My initial research into the Mitcham War Memorial was conducted in 2005 when much of the data which is now online was unavailable. Primary sources needed to be searched for at the National Archive Kew, the London Metropolitan Archive, the Surrey History Centre at Woking, the Imperial War Museum and elsewhere. Personal circumstances made this impossible.
Despite this handicap, significant progress was made by extensive searches of the CWGC register in conjunction with the “Soldiers Died in the Great War” database and the then available census and births, deaths and marriages data. On military matters, the knowledgeable members of the “Great War Forum” provided background information and/or pointed to appropriate sources of relevant information. I had also obtained from the then UKNIWM transcripts for the related memorials in three local Churches: St.Barnabas, St.Marks and Christ Church. Their rolls of honour gave the full names of individuals in many cases, as opposed to just the surname and initials that appear on the main Mitcham War Memorial. I later learnt that these transcripts originated from “Some War Memorials in Merton” a survey of names produced in 1988 by Wimbledon resident A.P Whitehead which can be consulted at Merton Borough’s Local Studies Centre.
But there were still significant gaps and a large number of unknown individuals, roughly 90 out of 587, when the project became dormant some years ago.
In the intervening years the researcher’s task has become more straightforward with the availability of significant digitised online data sets at NA Kew and on various pay for view sites. In 2008 the Surrey History Centre published the “Surrey Recruitment Registers”, a rare and significant survival. Army service papers, medal index cards (saved by the WFA) and some War Diaries went online around the same time. The 1911 census provided another source of family history. Further naval and air force records have gone online since then, and more recently both the Surrey History Centre and London Metropolitan Archive have published records of interest to the family historian in partnership with commercial providers. Two key sets of data are Parish registers, and electoral registers. The 1918 election absent voters lists are of particular interest.
While there are still many puzzles to solve, it’s now possible to confirm, or reject, the bulk of previous identifications and reduce the number of unknowns to around 10% of the 587 name individuals on the Mitcham War Memorial.
2. Identifying Individuals
When attempting to identify individuals it is advisable to decide on a standard of proof, devise search strategies and keep in mind common misconceptions and pitfalls. A methodical approach and persistence is needed to follow a trail.
The new researcher may think it is simply a case of matching a name on a memorial to an entry in the CWGC register, this raises a number of problems and questions.
- How do you distinguish between multiple entries with the same name?
- Isn’t there additional family data for CWGC entries?
- Surely, the CWGC entries are correct?
- If a name is on a memorial it must be in the CWGC register?
The new search facilities on the CWGC site make it easy to download the results of searches, allowing you to sift through large subsets of data at leisure. But without useful register additional information, you will still have to distinguish between individuals with the same name.
In many cases there is no “additional information” in the CWGC entries. The IWGC were faced with an enormous task at the end of the Great War as it worked closely with the military authorities. The verification forms sent to the next of kin may not have reached the intended people, and of those which did, many were never returned. Such forms are rarely found amongst the original paper documents recently published by CWGC. One use of the verification forms was for the NOK to indicate the inscription they wished to appear on an individual’s headstone. For very many this was never an option, as the fallen had no known graves.
In those cases where ““additional information” is found, it can be misleading. For example, a NOK living in Lakenheath, Suffolk would not immediately be associated with a name on the Mitcham War Memorial.
CWGC entries are not always 100% correct. The original paper system of the IWGC inevitably contained errors, many were minor, others not. Mistakes can be found in location names, and some NOK details. These errors were carried over when the original papers records were computerised and additional new transcription introduced. For those with local knowledge, some of these errors are obvious, but it can confuse or distract.
You cannot assume that if a name is on a memorial then it must be in CWGC register. In fact it was not the CWGC that decided who qualified for a war grave. The CWGC only commemorates those approved by the military authorities. The actual qualification criteria are set out in detail here:
( The allocation of headstones is a separate more complex matter. See here for an example discussion: http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=164748 ).
In contrast, the criteria for inclusion of names on War Memorials was decided by those committees established to oversee all aspect of a war memorial’s creation and, in some cases, may have no obvious logic. No papers have been found that indicate what those criteria were for the Mitcham War Memorial. From the research conducted, residency in Mitcham of the next of kin seems to have been a major factor.
One grey area, and where a local committee’s decision might differ from the CWGC, is in the category of personnel who died after being discharged from, or retiring from, the military of an injury or illness caused by or exacerbated by their service during the qualifying period of 4th August 1914 to 31st August 1921 .
For the CWGC, these cases qualify only if it is PROVEN to the authorities’ satisfaction that death was service attributable. Those overseeing war memorials may have taken a less strict view over the cause of death of ex-service personnel. This does seem to have happened in a few cases for individuals named on the Mitcham War Memorial. Hence names appear on the memorial which have no entry in the CWGC register and no official war grave or commemoration – BUCK W. is such a case. While another, ADAWAY G.H., appears to have been an error of omission by the military.
The new researcher might also ask:
- Weren’t all the individuals on the memorial from Mitcham?
- Surely, there can’t be any errors on the memorial itself?
It would be wrong to assume that all individuals on the memorial were from Mitcham. While many were from families who had lived in the area for several generations, others appear to have had an association with Mitcham that was tenuous or short lived at best. This is simply a consequence of the criteria adopted by the memorial’s committee, and so searches cannot focus on Mitcham alone.
It is an open question as to whether there any errors on the memorial itself, either in the original stone masonary or resulting from the 1962 restoration work. There appears to be a number of questionable names. For example, should ALLEREY be ALLFREY, and DEVENISH D.W. be DEVENISH G.W? Why does the name STOPHER.O appear on the memorial?
2.2 Common Pitfalls
To identify individuals on a war memorial both family and military history needs to be researched. In common with all types of family history research, there is the potential for confusion over the names or both people and places, and dates of birth etc.
People’s names can be misspelt, have alternative spellings, have first names transposed, have family names like Archi, Jack, Harry and Fred which differ from names used on official documents, use a middle name rather than a first name, and be incorrect when automatically transcribed.
Place names may be incorrectly referred to, e.g. an address stated as being in Streatham or Tooting was in fact actually within the boundaries of Mitcham. Places of birth may refer to registration districts and not actual locations. Again, automatic transcription errors may occur.
Remember dates of birth, deaths and marriages in the GRO are given by the quarter in which the registration took place. Dates of baptism should not to be confused with dates of birth. Working backwards from ages on a census form can lead to errors unless the date of the census is taken into account.
In all cases check original documents, or images of documents wherever possible, and take care with dates.
2.3 Search Strategies
A limited number of individuals can be identified directly from the CWGC register by searching two groups.
1. The 55 casualty records of those buried in the MITCHAM (CHURCH ROAD) BURIAL GROUND http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead.aspx?cpage=1&sort=name&order=asc
2. A sub-set of First Wolrd War CWGC entries where “Mitcham” appears in the “additional information” field, ignoring any irrelevant entries such as those for Mitcham Australia and/or whose name includes the word Mitcham. A separate sub-set for “Colliers Wood” can also be searched. ( Note: extending the sub-set to include “Tooting” and/or “Streatham” etc. is counter-productive as too many irrelevant entries are generated.)
For the bulk of the names, searching CWGC alone is not sufficient. What search strategy should be adopted, and which additional sources should be used?
A first step is to compare a name on the Mitcham War Memorial with surname and initials only, to the related Church “Rolls of Honour”. Not all names appear on the Church Rolls, but in many cases they appear with firstname and surname in full.
As the highest percentage of individuals served in the Army, the next database to check is the “Soldiers Died in the Great War” (SDGW). The SDGW born, enlisted and resident fields help to identify the “possibles”. These can then be cross checked against CWGC entries which may contain “additional information” that enables positive identification. You may find one or more “possibles”, or draw a blank.
If you draw a blank, check other military records in order of probability of service: Navy ( all branches – RN, RND, RMLI, RNAS etc.), Air force RFC/RAF, Australian, Canadian New Zealand and South African. Cross check any “possibles” against CWGC entries.
If the search for a given name results in a number of “possibles” these must be cross checked against other sources to obtain an identification by a process of elimination.
What if all your searchs draw a blank?
The individual may actually have an entry in SDGW or other service records which appear to be unconnected to Mitcham, and a CWGC with minimal information. As when eliminating from lists of “possibles”, the same process of cross checking must take place. Other data may provide the missing link.
The individual may have died after discharge or retiring, both the “Silver War Badge Roll” and “Service Papers” should be checked together with available burial records and monumental inscriptions.
2.4 Standard of Proof
For an identification to move from being a “possible” to a “probable” or “certain”, a standard of proof must be applied. Look for corroborating evidence which matches personal details and links the individual to Mitcham in some way.
In the case of Army personnel, the “Surrey Recruitment Registers” and any existing “Service Papers” might provide that evidence. Whether eliminating from a list of “possibles” or confirming the identification of a single individual, census data, birth marriage and death data, together with data from Parish and Electoral Registers, may provide the additional evidence. The 1918 Absent Voter’s Lists are of particular relevance.
2.5 Example Identifications
2.5.1 A straightforward Case – ELGOOD A.F.
ELGOOD Archibald F. found on Christ Church Roll of Honour.
Search of SDGW gives: Archibald Frederick ELGOOD with
Birth place TOOTING, SURREY
Residence MERTON, SURREY
Enlistment place KINGSTON-ON-THAMES, SURREY
Matching CWGC entry found with “additional information” –
Son of Mrs. E. E. Elgood, of 7, Briscoe Rd., Collins Wood, Merton, London.
(Note the address error which existed in the original paper based CWGC system.)
Identity confirmed by 1911 census data, family address in 1918 Electoral Register and entry in Surrey Recruitment Registers.
2.5.2 A Naval case – BRIGHT E.F.
BRIGHT Eli F. found on Christ Church Roll of Honour.
Nothing in SDGW and only a minimal entry on CWGC with no “additional information”.
Search of naval records and Navy List books 1913 & 1914 reveals NOK living in Tooting Junction.
Identity and marriage confirmed by 1911 census, BMD GRO index and Surrey Electoral Registers show NOK remain in Mitcham.
2.5.3 An Australian Case – FAWCETT B.G.
Basil G. Fawcett found on St.Barnabas Roll of Honour.
No SDGW entry. A single CWGC entry in name of “FAWCETT Basil” who served in the AIF exists, but with no “additional information”.
Search of other UK forces records draws a blank.
Search of AIF database gives Basil “Guy” Fawcett born in England and married in the UK in 1916.
Identity confirmed by 1901 census, 1916 Parish marriage record at St.Barnabas Church, full AIF service records and Surrey Electoral Registers show NOK remain in Mitcham.
2.5.4 An Elimination Case – PATTERSON C.
Charles Patterson found on St.Barnabas Roll of Honour.
12 possible entries on SDWG. Sergt. 5201 details make this an outside chance.
Regiment Border Regiment
Battalion 6th Battalion.
Birth place POPLAR, MIDDX.
Residence CAMBERWELL, SURREY
Enlistment place LONDON
Matching CWGC entry has no “additional information”.
Service records found, but date from 1898 to 1910. No census data in Mitcham. Census search extended to Wandsworth. Charles & Alice Patterson found living in Tooting. Identity and link to Mitcham only confirmed after Alice and her daughter are found living in Gorringe Park post-war in the Surrey Electoral Registers.
2.5.5 A Death After Discharge case – BUCK W.
Buck Willliam found on Christ Church Roll.
No SDGW entry and no CWGC Entry.
1911 Census data shows a William Buck living at 1 Aberdeen Terrace Mitcham, aged 19.
The Surrey Recruitment Registers have an entry that matches this William Buck’s personal details. A few pages of Army service records survive which match. William Buck was “dangerously wounded” on, or about, 25.7.17. He is discharged unfit with a Silver War Badge on 13.2.18.
Merton burial records show that William Buck died Nov 24 1918 and was buried in the St.Peter & Paul Church graveyard on Nov 30 1918.
2.6 In Summary
A methodical approach, avoiding the common pitfalls, is needed to identify individuals. The identification process can be summarised by the two diagrams below
Confidence in a positive identification requires:
1a. Finding a SDGW or other service record entry with a matching CWGC entry.
1b. Finding a record of service discharge/retirement and subsequent death and burial records that meet the date requirements.
2. Finding corroborating evidence with matching personal details from census, BMD data, Parish and Electoral Register, Burial Records and/or actual service records, which provides a link to Mitcham.
3. Eliminating any and all possible alternatives.