Where individual names have been inscribed on memorials the inscriptions remain a crucial starting point in unlocking further research.
Historical sources can tell the story of individual men and women who died in war-time and, collectively, these stories can tell us much about populations, economics, politics and the impact of war on communities.
Do war memorials only commemorate the dead?
Many different events or groups of people may be commemorated on a war memorial, not just those who were killed on active service. War memorials can commemorate war, conflict, victory or peace; or casualties who served in, were affected by or killed as a result of war, conflict or peacekeeping; or those who died as a result of accident or disease whilst engaged in military service.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission memorials commemorate only those who died during the two World Wars.
How can I find out which war memorial someone is commemorated on or details of a name on a memorial?
Individuals can be commemorated in many different places.
Officially, if they died in the World Wars in the forces of the Commonwealth they will be officially commemorated in a war grave or on a Memorial to the Missing maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The CWGC’s online casualty database pinpoints the location at which an individual is officially commemorated.
Unofficially, servicemen and women may be commemorated in several other places: in the community where they lived; in the place where they were born or had family; where they went to school, college or university; at their place of work or on a military unit memorial. Individuals may be commemorated in connection with another aspect of their life, e.g. membership of a sports club, faith group or professional body.
The Imperial War Museum’s War Memorials Register is indexing the names from the First World War that appear on war memorials across the UK. Some 1,200,000 names have so far been recorded and are available in a searchable form.
The IWM’s Lives of the First World War offers a personal Life Story page for each individual who served for Britain during the First World War. This page may already contain information about the commemorated individual, and provides access to essential official records including those for service, census, birth, marriage and death.
Many local groups such as family or local history societies have recorded names from war memorials and offer online information.
How accurate is the information inscribed on war memorials?
Mistakes were made when information was collected and then inscribed, but what may now look like a mistake may have been a deliberate choice. Families may not have wanted to include the name of relatives listed as ‘missing in action’. Individuals may be commemorated on a memorial where they had no personal connection but where their only surviving family member lived. Nicknames might have been used, names under which people signed up were different to their actual names, names could be spelled incorrectly when there was no family to check with or it should be recognized that the spelling of names has been more inconsistent through history.
Will I find pre-1914 deaths named on a war memorial?
Before 1900 it is unusual for ordinary soldiers to be named on war memorials, although there are examples dating from the Afghan and Sikh wars (1840′s) and the Crimean War (1853-1856). Officers, usually from wealthier families, may have personal memorials containing detailed family information as well as being named on regimental memorials.
After 1900 it is more likely that both soldiers and officers will be named. The Cardwell reforms of the army in the 1870s strongly linked communities to local regiments and the huge losses in the First World War resulted in a vast number of memorials and shrines being erected across the country in the largest public arts project ever seen in the UK.
Service records before 1920?
There are many different sets of service records for those who served and either died or left the service from approximately 1760 to 1920, depending on which service they served with and whether they were an officer or other rank. The originals are at The National Archives (TNA). Many are digitised and can be viewed online either through TNA or commercial genealogy sites.
Particularly useful files are WO12 ‘Soldiers’ Attestation and Discharge’ (joining and leaving papers, pre-1914), WO363 and WO364 (Soldiers’ papers pre-1920 that survived the Blitz) and WO339 and WO374 (Officers’ papers 1898-1922).
The HMSO publications “Soldiers Died 1914-1919” and “Officers Died 1914-1919” list British Army fatalities in service during the First World War and are available commercially in DVD and online forms.
Service records after 1920?
Post 1921 records remain confidential and are held by the Ministry of Defence. A copy can be requested by the individual, or if they are deceased, by their next of kin. Information and applications forms are available for each of the different services.
The HMSO publication “Army Roll of Honour 1939-1945” lists Army fatalities in service during the Second World War and is available commercially in DVD and online forms.
Post 1945 casulaties?
How do I research and remember those who have died in wars since 1945?
You can search the Armed Forces Roll of Honour by name and/or service number and find a date of death. There may not be any information regarding where the person came from. Local newspapers may include obituaries of local servicemen and women killed in service.
The National Memorial Arboretum is the national site of remembrance. It commemorates many groups, both civilian and military, whose personnel died in the service of their country, and houses the Armed Forces Memorial for those who died from 1948 to the present day.
Additions to gravestones?
An additional dedication was commonly added to the head stone, grave kerb or memorial of another family member to commemorate a war casualty. If the casualty is buried elsewhere, this addition is considered a war memorial. If the gravestone marks the burial place of the casualty, then it is a grave and not considered a war memorial.