Must be the time of year

There are a few articles like the one that appeared in the Sun-Herald today that tend to appear around this time of year. This one tells the story of a man named Fred Reeves, a Digger killed at Gallipoli in 1915. Or rather it tells the story of how an interested descendant – a great niece in this case – pieced together Fred’s story.

More power to Judy McLeod’s elbow, I say. She started with a name in a family Bible and a hunch that the date given with the name – 1915 – could have been connected with the First World War. She was right. He had been killed in Gallipoli and has no known grave.

“I am glad I looked into this otherwise he would just be another statistic. There is nobody to even say he existed and fought and died for his country.” – Judy McLeod, great niece of Australian infantryman Fred Reeve

This quote for me is the most important part of the article. Through the curiosity of one interested individual, almost a century later, the name scribbled into the Bible has come to life.

There has been a real resurgence in interest in this sort of family research in recent years. Indeed, my own work could be said to be part of it as well. I put it down to a couple of happy coincidences. Perhaps the salient one from a practical point of view has been the information and speed of communications that comes from the internet. It’s become much more accessible to the average person and so it’s easier to turn an idle curiosity into a keen family history interest. We can find records online that previously would have involved letters to archives overseas, if not an actual trip overseas. Investigations that previously would have taken months can now find answers from the other side of the world in literally minutes. In short, people can work in the comfort of their own homes, without having to pore through musty files in some record depository somewhere (though some (like me) might say that doing that is what it’s all about anyway!).

The other factor, more relevant in this case than in my own work into the crew of B for Baker, is the upcoming centenary of the Gallipoli landings in four years time. It means that ANZAC Day is receiving more and more media coverage each year. There are no WWI veterans alive in Australia anymore, but there are more and more people investigating family connections to the conflict – giving names and stories to their own ‘man in the photograph’. For remembering men like Fred Reeves, who would otherwise as Judy McLeod said be just another statistic, this can only be a good thing.

© 2011 Adam Purcell

Have the Brits changed their tune?

I’ve been thankful that the crew I am researching has four Australians in it. This is good because it means that it was very easy to access copies of their service records. The National Archives of Australia provide records to anyone who requests them, for a small fee – and once the records have been requested they are digitally scanned and placed onto their website where anyone can access them free of charge.

But getting British service records has always been much, much harder. They are still under the care of the Royal Air Force and previously you needed to write to their office at RAF Cranwell. You could access an extract of your record for free if you were a veteran, but anyone else was up for a GBP30.00 fee, payable by cheque only (rather difficult to organise from Australia!). On top of that, due to ‘privacy laws’ you required the written permission of the next of kin to access any records at all. If you didn’t have that permission (perhaps you were still searching for them… sound familiar?!??), you couldn’t access anything at all.

I managed to find Freda Hamer, daughter of Jerry Parker’s widow, and got a letter from her which I used to get his service record – which was two single pages of A4, with information limited to his promotions and postings. Useful, but at GBP30.00, rather steep – and a little unreasonable considering for AUD15.00, or about a quarter of the cost, you got a colour scan of an entire service record for an Australian airman – which could run to seventy or so pages! And I needed to trace Jerry’s family before the RAF even considered giving me that much.

But have things changed? Phil Bonner alerted me to this web page a few months ago. It would appear that an otherwise unannounced change has occurred:

 Under the scheme, and in recognition of the duty of care owed to the family of the deceased subject, for a period of 25 years following the date of death of the subject and without the consent of the Next of Kin, MOD will disclose only:  surname; forename; rank; service number; regiment/corps; place of birth; age; date of birth; date of death where this occurred in service; the date an individual joined the service; the date of leaving; good conduct medals (i.e. Long Service and Good Conduct Medal (LS&GCM)), any orders of chivalry and gallantry medals (decorations of valour) awarded, some of which may have been announced in the London Gazette.

After this period, and if it is held, in addition MOD will disclose without the requirement for Next of Kin consent: the units in which he/she served; the dates of this service and the locations of those units; the ranks in which the service was carried out and details of WWII campaign medals.

Note no further requirement for NoK consent.

So it looks as though I’ll now be able to get parts of the service records for Ken Tabor and for Eric Hill.

Still need to organise some cheques in GBP though.