14 January 2013

Their Initials Liveth for Evermore?

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission pursues it's mandate with energy admired by anyone who visits the many cemeteries and monuments in their care. The organization has also been progressive in moving memorialisation online.
However, no organization is perfect.
Late last year while working on an article for Internet Genealogy I found a listing in the database of the
Commonwealth War Graves Commission as follows.
Rank: Serjeant
Surname: WRIGHT
Initials: A S
Service No: 45395
Regiment: Royal Army Medical Corps
Date of Death: 29 April 1919
BOLTON (TONGE) CEMETERY, Lancashire, United Kingdom, II. PI. CE. 82.
It troubled me that this entry had no forenames, unfortunately not unusual. The article I was writing dealt extensively with the Deceased Online database which had just added records for this cemetery; I looked in the burial register and found:
Name: Wright, Alfred Stanley
Age: 27 years
Died at: Military Hospital
Date of burial: May 5 1919
Place of Burial: 2 P1 82
Buried in consecrated ground
Removed from the parish of Frodsham.

Is it a wild extrapolation to link these two records and suggest they refer to the same person? I wrote to the CWGC including a copy of the burial register suggesting they amend their entry to give the man back his forenames.
I received by email the following polite response
"before we can add forenames, parents or ages to our records of any of our casualties, we need to see a copy of the casualty’s full birth certificate and also additional documentary evidence connecting the birth certificate with the casualty - this could be a memorial card or obituary notice etc. In other words, additional documentation which refers both to the casualty with his military particulars and to the parents mentioned on the birth certificate. The reason for this is that we must be sure that the birth certificate does refer to the precise casualty to whose details you are requesting the addition. As you will appreciate this is simply to ensure accuracy in our records. We are, I regret, unable to accept the copy of the Cemetery Burial Register which you have sent, as sole evidence to support your application, and I am sorry to disappoint you in this, however should you have further, relevant documentary evidence as explained above, this should be sent by post or by e mail "
A simple search on FreeBMD finds an index entry for the birth of an Alfred Stanley Wright at Bolton in the June quarter of 1891, volume 8c page 468. A search on Ancestry throws up consistent records in the 1901 and 1911 censuses. All records refer to locations in the same area. However in the absence of a record linking the birth to the person in the grave it appears the CWGC policy means the initials cannot be changed to the forenames.
I wrote back to the CWGC asking for a review of the policy and for examples of where the person named in a burial register was not the person identified with the corresponding initials in that same grave in their record.
In response I was informed that CWGC's Commemorations Policy Officer has requested that they look into this case further, all one cohuld ask for.


turner said...

It's a beaurocracy. Normal behaviour. (Sigh.)


Anonymous said...

The best error on the Commonwealth War Graves site is the listing for Lt. Robert Matthews who is listed as serving in the 60th Batt of the CEF. He is buried in Ireland.

Actually Lt. Matthews had deserted from the 60th Rifles, a Moose Jaw militia regiment and was travelling to England with his mistress, leaving his wife and family behind. Unfortunately for Matthews, he was travelling on the Lusitania when it was torpedoed - he died and when his body washed ashore it was found to have some Canadian military ID, bringing with it the legend that there Canadian troops aboard, rather than just a philandering deserter. The Commonwealth War Graves people perpetuated the idea that he was still a Canadian officer, listing him as being with the 60th Bn, rather than the 60th Rifles.

Anonymous said...

Lt. Matthews was not a deserter because it would pretty much be impossible to desert from the Canadian militia. It was and is a totally voluntary force which cannot send soldiers overseas involuntarily. The last time the militia was call up for war was 1885 and it was within Canada. He was definitely an officer in the Canadian Army. The reason he had military ID was he was going to England to seek a British commission, not having been granted one in the CEF. This is stated in a newspaper article right after his death. Marriages break up for an infinite number of reasons and his broke up a year earlier. Whether he was a philanderer will never be known. Even early in my lifetime unmarried couples traveling claimed to be married.