Creating the database of names
Collating the databases of names of those who served in the Brigade.
The process of collating a database of those who served in the Brigade, and its supporting units, drew on data from a variety of sources. Much of the material collected was able to be cross-referenced with other sources to provide, in some instances, additional information.
The sources could be summarised as follows:-
1. Casualty information from The Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
The usefulness of this set of information depended on the fact that the Commission was prepared to let me have files of casualties sorted by Battalion. The dataset included; Army Number, full name, age (sometimes), Regiment and Unit in which the soldier was serving at the time of his death, date of death, location of grave or commemorative Memorial and, in some cases, family information. This often gave an address, which allowed links to be made with local War Memorials. A difficulty occurred when the soldier met his death after having been transferred out of the Brigade in autumn 1944. If, for example, he had been moved to one of the other DLI Battalions and then became a casualty, he would not show up in the Commission’s 70 Brigade search.
2. The Enlistment and Discharge Books – Army Book 358.
These documents are organised by Regiments and are in Regimental Number order. As the War began the flood of recruits – volunteers and conscripts – was such that the entry for each man was limited to a bare record of name and number, whereas in earlier years an almost encyclopaedic record of the man himself, and his family, could be found in those pages – “pure gold” for the family historian. While not even a date of enlistment or attestation was entered from 1939 onwards in most cases, what the Books did record was transfer and discharge details. This allowed the identification of many men who had served as Regular soldiers and then volunteered for the Territorial Army in 1939, or were called back to the Regiment as they still had a Reserve commitment. Most regulars signed up for seven years service plus five on the Reserve, so if a man enlisted in, say, 1929, he was still liable to be called back to the Colours when mobilisation took place in 1939. The man, of course, may not have served with the DLI or the Black Watch but may well have been living and working as a civilian in Gateshead, so would naturally have found himself mobilised in 9th DLI, then perhaps moved to 12th DLI when the duplicate Battalions were activated, and then transferred to The Black Watch when 12th DLI became 1st Tyneside Scottish. Because in this period a man retained his original Army Number it is possible to track his service to some extent – and this feature supports the analysis which exposed the range of Regiments represented when the Battalions were mustered. This means, of course, checking his entry in the Enlistment Books of his original Regiment and this took not only a lot of my time, but the co-operation of the custodians of those records – generally the Regimental Museums – not all of whom were forthcoming with access to the information. Sadly, because these are Regimental records, if a man’s entire service had been, for example, with the DLI, none of his inter-Battalion transfers appeared in the records. I was unable to completely identify many DLI men as having spent time in the 70th Brigade Battalions because of this factor.
The Enlistment Books also noted men who had been made prisoners, or become casualties – including sometimes those who had transferred to other units. Discharge information gave date of leaving and the Class of Reserve to which a man had been allocated. Discharges for other reasons, such as unsuitability for service, or lack of medical fitness, were also identified, as well as transfers to other Corps and Units. Batches of transfers sometimes occurred – that to 1st Tyneside Scottish being the most numerous, but there were also drafts of men sent to the Royal Artillery or Pioneer Corps – perhaps on grounds of age – or to the Home Defence Battalions. One batch of 1942 transferees were those men who were almost certainly unit cooks, who found themselves re-badged as members of the Army Catering Corps, or unit vehicle mechanics, who were moved to REME. In most cases, I suspect, the men carried on doing their duty in their previous roles, but within a different military structure.
3. War Diaries.
In most instances, only Officers are mentioned by name in War Diaries, and during active operations, a weekly return of Officers serving with the Unit concerned was supposed to be completed, a copy of which was filed with the War Diary. This allows a comprehensive tracking of the service of those men, at least for the periods over which the returns were completed.
Occasionally individual soldiers were mentioned in the pages of the War Diary – such matters as football or boxing teams recorded for posterity were of great help, provided the surname was not a common one, as often no forenames or initials were given. Sometimes a brief account of some misdemeanour or incident, or the citation for a gallantry award, provided confirmation that this was one of the men who belonged on the database.
In the case of 70 Brigade I found within the War Diaries only one example of the nominal roll which each unit was supposed to complete prior to embarkation for Iceland – that related to the 11th Battalion of The Durham Light Infantry and - while not without its spelling mistakes and errors in transcriptions of Regimental Numbers – it was an absolute boon.
A very similar benefit arose from having access to a copy of “Harder than Hammers” – published in 1947 and written by Captain Whitehead as a brief history of 1st Tyneside Scottish – as it contained a nominal roll of those who had served, as well as a list of known casualties. Staff at the Museum of The Black Watch were aware that Capt Whitehead had been quite selective as to who he had included on his nominal roll, but not the criteria he had used, and were also aware that, like all similar sources, it was not perfect as to spelling or numerical accuracy. While finding it enormously helpful, I did not hesitate to correct the detectable errors, and also merged with it the lists of those who had transferred from 12th DLI to 1st Tyneside Scottish, (picked up from the DLI Enlistment Books) but had unaccountably found themselves omitted from Capt. Whitehead’s listings, perhaps because their Black Watch service was only limited in length. A great debt is owed by me to Capt. Whitehead for his sterling efforts.
4. Citations and Gallantry Awards.
Thanks to the help of Mike Spurrier I had a very comprehensive list of 70 Brigade awards and citations – many of them posthumous. These sometimes mentioned other men than the recipient, and also proved helpful in fixing various episodes by time and place.
5. Record of British Army Prisoners of War.
This formally published list was useful, but could have been so much more so had the Battalion or unit of service been identified as well as the Regiment or Corps. One flaw I discovered very early in my researches was that the publication appeared to exclude men who were killed or died in enemy hands. It should perhaps be more accurately seen as a repatriation list, rather than a PoW list. For many of those men listed in the Enlistment Books as “PoW” it did, at the least, provide confirmation of their status, and, most helpfully, identified the Camp at which they were held.
6. Local Press.
Local newspapers are, as family historians will testify, a valuable source of information. This applied just the same to their coverage about local men serving in the Brigade.
7. Family contact.
I was fortunate to be approached by several family members of men from the Brigade, and had the opportunity to examine and record some artefacts, which, in some cases, confirmed Regimental Numbers, locations and the roles that the men had played. A main function of this Website is to encourage more contact of this type and I hope that those who have such information will check to see what is already on the Website, and add further personal details by e-mailing me at email@example.com
Any errors in transcribing information between sources are my sole responsibility and I would welcome corrections being e-mailed to me – again at firstname.lastname@example.org