Poppy Fields and eBay


 Montage of a poppyfield, a WW1 soldier and the eBay logo
 Poppy Fields and eBay

We are currently in a period of commemoration for those who served during WW1. My own contribution to the commemoration was inspired by seeing items of WW1 memorabilia for sale on EBAY. This gave me the idea to buy items that I would use as a start point for a family history talk, to inspire others to use their own objects to learn more about their past owners. Eventually I hope to find new homes for my items, to ensure their preservation for the future. This is a shortened version of my original talk so only a few items appear. I will also make reference to Rudyard Kipling’s WW1 writing’s which I hope you will follow up and read these on the Kipling Society website.

 Montage of WW1 memorabilia
 Medals and Memorials Plaques 

The commonest items of WW1 memorabilia are medals and the memorial plaque known as the Widow’s or Death Penny. From left to right are the Death Penny, the 14-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal. Those from India might also have received the Indian General Service Medal, shown below the other 3 medals. You might also have the 1914-1919 India Voluntary War Work Badge. Another medal I have seen erroneously being sold as the Indian Victory Medal depicts two turbaned soldiers. This medal was awarded to seriously wounded Indian Soldiers and should have a turquoise ribbon.

 Slide showing sources for WW1 items of memorabilia
 Slide 3

The next two slides cover websites you will find useful. Check in your local library to see if the first two sites can be accessed for free, otherwise you will need a subscription. With ANCESTRY you can access: Births, Marriages & Deaths; Censuses; Medal Awards; Service Records and their WW1 site. FIND MY PAST allows you to access Census Records but you can resort you results in various ways. FMP also gives you access to the British Library’s India Office Collection Baptism, Marriage and Burial Records which are key records for anyone researching ancestry in the Indian Sub-Continent 17th century -1947 before. The NATIONAL ARCHIVES at Richmond near London hold records for the Voluntary Aid Detachment Nurses (VAD nurses). The FAMILIES IN BRITISH INDIA SOCIETY (FIBIS) I will come back to. And finally the COMMONWEALTH WAR GRAVES COMMISSION site allows you to search for named individuals or for all casualties in a specific regiment.

 Poppy Fields and eBay slide 4
 Slide 4

The Imperial War Museum’s LIVES OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR site has records for everyone who appears in the WW1 Medal Rolls. You can upload your family information and photographs into these records as well as links for entries on ANCESTRY and FIND MY PAST (you can’t upload copyright images ). It is anticipated the site will become a permanent electronic tribute to those who served.

The AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL ARCHIVES hold records of service for Australians who served during the conflict.

The KIPLING SOCIETY site will allow you to read the poems and story I refer to during the talk. The books I have used include THE GREAT WAR HANDBOOK, WHAT TOMMY TOOK TO WAR, BRITISH CAMPAIGN MEDALS OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR and Kimball’s TRENCH ART. Kipling’s speech at the opening of Neuve Chapelle, which I quote from later, can be found in LES TROUPES INDIENNES EN FRANCE.

 Poppy Fields and eBay slide 5
 Slide 5

There are two haunting phrases we all associate with memorials of WW1 Firstly that on the Stone of Remembrance at a Commonwealth War Graves cemetery or memorial “THEIR NAME LIVETH FOR EVERMORE” (Ecclesiasticus 44:14). The second appears on all graves of unknown casualties “KNOWN UNTO GOD”. Both were the suggestion of Rudyard Kipling

 Poppy Fields and eBay slide 6
 Slide 6 

In 2009 I toured some of the Somme Battlefields and took the first two photos at the time. The first image shows a line of Hindu and Muslim graves at Bedford House Cemetery (Chateau Rosendal) with a Chattri rather than the Cross of Sacrifice behind them.

During the conflict India sent over a hundred and forty thousand men to the Western Front. Over eight thousand five hundred and fifty men were killed and possibly fifty thousand or more wounded. Almost five thousand of the dead have no known grave and are commemorated at the Menin Gate (Ypres) and at the Neuve Chapelle Monument in France, shown in a CWG image at the bottom of the slide

Neuve Chapelle is regarded as the main monument to all Indian soldiers or workers who served in France 1914-1918 and is where the India Corps fought their first major battle. Currently the CWG site lists the names of over four thousand seven hundred men at Neuve Chapelle. Men from India would also fight at Gallipoli, in Mesopotamia, on the North West Frontier and also served in India itself. Nurses were also recruited in India for short term military service both in India and at the Front.

 Poppy Fields and eBay slide 7
 Slide 7

Commonwealth War Grave image

Amongst those present at the dedication of the Neuve Chapelle Memorial on the 7th October 1927 was Rudyard Kipling. This is an extract from the speech he made, translated for me from French by my cousin.

… Have you ever thought what they suffered spiritually during their journey to The Front, across the oceans. An existence they had never imagined, in countries beyond their imagination Into lands, for as much as they knew, full of devils and monsters?

Christopher Columbus and his men when exploring for new worlds did not confront half the possible terrors which these men coming from India were prepared to meet and it’s in this state of mind that they came to France and later wrote to their parents or friends at home to help them understand the spirit of this new universe.

I have read some of these letters and I can state that it was not long before the profound humanity, the honesty, the goodwill and well thought out marshalling of the resources of France as an agricultural nation calmed their hearts and brought peace of mind.

A young man whose letter I can quote almost verbatim wrote to his mother to reassure her “Oh my mother do not be afraid, these people are as civilised as us and what is more all the women work the land as much as the men. I have seen it. The land passes from father to son, after the payment of the necessary tax, exactly as it happens back home. Also they buy and sell in the streets pieces of poultry and meat but also needles and thread scissors and matches exactly as we do in the bazaars back home.

So don’t worry, because they are just like us in every way!”

 Poppy Fields and eBay Slide 8 Trench Art
 Slide 8

Two pieces of Trench Art which that have lost their connections to their original owners but have begun new associations that will ensure their preservation.

Firstly a typical bullet crucifix. After the War people began to visit the new cemeteries. Individual graves at this time were marked with crosses rather than the stones we are familiar with today. Kipling’s short story “The Gardener” is set at this time and I recommend this story to you as it has an unexpected and rather moving ending. Those visiting the cemeteries may have bought a bullet crucifix, such as the one depicted. Christ crucified on four spent bullets. This particular crucifix was the very first of my objects to be re homed and is shown in its new home in a church that I am associated with Holy Innocent’s Church, Kingsbury. Since 2014 it has sat under the WW1 memorial window (to the right of the poppies and under the spot light.) and above the WW1 commemoration plaque. I gave a very brief talk about my WW1 objects prior to church’s service to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of WW1 in 2014 and presented the crucifix to the Vicar. Secondly a Trench Art cigarette case. During WW1 the Brighton Pavilion in Sussex was turned into a hospital for severely wounded Indian soldiers. The post card on the right, also part of my collection, shows rows of beds under its famous dome and some of the soldiers. The cigarette case was made by an unknown Sikh solder while at Brighton. It shows the Taj Mahal on one side and an outline map of India and the far east on the back. This item was once part of the Whitehall Theatre of War Museum’s collection. This collection was sold off in the mid 1980’s and the museum closed. This particular item I intend to pass on within my own family

 Poppy Fields and Ebay Slide 9 WW1 letters
 Slide 9

The post card on the left is one of three sent by Ida Harrison to a Vivian Biscombe. The postmark shows her to be on active military service and nursing at the Nasrieh Military Hospital in Cairo. I started by looking for her VAD service record in the English National Archives, this is shown on the right. I then researched the Harrison and Biscombe families in the English census records for 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911. I discovered Ida’s parent’s William (an architect) and Emma died when she was a little girl, leaving their eldest daughter, Frances, as Head of the Household and bringing up five of her seven younger siblings including Ida.

Frances later married George Biscombe. This particular card identifies Vivian as her nephew, the other two are not so obvious as to the relationship. Infact the census shows him to be George Vivian Biscombe so initially he did not show up! At the bottom right is another of my documents. Although hand written it is possibly a copy made for circulation of information rather than the original. It was sent in 1916 to the Surgeon General to the Government of Bombay by the Commissioner of the St John’s Ambulance (Overseas) requesting that he authorise the training of a hundred MORE nurses for temporary military service and it specifies they should be female and English speaking, for service both in India itself and at the Front. Nursing of course is one of the professions open to women that was common in the Anglo Indian Community

 Poppy Fields and eBay Slide 10
 Slide 10 

This is an example of an “In Memorium Card”. This one bears a picture of the deceased others I have seen have a photo of the grave. It contains information on his parents, his wife, his date of birth and date of death and country of burial. I began my search on the Commonwealth War Graves site which confirmed his burial at Horshirapur and service with the Royal Field Artillery but had additional information that he served with the 13th Ammunition Column and that a cross had been erected. Some CWG records contain information on spouses or, in the case of unmarried casualties, their parent’s names. The record may also contain information relating to remains have been moved and reinterred elsewhere or if a grave location can no longer be identified. The Hoshiarpur entry indicated he was buried at Christ Church Cemetery rather than a designated CWG one. This made me think he may have been recorded in the India Office Bombay Presidency Burial records as well. I checked in the records of the India Office, on FIND MY PAST, but I did not find an entry. However he does have one in the British General Register Office’s Army Death’s Index. The actual record itself may have further information as to whether he was killed in action or died of wounds or disease.

I then researched Harry in the 1901 and 1911 census records which confirmed he was the son of Henry and Fanny of Holt, Dorset. By 1911 they had a second child, Laura. The record shows Henry was a Haulier and Harry is shown as assisting his father. Medal records show Harry received the British War Medal and the marriage registration index shows that he married Elsie Loader in 1916. The birth registration index shows in the first quarter of 1918 that Harry and Elsie had a son, Harry S Cobb. Let us hope that Harry was able to return to England and meet his infant son before his death in India.

 Poppy Fields and eBay Slide 11
 Slide 11


This is a popular form of trench art, a protective cover for a match box. It has the initials, surname, regimental number and regiment details of the owner O C Robertson – slight dent on the C makes it look like a G.

My first step was to find out what ADUS meant This proved to be Australian Depot Unit of Supply . So it pointed me towards looking for O C Robertson in the Australian National Archives service records. O C Robertson No. 2600 proved to be Oscar Clyde Robertson of Dunnstown, Victoria. The son of Peter Robertson also of Dunnstown. Oscar was a Railway Fuel Man and joined up in 1914. He was classed in his service record as “British Born” and initially I thought this meant that his parents had emigrated from the British Isles to Australia. So I wasted some time looking for Oscar on the English 1891 and 1901 censuses . In fact he was born in Australia and I discovered the concept of “Australian Nationality” was introduced in 1920. Prior to this date Australia’s Nationality Law was governed by the English Common Law concept of a British Subject (you may need to look this up yourself for a full explanation). One of my FIBIS colleagues based in Australia took up the challenge and from Australian Embarkation Rolls and later Electoral Registers discovered Oscar survived WW1 and returned to his homeland and took up farming. The Australian birth, marriage, and records indicated Oscar married Cynthia Douglas in 1920 , that they had a daughter also called Cynthia and that Oscar died in 1960 and Cynthia in 1977. Curiously the matchbox ended up in Scotland and the person I bought it from told me they had acquired it at a sale in Dingwall. The story of how it ended up in Scotland is lost to the mists of time but it has now returned to Australia, where my friend, mentioned above, is looking on my behalf for a new home for it in Oscar’s native land.

 Poppy Fields and eBay Slide 12
 Slide 12

If you are researching an Anglo-Indian who served during WW1 and you know they died during the conflict, I would look for them on the COMMONWEALTH WAR GRAVES site first. If you are not sure or know they survived then I would initially try the LIVES OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR site. I would also search the medal awards. Sometimes a later obituary will make reference to their war service . My Grandfather George Charles, shown on the right with my Grandmother and my father, has an entry on LIVES OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR because he appears in the medal award rolls. The latter record that he received two medals The British War Medal and the Indian General Service medal with the 1919 Afghanistan NWF bar. Unfortunately his medals were later stolen. He died at the end of 1947 and had an obituary in the January 1948 edition of the Anglo Indian Newsletter (shown below) indicates that he served with the 7th Battery of the Royal Field Artillery.

 Poppy Fields and eBay Slide 13
 Slide 13

This Victory medal was awarded to Private Norman Clifford Locke of the Anglo Indian Force (The AIF) I had been aware there existed in the British Library India Office Collection what I had supposed to be, from the way it was described in an appendix of Gaylor’s Book “Sons of John Company”, a pamphlet relating to the AIF. What was produced for me was a book, by C T Robbie that he had privately published in 1919. I was totally blown away and very excited as I leafed my way through it, as hundreds of names were there. The book L/MIL/17/5/4318 was also available as a microfilm (IOR NEG 50256) so I spent 2 days alternating between looking at the original and printing it out from the microfilm. You will see the cover at the bottom left of the slide. The book is in two parts, the first half comprises the lists of names and place of enlistment for the AIF Cavalry, AIF Infantry and AIF Artillery. There are potted biographies of the officers, information on recruitment, pay and the campaign in Mesopotamia and a history of the AIF. The page from the book shown under the medal has Norman Locke’s name on it, it’s the penultimate name in the final column on the right of the page. But Robbie was not content to stop with recording the AIF! There is a second part to the book that comprises hundreds of names Anglo-Indians and Domiciled Europeans (sorry I am not going to try and explain these two terms, that is almost a talk in itself !!!) who according to Robbie “rendered war service other than in the Anglo Indian Force”. The information was gleaned from all over The Indian Subcontinent and also from British Burma, sources appear to have included Schools (Old Boy’s), Railway Companies, the Posts & Telegraph. Currently the Families in British India Society are transcribing all the names in Robbie’s book and hope to make the information available in the future. The second half of the book is paginated starting again at page 1. There is a page missing in this second half of the book (37-38) and I would very much like to hear from anyone who has a copy so that we can transcribe the names from this missing page Recently I discovered about a hundred and thirty service records, on ANCESTRY, for the Anglo-Indian Force and The Indian Defence Corps which I hope to transcribe in the next few weeks . They can be accessed by choosing ANCESTRY’S Military Records option then selecting “British Army WW1 Service Records 1914-1920” and typing “Anglo Indian” into the box for Regiment Name. Because of many transcription errors you do need to look at the actual scans of the records, so this will take some time! Robbie says in the foreword of the book “… it seemed to be desirable that future generations should know something of what part their ancestors played in the great European War hence some record seemed to be necessary …. Every effort has been made to secure as much information as possible, sometimes at considerable expenditure of time and money , hence for all shortcomings the compiler craves the indulgence of the Community. It is hoped that on receipt of fuller information it may be possible to publish a sequel to this publication detailing work accomplished in the greatest war the world has ever seen not only by the Anglo-Indian force, but by Anglo-Indians the world over ...” According to Robbie between eight thousand to ten thousand Anglo Indians served during the conflict, wouldn’t it be marvellous to help him achieve his goal!

 Poppy Fields and eBay Slide 14 John Kipling
 Slide 14

Amongst Kipling’s WW1 poems I would like to recommend you read “Gethsemane” and “Mesopotamia”. Many Anglo-Indians of course served in Mesopotamia. Kipling’s son John served as a Lieutenant in the Irish Guards. John was killed on the 27th September 1915 during the Battle of Loos and was commemorated on the Loos Memorial, his name there is shown at the centre of the slide. Somewhat controversially in the 1990’s the Commonwealth War Graves Commission confirmed they were confident that the remains of an unidentified Irish Guard Lieutenant were those of John and have erected a stone, shown on the right, to mark the grave at St Mary’s ADC Cemetery. I would like to end my talk by sharing with you an extract from Kipling’s moving poem “The Children” … Nor was their agony brief, or once only imposed on them. The wounded, the war-spent, the sick received no exemption: Being cured they returned and endured and achieved our redemption, Hopeless themselves of relief, till Death, marvelling, closed on them. That flesh we had nursed from the first in all cleanness was given To corruption unveiled and assailed by the malice of Heaven - By the heart-shaking jests of Decay where it lolled on the wires To be blanched or gay-painted by fumes - to be cindered by fires - To be senselessly tossed and retossed in stale mutilation From crater to crater. For this we shall take expiation. But who shall return us our children ?


 Poppy Fields and eBay Slide 15
 End Slide (Somme 1916)

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