AUTHORED BY PETER GIBBINS – ANCESTRY.CO.UK MEMBER
When one evening the Ancestry search engine returned a link to some newly released military documents, I did not know that it was about to lead me on an amazing journey of discovery about my family history and the priceless pleasure of reuniting many living members of our family who were not aware of each others existence.
I had started my research as a retirement hobby. My Mother’s family had been researched by a relative, but I knew little of my Father’s side because much information had been destroyed in the 1950’s and my Mother was no longer alive.
Like many others, I started by obtaining parents’ birth and marriage certificates, then worked through the census records and was able to construct a male line tree going back to 1783.
My Father had died when I was fairly young, I recall that he was badly disabled with heavy scarring and parts of his feet missing – he walked with difficulty using a stick. My mother said that he had told her that he volunteered in 1916 but was rejected and had never served in WW1, which, given his disability seemed perfectly reasonable.
The record on Ancestry showed an apparent WW1 military pension record link for my Father‘s name, which I thought must be some other person. I nearly ignored it, but decided to check anyway just for elimination. When I saw my Grandfather’s name as next of kin and my Father’s familiar signature in the documents, I began to realise the true reason for his disability.
Unfortunately, the pension document is only a fragment, most of his military records had been destroyed in WW2, so I did not have the full story. I contacted his Regiment who supplied me with copies of their war diary and also found some other records at the National Archives at Kew. From this research, I was able to assemble a brief summary of events.
In December 1917, my Father was sent out on forward patrol from the front line in Passchendaele during a period of heavy enemy artillery attack. Shortly afterwards, his battered unit was withdrawn to recover well behind the front line, being replaced by Canadian troops. Five days later he appeared at a Canadian Army Casualty Clearing Station, also known as the CCS, (presumably found by them in no-mans land) and passed through their medical system until being returned to a military hospital in Birmingham where he spent 14 months recovering before being discharged as ‘unfit’ for military service.
Therefore, he was entitled to receive the Silver War Badge (SWB). The records show that the process was started, but the award was never issued, apparently due to an error in recording his home address at the Canadian CCS.
For readers unfamiliar with the process, the well-known WW1 Star, War and Victory medals are Campaign medals which were automatically sent to the man’s home address. For all other awards, a notification was sent and the individual had to make a formal claim before the award was issued. So, he could not have received the official notification, and had decided not to pursue his entitlement.
I presented my research to the MOD Medal Office, who were most kind and helpful. Initially they pointed out that, many years ago, they had publicly stated that no more WW1 awards could be claimed or issued. However, senior officials decided that because the military system had made an error in 1917, which prevented a claim being made, they had a duty of honour to correct it,. They had a SWB made from their original die model, which was presented to me at a public ceremony at Olympia as the last ever WW1 award.
Unfortunately, other events that day dominated British news although the ceremony was widely reported in press across the rest of the world.
Following this publicity, a distant relative in Australia gave me the address of a previously unknown cousin in Britain, and a similarly distant French relative gave me another.
We found that we each had a few photos and pieces of information which together gave us a much better understanding of our family history. From this, we were also able to locate some more relatives, who added to our shared information pool.
One family branch still eludes us. If George Arthur Gibbins b1868 married Mary Emma Gilbert b1870 or their son Arthur Gibbins b1902 appear in your tree, I would be delighted to hear from you (my Ancestry screen name is pwgibbins, or email firstname.lastname@example.org).