Category Archives: Silver War Badge

How the Western Front Association WW1 Pension Ledgers May Have Solved another Family History Mystery

Last weekend I finally gave in and subscribed to Fold3 taking advantage of their cyber week special and buying annual premium membership at a 40% discount of $47.95. The deciding factor was the need to view their exclusive record set:- the Western Front Association (WFA) collection of Pension Record Cards and Ledgers.

Dependents of each serving British soldier, sailor, airman and nurse who was killed in the Great War were entitled to a pension. So were those service personnel wounded or otherwise incapacitated. For those who died the next of kin and pension amounts are detailed in the cards and ledgers. For those who survived they provide details of injury (wounds, illness), plus regimental details (unit, regimental number) and home address. The latter are particularly important for researchers, as those who survived are often more difficult to find information about, especially with common names.

My interest was driven by the need to find out more about my great uncle Michael Callaghan, brother of my grandpa John. The son of Michael Callaghan and his wife Mary (née Murphy) of Carabeg in County Mayo, his birth date was registered in the Swinford District as 17 January 1890.

It’s a date I take with the usual large pinch of salt. His baptism at Glan Chapel, according to transcripts, took place on 1 January 1890, pre-dating his birth and indicative that he was born in late 1889 – Irish catholic baptisms taking place shortly after birth. This is a common theme with my Callaghan ancestors – their official birth dates often postdate their baptisms. It was easier, and more important, to be received into the church. By the time they got round to official registration, dates were fudged to avoid late registration fines.

Mum said she thought Michael served with the Irish Guards during World War One and had received a severe facial injury. She cannot recall ever seeing him, and believed he lived in Leeds. She said she’d been told he was tall, with very dark hair like his mother and, in his youth, had been very good-looking.

That’s as much as I had to go on.

A few years ago, the possible I’d come up with, based on the assumption his injury resulted in his military discharge, was a Private Michael Callaghan of the Irish Guards, service number 11415. According to the Silver War Badge Rolls he enlisted on 31 July 1916 and was discharged on 29 July 1918, age 29, no longer physically fit for war service as a result of wounds. His Badge Number was B71936. Checking with Michael’s Medal Index Card it also showed he had served as a Private in the Labour Corps, Service Number 702152. But this entirely speculative search proved nothing, so I parked the information in my research file.

Silver War Badge – Photo by Jane Roberts

The Pension Record Cards and Ledgers on Fold3 offered a new avenue to explore. Still being uploaded, when I checked on 6 December 2018 there were four records relating to the Silver War Badge Pte Michael Callaghan. They confirmed his injury as a gunshot wound to his face, and the degree of disablement which was attributed to his war service ranged between 40 to 60 per cent. He was awarded a life pension. Interestingly two different birth years were given – 1889 and 1890. The records indicated he was unmarried. Mum seems to think he did marry and had two sons, but she isn’t entirely sure and has no names.

They also gave three addresses – none though in Leeds. The earliest record had an address of Carpenters Arms, West Woodside, Lincoln but also indicated a permanent address of 18 Bound[a]ry Street, Bury. By 1924 the address was recorded as 55 Union Street, Hemsworth, Wakefield. These latter two addresses were of particular interest. My Michael Callaghan had brothers with links to both Bury and Wakefield.

Checking the 1911 census, a 47-year-old widow named Catherine Walsh lived at 18 Boundary Street, Bury. Also in the household were her four surviving Bury-born children Martin, Mary, Annie and John, whose ages ranged from 17-24. There were also two nephews listed – 30-year-old Barney Roan and 25-year-old Thomas Callagn, both miners. They, along with Catherine, were born in County Mayo (recorded as Maho in the census).

This 1911 census entry is a perfect illustration of not relying on indexes: both Ancestry and The Genealogist record Thomas’ surname as Roan in their index, whilst FindMyPast’s version is Collagen.

Thomas piqued my interest – Michael’s brother Thomas settled in Bury. The surname wasn’t too far out – I’ve seen many a mangled version of Callaghan. His date of birth was 19 November 1884 giving an age of 26 at the time of the census – so not too far out either.

Catherine’s address was also 18 Boundary Street in the 1901 census, when her husband John Walsh was alive. Checking the GRO birth indexes for the registration of Martin, Mary, Annie and John revealed Catherine’s maiden name as Bones or Boans.

I next turned to the Lancashire OnLine Parish Clerk. The marriage of John Walsh (Latin form Joannem used in the parish register), son of Joannis Walsh, and Catherine (Catharinam is the Latin register version) Bones, daughter of Andreae, took place at St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Bury on 29 November 1884.

This was perplexing – so far my Callaghan line doesn’t link to either Bones or Walsh. So was Thomas, described as Catherine’s nephew in the 1911 census, really my grandpa John’s eldest brother?

I decided to look for the baptisms of John and Catherine’s children, again using the Lancashire OnLine Parish Clerk. And it is here Catholic registers come into their own. Anna (Latin form of the name) Walsh, daughter of Joannis Walsh and Catherinae, formerly Bones, was born on 26 August 1888 and baptised at St Joseph’s on 16 September 1888. And the priest helpfully annotated the entry, stating Anna married Thos. Callaghan at St Joseph’s on 15 June 1912.

Unfortunately, this marriage has not been transcribed on the Parish Clerk site. However, the baptism of two of the children of Thomas and Annie are there, including Mary (or Maria as recorded) born on 14 April 1914. The priest’s note that she married Gulielmo J. Dunne on 24 May 1947 was enough. My mum attended this wedding – Mary was her cousin. Bingo! The same family.

One final corroboration was the 1939 Register entry for Thomas and Annie Callaghan. The birth dates of 19 November 1884 and 26 August 1888 matched. Mary’s married name of Dunne has also been added – the Register was a living document used subsequently by the NHS as it’s Central Register.

So now I have a link for Pte Michael Callaghan back to my Callaghan family in Bury via the 18 Boundary Street address on the pension entries. And it appears I have now evidence of my great uncle’s Great War military service and injury, corroborating what mum heard as a child. I’ve still a fair way to go – I would like to learn more about his war service. I also want to know if he did marry and have a family. I also want to find out when he died. But I have now made a start as a result of the Pension Cards and Ledgers.

More information about the cards can be found on the WFA website in a series of articles including ‘The Western Front Association’s Pension Record Card and Ledger Archive,’ ‘Great War Pension Record Cards and Ledgers: deeper understanding‘ and ‘Pension Record Cards and Ledgers: some examples of dependents’ cards.’

Sources:

  • Birth Registration for Michael Callaghan, 17 January 1890, Swinford via https://www.irishgenealogy.ie/en/irish-records-what-is-available/civil-records
  • Michael Callaghan Silver War Badge Number B71936, via Ancestry.co.uk, Originals held by The National Archives, War Office and Air Ministry: Service Medal and Award Rolls, First World War, Ref WO329 Piece Number 3087,
  • Medal Index Card for Pte Michael Callaghan, 11415, Irish Guards via Ancestry.co.uk
  • Pte Michael Callaghan, 11415, Irish Guards Pension Cards and Ledgers via Fold3, originals held by the WFA
  • 18 Boundary Street, Bury Household in the 1911 Census via FindMyPast, The Genealogist and Ancestry.co.uk, The National Archives, Ref RG14/23489
  • Catherine Walsh, Bury, 1901 Census via FindMyPast, The National Archives, Ref RG13/3638/38/35
  • Lancashire OnLine Parish Clerk website https://www.lan-opc.org.uk/
  • Thomas and Annie Callaghan, 1939 Register via FindMyPast, The National Archives, Ref RG101/4319E/017/8
  • Western Front Association, webpages indicated via hyperlinks in main body
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Batman – My Family History SuperHero 

Just when I thought I’d reached the limits of what I realistically could hope to find out about my great grandad in the Great War, family history threw another curveball.

Last year I wrote about the 16 December 1914 German naval bombardment of Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool prompting my 46-year-old ex-Army great grandfather, Patrick Cassidy, to enlist on my grandma’s sixth birthday. He was discharged from the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry the following month as unlikely to become an efficient soldier. 

Undeterred by this knock-back, by the summer of 1915 he returned to his original regiment, the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment. In the Electoral Register of 1918 he is shown as an absent voter due to military service. No Medal Index Card exists for him, so it appeared he must have seen the war out on home shores. I did keep an open mind about which regiment, but if I’m being honest, my assumption was the Duke of Wellingtons.

Wrong. 

This month, idly looking at Find My Past’s military records, I saw the familiar name of Patrick Cassidy. But not in the Army records. Instead it was the AIR 79 Series, British Royal Air Force (RAF) Airmen’s Service Records. It is definitely him. His Hume Street address in Batley, his birthplace (County Mayo), his marriage and children’s details are all correct (except eldest daughter Ellen is written as Helen). So no doubt whatsoever.

He attested on 12 July 1918, and his service number 267675 fits in with June/July intake of civilians. Clearly Patrick had not lasted the duration of the war with the Duke of Wellingtons. A tribute to his persistence, he was now trying his hand with the fledgling RAF arm of the military.

The RAF was born out of the difficulties arising from the competing supply needs, including men, of the Army-operated Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and its naval counterpart, the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). As a consequence design, technology, tactics and training were not being managed cost-effectively.  From 1916, ideas of unification surfaced, with an Air Board being created to attempt to resolve the issues of purchasing and supply. 

But the problems continued and increased. Alongside the competition for aeroplanes and aircrew, concerns arose around supplying air support to the Army on the Western Front, dealing with the U-Boat menace at sea and improving the inadequate air defences at home. The latter was initially highlighted by Zeppelin raids. However by late May of 1917 huge German Gotha bomber aircraft began a bombing campaign, particularly targetting London, causing hundreds of deaths. 

As an interesting aside to these raids, the accompanying fresh wave of anti-German sentiment engendered by them, with the name of the Gotha aircraft now on lips countrywide, finally prompted the Royal Family name change.  George V by royal proclamation on 17 July 1917, announced the dropping of the  German Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, to be replaced by the English Windsor.

In the wake of all this General Jan Smuts, a member of the War Cabinet, was tasked to look at air defence and broader air organisation. The South African Boer war opponent of the British, military leader and politician, who after the World War became South Africa’s second Prime Minister, recommended the creation of a united Air Force. On 29 November 1917 an Act of Parliament establishing an Air Force and an Air Council received the Royal Assent. The Royal Air Force came into existence on 1 April 1918. 

RAF Badge and Motto – photo by Jane Roberts

Recruitment for this new branch of the Armed Forces now began in earnest, desperately required to fuel its rapid manpower expansion. Posters, adverts, newspaper articles and local recruitment rallies appeared appealing to 18-50 year olds, offering attractive pay rates and the promise of no compulsory transfer to the Army or Navy. 

© IWM (Art.IWM PST 5277) – free to reuse for non-commercial purposes under the IWM Non Commercial Licence

From June 1918 onwards the recruitment tempo increased, as eligibility criteria was correspondingly decreased. The drive also played on the fact that lower grade men would be serving in comparative safety. For example, this from “The Midland Daily Telegraph” of 6 June 1918:

Opportunity is now offered during the months of June for enlistment in the Royal Air Force of men who are suitable as employment as clerks (in pay offices and stores as shorthand typists), as cooks, as hospital orderlies, as store men and as bat men. The men recruited must be over 35 years of age if in Grade II, or of any age from 18 if in Grade III.

Specially strong men are required as labourers for airship landing parties and for thr Mediterranean Balloon Section. Grade I men over 40, Grade II men over 30 and Grade III men of any age are required. General labourers are also required in Grade II over 30, or Grade III any age“.

And, more locally, the pronouncement of the Chairman of an Ormskirk Tribunal was reported in “The Yorkshire Evening Post” of 10 June. Grade III men were now required for the Air Force because:

…instructions had been received from the Ministry of National Service that owing to the urgent necessity of maintaining all aerial craft, men of all ages and grades were required for the Royal Air Force. Certain branches of this work are being done and must be done by Grade 3 men. Higher grade men were needed for the fighting line.

In the national interest, tribunals must consider the absolute necessity of Grade 3 men for the Air Force“.

These pleas obviously appealed to my great grandfather, whose records show his occupation as one of those much in-demand labourers. His RAF attestation papers describe him standing at 5’3 1/2”, with grey eyes, a sallow complexion and dark grey hair. The grey hair is unsurprising. He was no spring chicken. His stated age is 49 and he gives his date of birth as 24 May 1869. This, yet again, is a false declaration. But not as wildly out as his 1914 attempts to get in the Army. He was in fact born in March 1868. He had shaved a year off in order to meet the age criteria for enlistment. His papers also show his Grade III category, able to serve at home.

His rank was Private 2nd Class, so a service role. He was assigned by the RAF Reserve Depot (Blandford) to No.1 (Observer) School of Aerial Gunnery at Hythe, in Kent, as a batman: in other words a personal servant to a commissioned officer. Is this the man my grandma remembers coming to the house seeking my grandad, as recounted in my earlier post

His service record goes on to show his character as “very good” and his degree of proficiency “satisfactory“. However, on 6 November 1918, days before the Armistice, he was recategorised as Grade E. In other words permenantly unfit for service. He was finally discharged on 22 January 1919. 

His record also shows that he apparently received a modest pension for his service, but the writing is extremely faint. And on 1 May 1919 he was awarded a Silver War Badge, 7162. 

Silver War Badge (not my great grandad’s) – Photo by Jane Roberts

The Silver War Badge (SWB) was instituted in September 1916. British and Empire service personnel honourably discharged due to old age, wounds or sickness received or contracted at home or overseas, received this medal. To qualify, the recipient had to have served for at least seven days between 4 August 1914 and 31 December 1919. Therefore those discharged before the badge’s institution date received the honour retrospectively. 

The badge was worn on the right lapel of civilian clothes, an indication of the recipient’s loyal war service. This visible display aimed to put a stop to men discharged as no longer fit, but without any obvious physical injuries, being publicly humiliated, harassed and accused of cowardice and refusal to serve. 

The rolls for the SWB generally record the man’s date of enlistment and discharge, and whether he was discharged as the result of being wounded or through age or “sickness”. RAF men’s badge numbers bore the prefix “RAF“, with over 10,000 issued.

These SWB rolls are at The National Archives and also available on commercial websites. Often, where service records no longer exist, these are the only indication that a man who did not go overseas served in the First World War. The bad news for me is my great grandad’s is not there. According to The National Archives, the only true RAF record relating to the SWB is in AIR 2/197/C33296. So, unless your RAF ancestor was a RFC recipient (WO 329/3244) or RNAS (ADM 171/173-87), you’re likely to draw a blank. This is something not made clear in the description on the commercial sites.

Similarly, although RAF personnel did receive campaign medals, there are no medal rolls in The National Archives for men who joined after the formation of the RAF on 1 April 1918, unless they transferred from the RFC or RNAS. For direct RAF entrants you are reliant on service records for medal entitlement including, in the most part, for their SWBs. 

I’m immensely proud of my great grandad on a number of levels:

  • His steadfast determination to do his duty despite his age;
  • His refusal to let age hold him back;
  • His never-give-up attitude, in the face of repeated rejection; and 
  • His willingness to embrace modernisation and progress, taking a leap into the future by joining the newly created RAF.

I’ve also delighted in being able to tell my dad he wasn’t the first member of his family to join the RAF. The story has also reminded me of my own happy work-days in RAF contracts and, later, aero-engine supply management. Also the frightening march of time: I think most of the aircraft I dealt with are now obsolete, including Phantom, Buccaneer, Nimrod, Hunter, Harrier, Sea Harrier, Victor and  Jaguar. I think the Hercules, Tucano and Hawk are the only ones left. But I’m a bit out of touch with aircraft now, so don’t take my word for that.

From a family history angle, the moral of this story is don’t rule out the improbable in researching family history. Ancestors were real people and, as such, often made the unlikeliest of choices. 

Sources: