WWI regimental records go online

Times Series: The Cenotaph in Whitehall The Cenotaph in Whitehall

Previously unseen records on the oldest regiment in the British Army are being released today, including intriguing tales from its involvement in the First World War.

The records from the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) date from 1848-1922 and include the service of actors, artists and Olympians in the Great War, as well as intriguing information about the company's mascots including a dog and even a tortoise.

The records, selected from the HAC's archives, are being made available online today by family history website findmypast.co.uk.

The HAC is the oldest regiment in the British Army, dating back to a charter granted by Henry VIII in 1537, with captain generals including James II, William III, Prince Albert, Georges V and VI and Queen Elizabeth II.

Now a reserve company, its solders are trained as surveillance and target acquisition specialists with skills in covert intelligence gathering, communications and logistics.

Two HAC infantry battalions and five batteries fought in the First World War in France, Belgium, Italy and the Middle East. Around 1,650 men lost their lives serving with one of these seven HAC units or, having been commissioned as officers, with many other units of the armed forces.

Today's records reveal some of the men who joined the HAC, including actor John Laurie, best known for his role as Private James Frazer in the popular sitcom Dad's Army.

Adrian Hill, an official war artist, created his harrowing trench sketches of the Western Front while serving in the Scouting and Sniping Section of the HAC, while artist and Olympian Edward Amoore won both a gold and bronze medal for rifle shooting in the 1908 Olympics, then went on to serve in the war, becoming adjutant.

He was mentioned in despatches in April 1917 before being severely wounded the following month, then later went on to serve on the Home Front in the Second World War.

Fellow Olympian Kenneth Powell, who competed in both tennis and hurdles in the 1908 and 1912 Olympics, was a private in the HAC and was killed in action at Ypres in February 1915.

The new records also reveal details about some of the regimental mascots - a mascot tortoise was tied to a battery gun for safe keeping during the Battle of Gaza in April 1917 but was badly wounded and died as a result of enemy shelling which killed six men.

The files also describe how map publisher Edward Fraser Stanford was responsible for the safe keeping of a young terrier dog named Teddy who became the mascot of A and B Batteries, going with them when they sailed for Egypt in April 1915.

Despite going missing twice - the second time for over two months in the Jordan Valley during the summer of 1918 - Teddy was reunited with his comrades after a chance sighting with an Indian Cavalry column on the other side of Palestine, and returned safely to England with Mr Stanford when the war ended.

A nother member of the HAC's B Battery serving in the Middle East was Edgar George Roberts, who was commissioned into the Royal Flying Corps in 1916 and flew with a similar terrier dog in his plane.

His HAC record card, apparently filled in by Roberts himself and posted back to the HAC in 1919, says that he crash-landed in France in 1917.

The records to be unveiled online include full HAC admission and regimental records from 1848-1922 and a small collection of photographs and letters from the next-of-kin of members who died in the First World War.

Paul Nixon, military historian at findmypast.co.uk, said: "It is brilliant to have such an extensive set of military records online - particularly exciting are those relating to World War One.

"With so many record sets destroyed in the Second World War, it is extremely rare to have a complete set of World War One regimental records. They will be hugely helpful to anyone wanting to discover more about this important organisation and the role their ancestors played in it."

HAC chief executive Sean Crane said: "These records provide an insight into the ordinary men from an extraordinary range of backgrounds who chose to fight for their country amidst the great rush of volunteers flocking to the HAC's Armoury House during the summer of 1914.

"This tradition is continued by another generation of men and women today as they step forward to serve their country in Afghanistan."

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