Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Researching WW1 Deaths In Your Family Tree

World War One Family Tree Research - Extra Research Tips

This is the gravestone of Henry Waterhouse.  He died on 11th April 1918, aged 26.

He is buried in Lijssenthoek, Belgium.

He was a Royal Engineer, a 'sapper'.  They cleared mines, built bridges and paths across trenches and they dug tunnels.  It was all very important crucial work, hard work.  I didn't do it credit in that sentence but I gave you the gist.

Henry or knowing my family, most probably 'Harry' spent the last 4 years of his life up to his neck in mud, working hard every day in terrible conditions.

Harry was not married.  The telegram bearing the terrible news of his death went to his parents in Percy Main, North Tyneside - Harry Waterhouse, a young, brave Geordie.

My family tree adventures on led me to discover that Henry had 'died of wounds' on 11th April 1918.  That's all the info that's included on the postcard sized information card about this brave lad.

It tells me a date and theatre of war - France & Flanders' - it is so generic isn't it? 'France & Flanders'

But for me, it just wasn't enough.

I don't have a photo of Harry Waterhouse, I'll probably never have one.  He was my great-grandmother's younger brother and that postcard sized info card wasn't enough to satisfy my curiosity about Harry and his experience of World War One.

I felt very sad for him.  I felt sadder still when my research uncovered a further 2 brothers killed in the same war.

My great-great grandparents had 3 postcards home to tell them their boys were gone forever; it is difficult to imagine what they went through.

So Harry, Charles and John Waterhouse all lost their lives in WW1.  Charles died first in 1915, leaving a widow Mary and 3 children aged 11, 6 and 4.  Mary got that postcard too.  John died between Charles and Harry in 1916.  John was not married, maybe that was a good thing.

There is no need to accept that the little military info card needs to be the be all and end all of your memory keeping of these men.

I was pleased to find the information on Ancestry but I wanted to know more about where they died and about the battles in which they lost their lives.
Thankfully, when it comes to the 'Great' War, there is a wealth of information available if you know where to find it.

So armed with the small snippets of info I had - the dates of their deaths, I first wanted to know which battles they died in.

I can't vouch for this exactly - they may have been hospitalised in a battle and died later but usually there are not huge gaps between the battles and it is very well chronicled.

So I went to Dates of WW1 Battles and discovered that Harry's death occurred at the Battle of Cambrai, a battle in which many tanks were used.  95,000 men lost their lives.

Harry is buried at Lijssenhoek in Belgium, he has a neat little gravestone which bears his name, rank and serial number.  It has flowers planted and is well maintained.  I thank the person who does this for his family almost 100 years after he died.  I also thank the person who photographed every gravestone and put in on the War Graves Photographic Project website.  This has been an epic project for whoever decided to take it on; they deserve the respect of all WW1 family historians.

Harry exists somewhere for my family should any of us decide we would like to pay our respects if we are ever in Belgium.

John also has his own gravestone.  He is buried at Maroueil British Cemetery in France.  He was in the 2nd/20th London Regiment; unusual for a Northumbrian man who would usually join the Fusiliers except John's dad, George was a Woolwich lad and it looks like John joined a Kent regiment to honour his dad?  I like to think so any way.  John died at the Somme, just a day into the battle.

Sadly, Charles has no grave.  He is buried out there somewhere under all of those poppies in Belgium; killed at the Battle of Ypres.  His name is engraved in the granite at the Menin Memorial, the rather beautiful white edifice honouring the British dead without grave markers.

Charles was in the 2nd Northumbria Fusiliers.  If you come from this part of England, you're usually either in the Durham Light Infantry of the Northumbria Fusiliers.

Charles died at one of the war's bloodiest battles.  He was 33 years old.  It is possible from my research that another of their brothers survived the war.  

The family's experience of the great war is one I cannot even begin to imagine. it is hard enough to imagine outliving one of your children, never mind three of them.

It was important for me as a family historian to learn more that what was hand written on a postcard.  As someone who shares their genes, I owed it to them to find out where they died and where they are now laid to rest.

To any family historians out there - don't stop with the names on a card.  Don't be satisfied with knowing when they died.  Find out more about their experience and your research experience will be all the richer for it.

They become more than just names 2 or 3 generations back - I can never know Harry, Charles or John but I can honour them in my family history by sharing their experience, their battles, their resting place with anyone who reads my family's history.

Happy researching!

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