RHA centre for support to London Ceremonial.  This narrowing down suggests at least that any period in Londonderry must have been either late 1920s/early 1930s, or perhaps late 1940s.  More digging needed it seems.  I don’t think it (the label) could relate to an individual posting as might happen with say an Artillery Clerk.

Edited by FROGSMILE
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1 hour ago, JMB1943 said:

Gnr. Dickson, A. 549, RHA

MiC has Gunner 549 Alexander Dickson, subsequently renumbered as 656149, as a Territorial Force member of the Royal Field Artillery. While there could have been a mistake on the MiC with the relevant part of the Royal Artillery that Gunner Dickson served with, and there were Territorial Force Batteries of the Royal Horse Artillery, any move of a Territorial Force man into the Regular Army "F" Battery would have been a wartime expedient only. As the above searches from @charlie962 has not turned up any evidence of F Battery going to Londonderry before at least 1923, (if they ever did), Gunner Dickson would have been stood down, (disembodied in TF terms), as a full time soldier, long before then.

There were several long-term convalescence camps in Ireland where soldiers were sent to while recovering from wounds \ ill-heath, although I'm not aware of any in that particular part, (but not my specialist subject!). Would seen odd though that if he affixed it to a personal locker \ bed in such a scenario that he didn't include his service number but did include "Londonderry".

Cheers,
Peter

Edited by PRC
Typo
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2 hours ago, JMB1943 said:

Gnr. Dickson, A. 549, RHA

Medal Roll states two numbers: 549 and 656149. His pension card (1919) gives an Edinburgh address.

Acknown

Edited by Acknown
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I've just been on a long walk through the sunny Wessex countryside and had a thought. I have read that: 'SS Londonderry was a passenger vessel built for the Midland Railway in 1904 and used the company owned port of Heysham to connect with Belfast. She was requisitioned by the Admiralty in 1914 and used to connect channel ports with France.'
(https://birtwistlewiki.com.au/wiki/SS_Londonderry).

Are we by chance looking for the troop ship that Dickson was on?

Acknown

Edited by Acknown
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4 hours ago, Acknown said:

I've just been on a long walk through the sunny Wessex countryside and had a thought. I have read that: 'SS Londonderry was a passenger vessel built for the Midland Railway in 1904 and used the company owned port of Heysham to connect with Belfast. She was requisitioned by the Admiralty in 1914 and used to connect channel ports with France.'
(https://birtwistlewiki.com.au/wiki/SS_Londonderry).

Are we by chance looking for the troop ship that Dickson was on?

Acknown

An understandable thought, but I don’t think so.  A troopship is very much a temporary billet for a soldier, especially what was effectively a ferry on a short crossing.  Conversely a duty station was of some years standing at that time.  It’s unconscionable for a soldier to stamp his home town origin on a nailed on label intended to have some degree of permanence, so I struggle to see what other reason than his duty station there might be.  As mentioned earlier, it was common practice to place name, unit and station on freight/luggage during unit moves.  Perhaps there is an alternative explanation, but I cannot think what it might be.

Edited by FROGSMILE
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20 hours ago, Acknown said:

The only A Dickson RHA that I can find on medal rolls and MICs is an officer, : Lt-Maj A G Dickson (CWGC) and I'm trying to link him to F Bty.

 DICKSON.JPG.38faa302917cb1f2b9f9fcb2af6b24a1.JPG

Acknown

Thank you!

I am on the road today and admittedly only scanning some of these responses, but I just wanted to take a minute and say thank you for all of the hard work and research assistance! This is great information and I am learning a lot in the process as well. Thanks again!

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Further information as to where the tag was found might also be useful as the original post just said found in Europe, it's a big place.

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Good point….let me find out 

1 minute ago, Milner said:

Further information as to where the tag was found might also be useful as the original post just said found in Europe, it's a big place.

Good point let me find out 

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Good morning from New York.  Thank you again for all of this great information.  I have found it very interesting while reviewing it this morning.

To answer where it was found, we did just hear it was found in Aachen many years ago.  As of now, that is as specific as I have but I'll see if I can find out anything else.

Thank you!

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