Posts filed under ‘Military’
Recently I’ve spoken to a number of people involved in projects researching those who enlisted for World War 1. As the centenary of WW1 approaches, the many commemoration projects seem to be running largely in isolation.
Some projects are run in conjunction with local libraries, with volunteer researchers adding information to local studies collections. Other projects aim to produce CDs or books to be sold.
The lack of coordination between the various projects could lead to overlapping of people of interest. Someone might have been born in Mosman, but lived in Ryde at the time of enlisting – and so both areas’ projects might flag the individual as someone to be researched. Indeed that individual may even appear on the war memorial in yet another location, if a family member contributed the soldier’s name to their local war memorial.
When research resources are scarce, it makes sense for there to be some coordination between the projects to identify which individuals are being researched and in which resources. How best to do this? Local studies librarians’ networks allow sharing information about their projects, but what about projects not coordinated by libraries?
One possibility might be adding a small notice onto the Mapping our Anzacs website, which allows submissions of scrapbook entries. Obviously anyone can contribute photos or research about the lives of family members, but it would also be possible to add a scrapbook post that says something like ‘This individual is being researched by the Mosman 1914-18 project – further information can be found at …’
Thus whether the information gathered in research is intended to be freely available at a library or website, or even sold in a commercial publication, anyone interested in that WW1 participant would be directed to further information. Also the various project coordinators could make informed decisions about whether or not to proceed with researching an individual already being considered as part of another project.
‘War memorials in NSW’ includes a spreadsheet of summary information about names on particular memorials. The various projects could consider adding information to those spreadsheets, and also add details of additional memorials to those already included on the site.
Those involved in the various projects should also be aware of the Australian Government Anzac Centenary funding grants and publicity.
What other projects are you aware of?
For this year’s Anzac Day blog post, I thought I would share some extracts from a memoir written by my father-in-law, Noel Edward Farmer (1923 – 1999). In December 1941, after waiting impatiently for three months for the Navy to find a slot for a seaman who “knew how to handle boats”, Noel wrote to the Navy to ask if they were aware that Japan had entered the war. A month later a slot at Flinders Naval Depot was found. He was soon appointed a midshipman, although he rose to Lieutenant by the end of the war, and to Captain in the Naval Reserve.
The following extract describes an incident in 1942, when Noel was just 19.
‘Westralia’ went to Brisbane after Aitapee to pick up air force stores. When leaving the Brisbane River the gyro compass system broke down and the Navigator, running along the upper deck to the gyro room, fell over a deck bolt and was badly concussed. Young Farmer, despite or because of his lack of knowledge/experience at that time, was training as Navigator’s assistant and was promptly propelled into the top job – and hence the immediate task of taking a 14,000 ton vessel drawing 30′ through the Barrier Reef and Torres Strait to Darwin with only a magnetic compass. All Navy captains may, and all merchant masters must, unless they have specially qualified for an exemption, take on board a Torres Strait Pilot when making this trip of some 2,000 km – but not my Captain. I had a canvas deck chair placed on the port side of the bridge and spent the next five days there except for toilet visits below. The Captain did somewhat similar and about six days later Westralia berthed safely in Darwin. After about three months, and to my great surprise, the Captain’s secretary handed over a cheque in favour of Midshipman N E Farmer from the Navy in Canberra for about 14 pounds, with a chit attached saying “Pilotage – 1100 nautical miles at 3d per mile”.
This next extract describes a day in 1944, when Noel was aged 20.
It was a grisly day. … The 7th Fleet had a policy that any enemy soldier taken alive in a landing be sent promptly to a designated ship for interrogation. After replacing the originals on our ill fated southern beach with reserve troops I agreed to take two prisoners in my boat to be interrogated. When the prisoners were dragged to the beach they were young, hurt, shell-shocked and stark naked. My boat was beached, bow on, about ten feet from the water’s edge so that anyone boarding had to walk out into water at least one foot deep. The prisoners were in no condition to walk. Their escorts informed me that they were not intending to carry the cretins aboard and began to swing the first by hands and feet to throw him about fifteen feet on to the steel deck.
“Not on,” I said. “Carry them aboard or take them back to your own medics for treatment.” It was the only argument I ever won with a revolver and a threat to shoot US servicemen, if they threw the prisoner aboard – I’ll never know if I would have shot them. For their part they were young, scared, had seen many of their buddies killed and were fearful of their short term future when darkness fell on a slaughterhouse beach.
When hoisted back aboard ‘Westralia’ on conclusion of that eventful day I was told to report to the Captain. He sat me down and handed me a signal from the Navy saying that brother Charles had died.
The final extract describes a time in January 1945, when Noel was 21.
When we entered Lingayen Gulf air attacks increased in fury and desperation. Every second plane seemed to be Kamikaze and after dropping its bomb load headed for its selection of target and tried to crash on its bridge. … As in Hollandia and Leyte, I led the first wave boats to our allotted beach. We kept on unloading troops, equipment and stores forever it seemed from all variety of ships. Our boats crews tried to ignore the fear and death around them – and tried to conceal their own gut feelings from the green troops we carried.
We fed off the land – that is, we broached the stores we carried to meet our needs – and that day I first saw and ate canned grapefruit pieces. I liked them and ate a lot. The US knew how to feed its front line troops. Here we were in Lingayen on day one with guns and bombs going bang, Kamikazes having a suicide picnic and death all about – cruising slowly towards a beach carrying tons of grapefruit pieces for those who survived to eat them.
Lest we forget.
Anzac Day, 2011 and this morning I was proud to again accompany my Dad to the Dawn Service, to remember those who served, including those who paid “the ultimate sacrifice”.
I want to speak of my Dad’s military service, someone who fortunately returned home again, but who was part of a group that has received very little acknowledgement.
My Dad was a member of BCOF, the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces. He joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) as soon as he was old enough, but he was just finishing training when “cessation of hostilities” was declared. When he was sent overseas, it was to Japan, as part of the occupation forces. He served 3 years in Japan, including time in and near Hiroshima, very shortly after that city was hit by a nuclear bomb. He too saw and had to do some horrific things as part of that service (only once has he really opened up and spoken about some of them).
He too has health issues as a result of that military service, but there has been very little acknowledgement for military service “after the war was over”. Only fairly recently was BCOF service even acknowledged at the War Memorial. After his return from Japan Dad joined the Citizen Forces and, when it formed, the Citizen Air Force, as “an original” (one of those who joined in 1948).
Our first thought at Anzac Day may rightly be for the Diggers and the debacle and lives lost in 1915 at what is now known as Anzac Cove. We remember also too many other battles when our young men and women served and perhaps died for their country.
But we should remember also the contribution of all those others who also “answered duty’s call” and served in other ways, the peace makers and the peace keepers.
Lest we forget.
I was searching today through the “Chelsea Pensioners” records on the website FindMyPast.co.uk These are the records of men pensioned out of the British Army, and the records will cover 1760-1913. (Corresponding to The National Archives documents in WO97).
Those of us familiar with searching Australian WW1 service records have been spoilt by free and easy access to digitised records, not only information about where and when our military ancestors served, but including physical description, next-of-kin, previous occupations, date and place of birth and more. Such digitised Australian records can be found by searching the National Archives of Australia website.
Gradually now more digitised British service records are becoming available for those of us unable to visit the reading rooms in London. Amongst these, the subscription site FindMyPast (UK) has a number of military collections including the Royal Marine Medal Roll 1914-1920, Military Births, Marriages and Deaths – and now these British Army “Chelsea Pensioner Records”. The subscription site Ancestry.co.uk has WW1 service records and pension records. The National Archives (UK) website itself has an online database of Trafalgar Ancestors as well as Campaign Medals issued to WW1 merchant seamen on DocumentsOnline.
Many more military service records are available that are not yet online, but the above are some of the sources I’ve found useful. If we take the trouble to look, such digitised records make it much easier to find information about our military ancestors, even for those of us who live a long way from London.