World War One researchers quickly become aware of the loss of the bulk of soldier’s records as a result of a German incendiary bomb striking the Arnside Street storage depot in September 1940. Arnside Street is located just south of the Elephant and Castle, an area which suffered heavy bombing in World War Two due to it being a major urban centre, heavily populated and having extensive road and railway infrastructure .
Few will be aware of the real extent of the loss which, in addition to the majority of service records, includes many other items which would be a gift to Family Historians and those trying to discover ‘what Grandad did in that war to end all wars’.
A full list of the lost documents can be found at the National Archives under reference WO32/21769. A digitised copy may be downloaded for a small fee from here.
The document states that only 1.25 million of the 6.5 million army service records have survived, “out of 6.5 million documents only 1.25 million have been saved”
The lost records include:
- Great War soldiers’ non-effective documents up to 7 August 1920 inclusive
- Card index of nurses
- Confidential reports on nurses
- Complete medical history of the war and card index
- Chemical warfare files
- Officers’ pay lists 1914 to 1921
- Card index of military staff
- All intelligence records including those of missions to Russia, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Black Sea, Italy, Portugal, Persia and Egypt
- Officers’ commission cards and confidential reports
- Card index to honours and awards
- Historical volumes of the leading London newspapers
- Officers’ records of service
- Rolls of munitions factories
- Army Lists from 1775 onwards
- Packages of photographic plates for the Great War period
- Nominal rolls of colonial regiments
- Officers’ and men’s casualty cards
- Card index of officer unit and demobilisation
- Card index of deceased officers
- Card index of officers and men taken prisoner of war
- Card index of German prison camps
- War diaries
- Nominal roll of pre-war and Great War volunteers
- All Army Forms AB72, AB216, AN358 and AB359
- Part II Orders of all branches (detailing troop movements including individual men)
- Reference books of widows’ pensions
- Card index of military hospitals
All this and a considerable amount of stationery apparently.
But worry not it remains possible in most cases, with the help of secondary sources and a little patience, to construct a reliable narrative of an individuals soldier’s service in the First World War.