The following news release was written by FindMyPast staff:
Over half a million records covering 100 years of the militia – the forerunner of The British Territorial Army – published online
- Records provide unique descriptions of what your ancestors actually looked like
- Everyday workers including butchers and bakers fighting for their country
- The British militia was recruited from all over the world
Leading family history website, www.findmypast.co.uk has published the records of over half a million men who served in the British militia, the precursor to the UK’s Territorial Army. The Militia Service Records, covering 1806 to 1915, have been made available online for the first time to coincide with British Armed Forces Day on Saturday.
The records colourfully portray what the British militia looked like, detailing the height, weight, chest size, complexion, eye colour, hair colour and distinctive marks of each recruit. Arthur Wilson’s distinguishing marks included an acrobat and dots tattooed on his left forearm. Similarly, Albert Smith, born in India, was recorded as having teeth that were ‘defective but enough for mastication’.
Debra Chatfield, Marketing Manager at www.findmypast.co.uk , comments: “These records provide rich insight into our past and show how the everyday man, such as your local shopkeeper, found himself fighting for his country. In the absence of photographs, these records can help you imagine what your ancestors looked like, containing details which are largely unavailable elsewhere. Our easy to use website means you can unearth even more fascinating and detailed information about your ancestors at the click of a mouse.”
Like today’s Territorial Army, the militia was made up of men who held everyday jobs, but took part in military exercises and on occasions fought for their country. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, these typically included shoemakers, woodchoppers, butchers, bakers, coal miners and millers.
Charles Godfrey, for example, was a butcher for a Mr Debron in Oxford. Born in the Parish of Botley, Berkshire, Godfrey volunteered for the militia on 25th July 1887 aged 18. Charles served with the 3rd Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment and was recorded as being five feet four inches tall with steel grey eyes.
William Spencer, Principal Military Records Specialist at The National Archives, commented: “It took a certain kind of individual to leave a day job as a blacksmith, labourer or barman and enlist as a part time soldier in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although the majority never left British shores, many saw active service with the regular army in places such as South Africa during the Second Boer War. Like its modern equivalent, the Territorial Army, the pre-WWI militia offered a way for former soldiers to continue serving their country and civilians a chance to leave humdrum jobs, earn extra money and enjoy the comradeship such services had to offer.”
The Militia Service Records are the only set of their kind available online and have been published in association with The National Archives and in partnership with FamilySearch. The records show that the soldiers who made up the militia during that period hailed not only from the UK itself, but also from around the world. Some recruits had been born in Italy, Ceylon, South Africa and even as far away as Australia and New Zealand.
David Rencher, Chief Genealogy Officer at FamilySearch added: “The publication of the Militia Service Records fills another critical gap in the family historian’s toolkit. The digitisation and indexing of this rich collection will make it easy to find the regiment an ancestor served with and also when and where he was born. Family historians will quickly realise the value of this information, particularly when the record of an ancestor’s birth has been elusive or impossible to find elsewhere.”