Taking your work home with you!

Work can follow you to the most surprising of places –  just before Christmas we went to visit some family in Berkshire and the topic of World War One came up.  A photo had been unearthed of my husband’s grandfather in a uniform, mounted on a horse with a date of 1913 written on the back.

LH Beard

Another relative said that the smartly attired gentleman in question had been part of the Berkshire Yeomanry and that she thought he’d served in Egypt during the war.  This piqued my curiosity hugely and I thought this was the ideal time to make use of the wonderful Norfolk resource “A Guide to researching First World War Military Family History” and free access to the Ancestry.com websites through Norfolk’s Libraries.

record office book

As I knew very little about the gentleman, Louis Henry Beard, I started at the very beginning and located him on the 1891, 1901 and 1911 censuses and established his date and place of birth.

After this I turned to the military records held on Ancestry and this is where I encountered my first problem as there were no records for a Louis Henry Beard anywhere, although there was a Lewis Henry Beard listed with all the other details being correct.  Sadly many WW1 records were destroyed during WW2 and all I had to work from on line were the Medal and Service Award Rolls.

On talking over with an archive specialist at one of the free “Ask the NRO” sessions held at the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library we decided that this was probably going to be him but that until further records are either published on line or discovered in family members house we cannot be more than 95% certain that this is the right man.

As so many of the details were correct I decided that I would assume that this was the right L H Beard and look into his war service some more.  Although he was a Berkshire man the records available show him as finishing the war with the Household Cavalry to which he’d transferred from the Staffordshire Yeomanry.

Looking at the history of the Berkshire and Staffordshire Yeomanry records that are available to access on line it would appear that the two regiments served in the same fields of war and were present at Gallipoli and later on in Egypt and other locations in the Middle East – which links back nicely to family recollections of Egyptian service.  Further research has shown that the Yeomanry divisions merged and were renamed frequently which could explain his movement from the Berkshire Regiment to the Household Cavalry.

I found an invaluable site The Long, Long Trail dedicated to the British Army from 1914-18 which gave me detailed accounts of the movements of both the Staffordshire and Berkshire Yeomanry’s.  Further investigation on line lead me to the Berkshire Family History Society webpage where the account of the regiment’s time at Gallipoli – with only 50 men still fit for service by the end of the campaign – sounds horrific and would show that L H Beard was either very lucky to survive and be transferred to the Staffordshires or very lucky to be serving with them by this point.

The records that I have found on line have let me see that L H Beard served throughout the war. His Medal Card shows he was awarded the 1914-15 Star (showing he was a member of the armed services prior to conscription) and that he left England on 21st April 1915 and returned on 17th April 1919 – almost exactly 4 years of service abroad.  Sadly at present we have no idea if he had any home leave in this period.

I know that next time I visit I am going to have to ask the family if they have any other memorabilia or information for me to investigate and I am now tempted to contact the National Archives and see if I can get copies of the Regimental Diaries and explore more about their movements and to see how L H Beard ended up with the Staffordshire’s.

Louis Henry Beard came back from the war and returned home to Hungerford where he lived a full life, dying only in 1961. The Beards are an old Hungerford family and Louis Henry took over his father’s coal business as well as taking an active part in town life. Many of his direct descendants still live in the town today.


Further afield

Before moving to Norfolk I lived in Kent and I spent  some time back there recently, specifically in Folkestone – from where so many soldiers departed for the Front during the war.




The last part of the route taken by the soldiers on their way to the harbour was renamed The Road of Remembrance after the war and at present is festooned with beautiful knitted poppies.

road poppies


At the top of the hill a new memorial was dedicated on 4th August 2014 and is a stylish arch to mark where most of the soldiers would have walked.




It is a moving memorial to the soldiers (including my own great-grandfather) who departed for the front from Folkestone.

Life in Folkestone in 1914 is coming to life wonderfully in the BBC Radio 4 serial “Home Front” and I am certainly enjoying catching up with the omnibus episode each week.

After undertaking some family history research thanks to colleagues at the Norfolk Record Office the series is really helping me to understand what life was like for my direct ancestors.



(photos in this post taken from The Folkestone Herald, The Daily Telegraph and Step Short)

World War 1 commemorations in the media

January has marked the start of television’s WW1 commemorations with Jeremy Paxman’s excellent ‘Britain’s Great War’ and ‘The Cousins’ War’ on BBC2, which gave a fascinating insight into the relationship between the British, Russian and German royal families.

January’s BBC History Magazine is packed full of interesting articles on the First World War.

The Council for British Archaeology is launching an exciting project in partnership with English Heritage and other partner organisations in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to work on ‘The Legacy of the First World war and its home front 1914 -1918. The project aims to encourage volunteers to identify sites such as military training camps, practice trenches and building temporarily requisitioned to aid the war effort on the home front. The information gathered as part of this project will be made available online in the form of digital maps. One thing I didn’t appreciate is that Dan Snow is the President of the Council for British Archaeology (personal hero!)

For family history enthusiasts, a new archive which will help people trace the stories of those involved in World War 1 will be available at ‘Who do you think you are? Live’ at Olympia in London from 20th – 22nd February. Another personal hero – John Simpson – is giving a lecture there!

 Mark Bostridge’s article about events in Britain leading up to the outbreak of war in 1914 paints a picture of a country so totally distracted by events going on at home that the start of the war pretty much took the public by surprise. So what was going on to cause such distractions?

Levels of industrial unrest were high – almost a thousand strikes would take place up to the end of July 1914. The women’s suffrage movement was taking violent action to bring attention to its cause. Home Rule for Ireland was another particularly thorny issue. As Bostridge rightly says, Britain faced ‘a sex war, class war & civil war’.

Events in Europe were soon to overtake and dwarf Britain’s home grown crises. With war being declared on 4th August 1918, the Home Rule Bill was suspended until the war was over, the suffragettes were instructed to bring a stop to all militant activities through the course of the war and an industrial truce was called (although this did not stop industrial action being taken altogether until the very final stages of the war!)

The climax to Jeremy Paxman’s programme highlighted the impact that World War 1 had on the country as a whole. The deaths of wealthy landowners killed in the conflict and the impact of death duties lead to the breaking up and selling of large estates; conditions were better for the poorest in society, there was pretty much full employment at the end of the war; women had taken a more prominent role in the workplace and certain women now had the right to vote. Britain certainly would never be the same again!

Copies of Jeremy Paxman’s Great Britain’s Great War can be borrowed from Norfolk Library & Information Service

BBC History Magazine is available for reference in the Norfolk & Norwich Millennium Library.