Researching our Military Ancestors

In the previous issue of LONGSHOT a suggestion was put forward that some research should be done on the various Lindfield)fields who down the years have served in the armed forces. This immediately caught my attention, since I was already interested in this field as a result of my plans to research the army career of my great-grandfather, who served during the second half of the 19th Century. In the light of this wider interest in our military ancestors, I have therefore broadened the scope of this research to include other members of the family who have served in any of the armed forces and whose military documents can be traced. Since my immediate period of interest was in the Victorian Army, this seemed the logical starting-point for this new project.

Initial research at the Public Record Office has been most encouraging. It has frequently been remarked that the red tape which service personneI find so irksome at least has the benefit of providing interesting information for the family historians of future generations! This has been amply borne out by what has been discovered so far.

War Office records in the PRO are arranged in a variety of sequences. The easiest to search is the alphabetically-arranged collection of Soldier’s Documents covering the years 1883-1913, so this is where we have started. Each document provides a synopsis of a soldier’s career from enlistment to discharge. In addition, they give a physical description, occupation on enlisting, character assessment, medical history and other personal details, making it possible to know much more about our military ancestors than their civilian counterparts. This sequence of documents has yielded 10 Lin(d)fields, and I hope to share something of my findings in the next LONGSHOT. There are some fascinating stories to be told, such as that of the Medical Corps corporal present at the Battle of Abu Klea, the Gordon Highlander who fought and was wounded at the Battle of Tel-el-Kebir, and a Hussar who was courtmartialled after going AWOL! Some of the other regiments in which Lin(d)fields so far traced have served include the Coldstream Guards, the Rifle Brigade and the Royal Artillery.

As far as future research is concerned, the scope is virtually limitless, and certainly there will be enough to keep us occupied for several years. The immediate plan is to carry out some supplementary research on the Lin(d)fields already found, eg to find out more about the campaigns in which they took part. When this has been completed, there are aIl the pre-1883 records to search. These are rather more difficult to tackle, as they are mostly arranged on a regiment-by-regiment basis, although a start has been made on the compilatlon of a surname index for all records dating from c1760 (when they begin) to 1854; this will obviously make searching these much easier. No Lin[d]fields have yet been recorded, but this index will need to be re-checked periodically as work progresses. This will still leave the 1855-1882 records to be systematically searched, plus a few miscellaneous sources such as militia records. Then we can think about starting on the navy!1

Research into post-1913 personnel records, (which of course includes all RAF material) is not easy, since they are still held by the Ministry of Defence and therefore are not yet in the public domain. Postal searches can be made in respect of specific individuals; by the person concerned, if still alive, or, if deceased, by the next of kin, (or with their written consent). This means that a general search for occurences of a given surname is not possible. A fee of 15 per search is payable in advance, irrespective of whether or not any information can be found.

In view of the obvious problems this presents, as a first step I should like to compile a list of all known Lin(d)field servicemen/women who have served in any branch of the services since 1913, with any available details of their service careers. While it might be too much to hope that the result would be a totally comprehensive list, It would be a useful foundation on which to base future research, in whatever form that may eventually take. Could I therefore encourage members to let me have as much information as possible concerning either their own service careers or those of other family members known to them. Following the LONGSHOT sent out last year, one or two members have already contacted me, so can I encourage others to follow their lead. I would especially urge that as much detail as possible is recorded by or from anyone still alive who has recollections of either of the two World Wars, or who saw action in any other campaigns, (eg Korea or Malaya). And if anyone knows positively of an ancestor who served in the 19th Century, I would be even more interested in finding out any details.

In one sense, it is true to say that the history of our family will never be really complete as long as any Lin(d)fields remain with breath in their bodies! The same is true of the story of the military Lin(d)fields, and while we are especially interested in the servicemen (and women) of previous generations, we also want to encourage any who have served in more recent times to let us have details of their military careers as well.

Finally, it may be that some members would like to do some research of their own if they have a particular military ancestor in whom they are interested. If this is so, please contact me first to avoid duplication of effort; I might already have some details on file. Even if I have not, I may be able to give some advice as to the best way to proceed in what can be a complex (though fascinating) field of family history research.

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