July 1st marks the 100th centenary of the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles in British military history and a defining moment in the First World War.
On the first day alone, 19,240 British soldiers were killed and 38,230 reported injured or missing. 140 days later when the battle finally concluded on 18 November, 310,486 soldiers had been killed, robbing families and communities across Britain of a whole generation of men.
We spoke to two Ancestry customers who found ancestors that served at the Somme, and how they’ve used their research to remember the sacrifice and bravery of their ancestors, 100 years on.
Jenifer Cuddy was motivated to begin researching her family history courtesy of her mother, whose recollections of family events Jenifer found fascinating – particularly her grandmother (Jenifer’s great-grandmother). Having met her as a young child, Jenifer was keen to learn more about her great-grandmother’s family and her other ancestors.
As she began researching, she learnt that not only was her great-grandmother a bit of a character, but that her brother (Jenifer’s 2nd great-uncle), William John Davis, had served at the Somme.
“My great-grandmother never talked about how he died and I was keen to find out more details,” said Jenifer. “I managed to find his war records through Ancestry and was fascinated to find out more about him.
“He was 17 when he joined the army. I knew I had found the right William, as I was able to see my great-grandmother listed on the record as a blood relative. Once I had his regiment number, it was easier to find out more about him. He was a private, in the 5th Border Regiment.
“While I have not managed to discover what his duties were as I cannot decipher all the writing, I did learn that he was somewhat of a rogue, and I fear not a natural soldier. He was often fined, or confined to Barracks, for being late on parade, or improperly dressed. On one occasion when he was in the field, he was fined for being dirty on parade, which I felt terribly sad about. Who wouldn’t be dirty under such terrible conditions?
“He died at the Somme aged 21. I have the war diary record, which stated on the bottom line that he was one of 23 missing, presumed killed on the 24 April. I feel so sad that his life was lost at such a young age. I was also very proud to have found him and to keep his memory alive. I was also able to find his memorial at Arras, which showed that his name was recorded as Davies and not Davis. I have since had this corrected on the International War Graves website.”
With no living relatives remaining other than her children, Ancestry customer, Julie Taylor also felt a real need to know her family history.
Through her research, she was able to find her great-grandparents, Emmanuel Stoddart and Elizabeth Furniss, who were born in Yorkshire and moved to Hackney, London where they went on to have eight children. The Stoddarts lived a difficult life in London – Emmanuel died in 1890, aged only 36 and in 1891 Elizabeth began receiving help from Hackney Poor Law Union.
It was through The Stoddarts that Jennifer found George Edwin Stoddard.
“George Edwin Stoddart was born in 1888 and he joined the army in 1914, at age 26. He was with the 10th battalion of the Essex regiment, who then became part of 53rd brigade of the 18th division. He fought in Flanders and the Somme and received the Victory medal and British medal, but died 8 August 1918. This date is now known as the Black Day of the German Army. The cemetery where he is buried is called Dive Copse, the British cemetery at Sailly-le-Sec, where he is buried with 76 other men who died on the same day.
“All I knew about the Battle of the Somme was what you saw in pictures and how awful it was when you were in the trenches. I was stunned.”
Both Jenifer and Julie felt moved by their discoveries and proud of the sacrifice their ancestors made. They both have more research to do, and are eager to visit the hometowns and cemeteries of their family members.
Keen to start researching your ancestors’ involvement at the Battle of the Somme? Sir Tony Robinson and Ancestry ProGenealogist Simon Pearce sat down to discuss what Ancestry records and other resources researchers can use to trace their ancestors.