Once again it has been an absolute pleasure to receive a donation of military records from a member of the public. Contained within this deposit are the following items: a soldier’s pocket book, a Soldiers’ Small Book, a letter detailing the posthumous award of the Victory Medal, a Certificate of Transfer to Reserve on Demobilisation, a Parchment Certificate and an Inventory of Kit. What is particularly exciting is that all of the documents relate to one soldier, David Heaney, the donor’s late wife’s grandfather.
These fascinating army records allow us to build a picture of David’s Military career and even give the date of his death in 1921. Tantalisingly, the deposit contains no further details about the nature of David’s demise and it has become something of a mission for our team to try to find out more.
As with all good research we started with the facts that we know. This mixed bag of army forms, correspondence and soldiers’ books tell us that David Heaney enlisted into the Scots Guards at the age of eighteen years and seven months. After a period of sixteen years of service, including more than two and a half years in South Africa, he transferred to a Section D reservist. During this initial period of active service David passed a full military course for transport for Riding and Driving. He also received the Queens South Africa Medal with three clasps: Wittenbergen, Cape Colony and Transvaal as well as the King’s Own South Africa and Medal Clasps 1900 and 1902. Thanks to Philip Mather of the Lancashire Fusilier Museum for his help with deciphering the records.
In August 1914 David re-enlisted for the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. His Soldier’s pocket book details considerable service overseas including Gallipoli, Port Said and Bangalore. In the December of 1919 David was once again transferred to Army Reserves, category Z. On the back of the form detailing David’s transfer to the army reserves there is a hand written note in red ink pointing to the possibility that he reenlisted again for one year on the 23rd of April 1920, unfortunately we have been unable to officially corroborate this. Contained within the deposit there is an Inventory of Kit that was made on the 12th February 1921 following David’s death.
Using these details our fantastic Reference Librarian was able to utilise Ancestry and The British Newspaper Archive to discover more information about the cause of David’s death. A piece titled ‘Soldiers Fatal Hurry’, published in the Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate and Cheriton Herald on Saturday 19 February 1921, detail the findings of an inquest. Ironically, this decorated soldier – who had survived many years of active service, serving in both the Second Boer War and the First World War – died as a result of accidentally falling from a bus in peace time.
|DOCUMENT||ARMY FORM NUMBER|
|Parchment Certificate.||Army Form D. 426.|
|Inventory of the kit.||Army Form B. 253.|
|Certificate of Transfer to Reserve on Demobilisation||Army Form Z. 21|
|Soldiers’ Small Book.||Army Form B. 50.|
|Short Service Record.||Army Form B. 265.|
|Soldier’s Pocket Book||No number given.|
|Victory medal Letter.||No number given.|
I have particularly enjoyed working with this deposit as the documents, although formal and military in nature, have allowed more personal glimpses David life. On enlistment David’s complexion is described as fresh, his eyes grey and his hair brown and he had a mole on his sacrum. His trade is listed as a cycle repairer. After his initial sixteen years of service these details remained unchanged. However when he re-enlisted on 21st August 1914, at the age of 36 years and 8 months, his complexion is described as ‘Ruddy’ and his hair ‘Grey’. His Soldier’s pocket book and Soldiers’ Small Book both contain wills. In the first signed on the 6th October 1915 he leaves all of his estate and effects to his sister. The second will is written in pencil on the back page of his Soldier’s pocket book and dated January 1st 1918. In this he adds the provision that “In the event of my death I give £4 Mr W Robotham” before the remainder of his money and effects going to his sister. Why this addition to David’s original will and why for such a specific amount? Perhaps we will never know?
The contents of the deposit will now be accessioned, catalogued and ultimately made available to the public. These documents will be cared for in line with the standards set by the National Archives helping to guarantee their longevity. David’s story will be preserved for the Borough and for future generations, perhaps even his own? If you have any documents or photographs that you would like to donate please contact the Centre for Cultural Collections. All documents and photographs are considered and may add important information to new or established collections.