South East Schools First World War Project - Article 4

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Researching a First World War Soldier

A popular activity for many schools over the coming year will be to plan a visit to their local War Memorial.  Following such a visit pupils will be able to research online the service records of many of the names listed on the Memorial and use data from the 1901 and 1911 census to find out where these servicemen lived and what they did before they joined the British army.

Using Military Records

Do all First World War military records still exist?

6-7 million men served as soldiers (other ranks) in the First World War.  However, most service records were destroyed by enemy bombing in 1940.  Just 2 million service records either survived the bombing or were reconstructed from pension records.  As a result, researchers have about a 40% chance of finding the service records of a particular soldier.

Searching for records online from The National Archives (via you are most likely to find the following service records.

Attestation forms, which are the documents signed by the new recruit.  They will tell you how old he was at enlistment, where he enlisted and his trade before he joined up. There may also be details of next of kin with details of family members, address.

Discharge papers, which were issued when a soldier left the regiment.  The purpose, initially at least, seems to have been to provide proof for the poor law authorities that the individual was not a vagrant as he passed through the area on his way home or in search of work.  These often include a Character Certificate.

Medical records, casualty form (active service) which can provide information relating to a man's movements.  Many of the papers are difficult to read, as the ink is now very faint.

WW1 medal roll index cards can be searched by first and last name and Corps, Unit or Regiment.  These cards were created by the Army Medal Office (AMO) of the United Kingdom in Droitwich near the close of the First World War.  The Medal Index Cards collection is the most complete listing of individuals who fought in the British Army in WWI, containing approximately 90% of soldiers' names. The Index Cards were created in order to keep in one place details about a soldier's medal entitlement.

Researching a First World War Soldier or Naval Seaman records can be viewed for free in most libraries that offer internet access across the south east region.  Usually all the viewer requires is a valid library card to access the website.  Records viewed can be saved and stored by the user on a memory stick and then pasted and saved on to an Excel spreadsheet for pupils to use.

The Ancestry Guide (found at the foot of this article) provides clear step by step instructions on how to search the database.

Hampshire Archives and Local Studies World War I Soldier's Resource Pack 

To assist schools in areas where no service records for servicemen from the Great War remain, Hampshire Archives and Local Studies have produced a set of eight free WWI Servicemen resource packs.  Including military records, dispatches, letters and photographs, these resources can be used in the classroom by pupils to find out what each of the servicemen did during the war and in many cases discover what happened to them when they were discharged after 1918.

About the resource packs

None of the eight soldiers listed below were born or lived in Hampshire before the war.  However, they all served in regiments that between 1914 and 1918 found themselves residing in the county whilst the soldiers received training or were waiting to be posted overseas.

Walter Aspinall, born 1880 in Durham, was a former labourer / cabinet maker before enlisting in February 1899.  During WWI, he served as a bandsman (stretcher bearer and ambulance worker).

Ernest John Stewart, born in Bradford in 1873.  Worked before the war as a weaver.  Enlisted in 1904 in the Kings Royal Rifles.  Shot in the arm and face near Boulogne in 1915.  Died on 10 March 1953.  Lived most of his later life in Cheadle near Manchester.

Ernest Miles Mason, born 1897, All Saints, Birmingham.  Joined the 18th Regiment of the KRR aged 17 in August 1914.  Wounds: multiple gun shot wounds, degree of disablement 30% (granted wound stripe).  On discharge: scars to leg and back.

Frank Owen Russell, born 1892 Heston, Hounslow, Middlesex.  Enlisted: London 17 March 1911, Middlesex Regiment aged 17 years 4 months.  Wounds: Shell shock 21 Nov 1916, sent to Canadian Hospital, Doullens.  Gassed, sent to hospital at Etaples 27 July 1917.  Discharged from army on 28 January 1919.

Horace Carpenter, born: St Mary's, Hastings.  Enlisted: Hastings, 24 October 1910, aged 20.  Regimental number: 3999 2nd Rifle Brigade.  Wounds: gun shot wound to right shoulder and head. Discharged February 1917.  Lived after the war at 42 Grosvenor Rd, Belvedere, Kent.

James Gilbert, served in the 11th KRR.  Wounded 14 Feb 1916 La Belle Alliance.

Percy Harry Saunders, lived prior to the war at 38 Pinewood Avenue, Grove Hill, Middlesbrough. Enlisted, aged 19, on 19 April 1915 at The Town Hall, Middlesbrough.  Served in the 15th Battalion of the KRRC. Captured in March 1916, he spent the remainder of the war in a German Prisoner of War camp.

William Bradley, born Trinity parish, near Bradford, 1873.  Enlistment: Blackburn 22 Jan 1904, aged 18 years 2 months.  Served in Malta, Cyprus and Egypt.  Transferred to the Army Reserve Salamanca Barracks, Aldershot January 1913. Called up to British Expeditionary Force on 12 August 1914. Transferred to 5th Battalion KRR on 25 November 1914; to 2nd Battalion on 25 January 1915; 6th Battalion 20 July 1915; Household Regiment 21 June 1916. . Discharged from Army 31 January 1920.

For more information about the Hampshire Archives and Local Studies World War I Soldiers Resource Pack contact:

David Bond (Archive Education Officer)      E-mail:

Encourage your pupils to research online the early life of a World War I soldier

Case Study: Private Allan Stanley Stevens

Additional details about this soldier can be found on the World War 1 Toolbox website: 

Private Allan Stanley Stevens was a private in the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment.  He was killed on 3 July 1916 aged nineteen.  His name is displayed on the war memorial at Thiepval.

For more information visit the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website: 

His early life

Close examination of the 1901 Census shows that Allan Stanley Stevens, aged four, lived with his parents and older brother at 2 Cobden Road, Sevenoaks, Kent.  The 1911 census also shows that the family still lived at 2 Cobden Road, Sevenoaks and that Allan, now aged 14, had left school and worked as a yard and office boy.

Questions for pupils to consider and answer:

  • Who do you think Allan Stanley Stevens might have worked for as a Yard and Office boy?
  • What would have been the responsibilities of a Yard and Office boy?
  • Find out which school in the town of Sevenoaks Allan Stanley Stevens attended,
  • In which year and at what age did Allan Stanley Stevens leave school and start work?

2 Cobden Road, Sevenoaks

Prior to 1900 the 1891 census records that 2 Cobden Road was the home of the Tickner family. However, the previous census in 1881 lists Allan Stanley Stevens' father (Harry) living at 1 Cobden Road with his parents (Allan's grand parents), Henry and Elizabeth

Questions to consider:  

  • Does Cobden Road still exist today?
  • Why do you think 1 Cobden Road is not listed on the 1901 and 1911 Census*?
  • If the road does still exist, has it changed much in appearance since the beginning of the 20th Century? *What remains and what is different?

*Hint: Visit Cobden Road today?

Can you see 1 Cobden Road? What do you think happened to the house?

Researching and finding out more information about a street or house

Many houses built in towns and cities at the start of the 20th century still stand today.  To help your pupils understand what life was like growing up at the start of the last century, plan a visit to your chosen road or street.  Look at the buildings and try to picture what life would have been like just before the outbreak of WWI.

Remember you can also view a road or street today by visiting Google Maps Street View

Additional information: Property websites

2 Cobden Road is presently for sale (July 2014.)  At this time a floor plan, photographs and information about the appearance of the house are displayed on the Rightmove website:

Examine the photographs of 2 Cobden Road.  Can you see a walkway on the side of the house?  Could this have been the entrance to the yard where Allan Stanley Stevens worked 100 years ago?


  • Use the information you have researched and gathered to write a short biographical account about the early life of Allan Stanley Stevens?

For more information about Research World War I Soldiers and the South East Schools World War I project contact:

Phil Bracegirdle - SEGfL Associates


Research a World War I soldier useful web links

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Imperial War Museum War Memorial Archive 

National Archives


Find My Past  

Tracing a WW1 British Soldier

Fourteeneighteen - WW1 Army Records Research 

Forces War Records 

Find an Edwardian Town or street - Google Maps

Find an Edwardian House - Zoopla