On Tuesday I spent a morning at a London studio doing what our PR team call a ‘Radio Day’; which essentially involves doing lots of different radio interviews on different stations back to back
For each one, I was ‘patched through’ to the show about 5 minutes before going on air, and listened in silently as DJs talked, records played, weather and traffic were reported and generally the shows went about their business, until the moment for me to speak came along.
The result of all this was that by the conclusion of the morning I was, momentarily, spectacularly well-informed about the news around the UK that particular day. From Derby (seven degrees centigrade, 80% chance of rain) to Wiltshire (long tailbacks on the A303) or the Channel Islands (very big on Susan Boyle) I don’t think there was anyone better informed about Britain’s local news agenda than me - at least until early afternoon when I had to return to the office.
As well as publicising the launch of our new databases, it was great to be able to inform everyone that for the whole of this week and until Remembrance Sunday, the definitive UK WWI records that are exclusively available on Ancestry.co.uk are absolutely free for everyone to use.
Of all our records, I think these WWI Service Records and the sister series of records we call the ‘Pension Records‘ (as they were collated from various pension claim forms when many of the service records were lost in WWII) are the most fascinating. That the event they depict is so recent and poignant that it is only now, barely, considered to have passed into history is surely the reason.
My maternal grandfather Alfred Francis Higginbottom served in the Irish Guards throughout WWI. In common with many men who returned, he didn’t much discuss his experience of war, though a family story suggested he had been gassed at least twice.
When I found the records of Pte 11856 in the Pension Records I was captivated. He was a man of small stature, only 5ft 7 inches tall and 123 lbs in weight but as tough as they come; his medical record confirmed he was gassed three times – including twice in less than a week. Other than this he had only one bout of ‘flu recorded throughout his long service along the Western Front.
It’s amazing to think that less than a hundred autumns separate the appalling reality of my Alfred’s military experience from the slight absurdity of his grandson’s Radio Day, though it is something for which I am hugely thankful.