On 20th March the History Centre temporarily closed its doors to staff and public in line with national guidance for dealing with Covid-19. Unsure when we would return staff from all teams faced the challenge of working from home without face-to-face contact with our colleagues and community of visitors, as well as the loss of physical access to our extensive collections and resources.
Despite these restrictions, our industrious and enterprising teams have been working away on a range of projects and initiatives, from the comfort (or discomfort) of our own homes. In addition, several colleagues have combined their History Centre commitments with voluntary community support work, helping the more vulnerable members of society. As Wiltshire Council employees we have also been supporting the local authority’s response to the pandemic.
Here is an update from the first of our teams, detailing some of the ventures we have undertaken to adapt and maintain our services during lockdown.
Wiltshire Buildings Record
The WBR normally opens its doors to the public on a Tuesday. Because of the restrictions we have not been able to see any visitors since the end of March, but that has not stopped enquirers emailing. It seems that while people have time on their hands, not being able to work, researching the history of their house seemed like a great pastime. Without physical access to our own records and the archive collections, we have had to manage researchers’ expectations and point them to online resources.
Of course, there are several different ways of doing research online, and I have managed to direct some enquirers to useful websites that can answer their questions without the need for a visit. A great jumping off point is the map comparison website Know your Place. We are extremely fortunate that for Wiltshire, Somerset, Gloucestershire and Bristol you can tell immediately whether a building existed at a certain period right back to c1840.
Other ways of researching are:
Check the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives online catalogue to see if there are any immediately relevant documents. The documents are not available online but once the History Centre is open again to the public you will be able to look at sources such as deeds, maps, censuses, Enclosure awards etc.
Victoria County History gives an excellent overview of Wiltshire parish histories that have been covered so far and is available online.
With the easing of lockdown, we were able to resume searching our own WBR records and our specialist research service has restarted in a limited way. WBR is now beginning to undertake commissioned histories for interest again, so please do call or email for a chat. You can find all our contact details on the WBR pages of this website.
The Archaeology team has had an eventful lockdown period which has seen two members of staff leave and two new colleagues arrive, while we also sadly lost one of our World Heritage Site team, Sarah Simmons, who left her post after 14 years to pursue new goals.
The challenges of working in lockdown were mostly faced by our two new recruits; Neil Adam and Michal Cepak who are now the Assistant County Archaeologists under Melanie Pomeroy-Killinger. Both Neil and Michal have had to go through staff inductions and learn the job while working from home, but happily this task has been greatly aided by superb help from Melanie as well as from the HER (Historic Environment Record) team of Tom Sunley and Jacqui Ramsay.
In terms of the day to day, little has changed for archaeology. The business of local government continued with planning applications to be assessed and major public works, such as the A303 Stonehenge by-pass, to be planned for with other colleagues in the Council as well as colleagues in Historic England and a myriad of other government departments and interested parties.
Lockdown has meant the cancellation of our heritage walks this summer, along with a number of other public events that we had planned, but we do plan to reach out to you through a digital strategy that should see far more content going online for the public at large to access.
Living and working in lockdown has brought a unique set of challenges, but as things slowly ease, we will return to what is nowadays called a ‘new normal’, probably never exactly as it was prior to 26th March 2020, but with the same sense of public service along with a few new ways of working and presenting our data to you.
In Part 2, we will hear how the Archives and Local Studies team, Conservation and Museums Advisory Service (CMAS) and Education Service have kept busy during lockdown.
Neil Adam, Assistant County Archaeologist
Dorothy Treasure, Buildings Recorder, WBR
Heather Perry, Conservation and Museum Manager (CMAS)
Whilst on a recording visit to an early-mid 18th century house in Stratford I came across a feature that I had not seen before, or to be clearer – I may have seen it before but presumed it was a faint daisy-wheel - an apotropaic mark seen inside and on the outside of houses throughout Wiltshire.
Daisy wheels are usually regularly divided with four or more pairs of petal-like scribed lines. They are thought to have been placed there to protect a building from bad luck and as a solar symbol, they ritualistically dispelled ‘darkness’.
High up on a corner stone of the building we thought we’d identified one of these daisy wheels when Peter Filtness, who had been recording the building with me, recognised it as a mass dial. I must admit I was completely mystified, not having studied churches much.
This was a scribed circle with what looked like a few randomly-scratched lines, not the chrysanthemum-shaped petals I was used to seeing. It was more like a sun-dial than anything, and in fact, worked in much the same way.
Apparently, without the aid of a clock, a priest was able to determine at what time to say mass from casting a shadow across the appropriate line with a straight rod acting as a gnomon in the central hole. Sounds simple!
The mass dial became known as a service dial after the Reformation, masses being Catholic. The principle of literally marking time was exploited generally and indicating mass times was only one of several uses of this clever device that was simply made up of a few scratched lines radiating from a central point. Obviously, they relied on daylight to cast the requisite shadow so had to be set on the south side of the church. They were also conveniently set at eye-level. Mass dials went out of use in the 16th century with the advent of the mechanical clock.
Some 3,000 of these dials have been recorded in the UK and no doubt there are others, like this one, which turn up in unexpected places on reused stone. The house we were looking at started life as a humble two- or three-cell farmhouse. There was an assumption that the very large and well-cut corner stones might have come from Old Sarum up the hill, but still, the haulage costs of such heavy stones would have been considerable. Why not use even more local material?
It was after a bit of research that it was discovered that St Lawrence church, just nearby, had its tower rebuilt in 1711. Was this after a collapse? It is not likely that we will ever be able to answer the question of where the stone might have come from except perhaps by divine intervention!
Of our many thousands of archive collections, one of the largest is that of the Diocese of Salisbury. It spans the 13th to the 21st centuries and is still growing as we continue to receive modern additions. Such is its scope that it includes material relating to parishes across much of the county and beyond and contains a wealth of information useful to local and family historians. This blogpost aims to give you a brief overview of this rich and varied collection, as well as highlighting some of the useful interpretative resources available. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s take a deep breath and dive in.
What is a Diocese?
A diocese is the geographic area under the jurisdiction of a given Church of England bishop. These ecclesiastical boundaries date from before the Reformation and do not match county boundaries. Nor have diocesan boundaries always remained the same. In 1542 much of Dorset previously part of the Salisbury Diocese was transferred to the Diocese of Bristol. Then in 1836 they moved back to Salisbury again. Also in 1836 Berkshire parishes moved to the Diocese of Oxford. Our collection therefore includes records relating to Dorset and Berkshire parishes but only during the time they were part of the Salisbury Diocese. In 1836 many north Wiltshire parishes (such as those around Chippenham, Swindon, Cricklade and Malmesbury) moved to the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Bristol. Their records can be found at Bristol Records Office.
How is the collection arranged?
The collection brings together the archives of various officials and jurisdictions, starting with the highest-ranking – the sequential Bishops of Salisbury, whose records are denoted on our catalogue by the prefix D1. This extensive collection paints a comprehensive picture of successive bishops’ work. For example, the series of Bishops’ Registers (reference D1/2) record the inspection of parishes, ordination of clergy, issues of taxation, and the bishops’ interactions with religious houses. In addition, a specific series (D1/30) records the bishops’ relations with the City of Salisbury.
The diocese was also served by two archdeaconries, whose responsibilities included overseeing the upkeep of church buildings and the wellbeing of clergy. The jurisdiction of the Archdeaconry of Salisbury (series reference D2) includes much of the southern half of the diocese, while the Archdeaconry of Wiltshire (D3) encompassed much of the northern part. There are two exceptions to this rule, both in the City of Salisbury. Records in the D4 series pertain to the Sub-Dean of Salisbury who exercised jurisdiction over the three city parishes of St. Thomas, St. Edmund and St. Martin, plus the neighbouring parish of Stratford-sub-Castle. The other exception is for the Dean of Salisbury Cathedral (D5). The Dean’s jurisdiction includes seemingly random parishes from Ramsbury in the north east to Mere in the south west. It is also worth noting that the records of Salisbury Cathedral itself remain at the cathedral and can be accessed there, post lockdown.
Subsequent series relate to the various Prebends and Peculiars across the diocese. Each Prebend (series D6 to D20) gave its income not to a parish rectory but directly to the bishop for the upkeep of the cathedral or collegiate church. Examples include the Prebends of Bishopstone (North Wilts), Durnford and Netheravon (respectively D6, D9 and D12). Meanwhile the Peculiars (D21 to D27) are those areas classed as outside the jurisdiction of the bishop and archdeacon of the diocese in which they are situated. Examples include the Peculiar of the Lord Warden of Savernake Forest (D21), and the Peculiar of Trowbridge (D22). To assist you, we maintain a list of parishes and their relevant jurisdictions. The final series in the collection relates to jurisdictions outside Wiltshire. D28 concerns the papers of the Archdeaconry of Dorset formerly belonging to the Bishop of Bristol, while D29 and D30 pertain to the Archdeacons of Dorset and Sherborne respectively.
What do the documents tell us?
It’s not possible to discuss all the intricate and informative parts of the diocesan collection, but a few important sets of documents stand out as most pertinent to the local and family historian.
Visitation records provide evidence of the regular inspection of the incumbent clergy and their parish. The churchwarden’s presentment is a report made by the churchwarden on parish affairs and submitted to the bishop. These inspections took place every three years from 1662 onwards. The presentments (D1/54) usually include notes on the conditions of church buildings and their contents, as well as reports on the progress and conduct of the local clergy. Additionally, they also contain a wealth of material on the moral behaviour of the parishioners, such as non-attendance at church, bastardy issues, and details of non-conformists. Members of the wonderful Wiltshire Family History Society have transcribed the 1662 Churchwardens’ Presentments, which is a handy resource for interpreting this series. Many issues raised in the presentments led to appearances in the Church Courts. These records cover disputes over probate terms and tithe payments, plus non-attendance at church. Act Books are a brief record, but the Deposition Books are more informative and tell us much of everyday parish life. Another informative set of records are the visitation queries (D1/56, 1783 onwards). These were a printed set of questions to which the clergy added their responses. Our friends at the Wiltshire Record Society (WRS) have published the Wiltshire Returns to the Bishops’ Visitation Queries, 1783, (WRS vol 27). These and other volumes are held at the History Centre and are also available online at the WRS website.
Diocesan records also include several series pertaining to nonconformists. Bishops’ registers sometimes include details of certificates issued to dissenters’ meeting houses (typically between 1757 and 1807). Sometimes these were registered by the civil authority (see our quarter session records) but others were registered by the church. The WRS volume Wiltshire Dissenters’ Meeting House Certificates and Registrations, 1689–1852 may provide you with a useful starting point for these records. Additionally, series D1/9 contains papers relating to Catholics and Protestant Nonconformists, which include lists of dissenters and their meeting houses. Most date from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries.
The diocesan collection also sheds light on parochial clergy, not just the procedures of the church but also the names of those ordained. Ordination papers often include testimonials from colleges and clergymen and occasionally copies of baptism certificates. Various pre-1836 records such as the bishop’s registers and subscription books have been used to create the Clergy of the Church of England Database searchable by parish, diocese and clergy. For later clergy try Crockfords Clerical Directory.
The collection also includes matrimonial records of couples who wished to acquire a marriage licence from the clergy. Licences were sought for various reasons. Often a couple did not wish to wait for the reading of the banns in their parish church. Also, as licences required the payment of a fee it was considered a sign of wealth and status. Additionally, before 1837 all couples (excepting those of the Jewish and Quaker faiths) had to be married by the Church of England, so many non-conformists would apply for a licence. The licencing process generated two types of documents. The first are marriage allegation books. The allegation was a formal statement by the applicant about the ages, marital status and places of residence of the parties to be married, and usually includes a statement of the groom's occupation. Secondly, marriage licence bonds, which are sworn testaments usually by the groom and either his father or a friend. This acted as a pledge to forfeit a sum of money if the information supplied in the allegation proves to be false. All marriage licence records have been indexed by the Family History Society and are available on Findmypast (paywall).
Faculties (D1/61) should prove useful to anyone interested in church renovation. A file was created for each proposed repair or addition to a church or churchyard. Each file outlines the requirements, costs, etc and includes plans. This would be submitted to the bishop who, if he approved, would grant a licence for the alterations. The series begins in the eighteenth century and is still regularly added to with 21st century modifications. Furthermore a series of mortgages for vicarages and rectories (D/11) also includes plans and specifications.
Glebe terriers (D1/24 and D5/10) list the land belonging to the parish church and the resulting payment of tithes due for the upkeep of the church. See also the WRS volume on Wiltshire Glebe Terriers (vol 56). Similarly the collection of tithe maps (D1/25) which date from the mid nineteenth century, are a useful and evocative plan of the parish. The accompanying schedule lists the owners and occupiers of each parcel of land, plus land use and field names. These series form an important source for topographical researchers, and local and family historians alike. These can also be accessed on Know Your Place website.
This is just a quick taster of a handful of significant series. There is much more to explore and enjoy in this immense collection. Details of this and all our collections can be found on Calmview, our online catalogue. Also visit the Archives pages on this wesbite for more research tools.
Since 1994 I have organised an annual village reunion in Horningsham, attended by residents past and present. Each year has a theme and an accompanying display, using material lent to me by the people who attend. In 2008 I was lucky enough to be given a photograph taken in 1947 showing all the pupils, teachers and those employed to look after the school. I was also fortunate enough to be put in touch with a lady living in Warminster who was a pupil there. Along with seven friends, she was able to give me a lot of help and they all came to the reunion. Here are some memories of Elizabeth Fosbroke-Hobbes and Vivienne Bateman-Champain (maiden names).
The Royal School for daughters of officers of the army was founded in 1864 at Lansdown on the outskirts of Bath. The school's mission was to provide practical and religious education for the daughters of army officers who might otherwise be unable to afford it. In 1939 the school was warned that it might be requisitioned, and in early September the Admiralty's Hydrographic Department took over the Lansdown premises. Fortunately, Lord Bath had heard that the school was looking for a temporary home and offered them Longleat. On 29th September, the pupils boarded a train to Frome, not knowing that it would be eight years before they returned to Bath.
Elizabeth takes up the story: “The new girls arrived at Frome station. Those of us who were aged 14 or over had to walk to Longleat. I remember it was a very wet night and we were faced with a five-mile walk! The younger girls and the ‘first night’ suitcases went to Longleat in a bus.”
Many of the girls in the bus did not know what Longleat looked like. As they passed through the stone archway and between the double avenue of trees they fell silent for a moment. There before them stood Longleat, rectangular, symmetrical and immensely dignified, looming up in the dusk. When they trooped into the hall and up the front stairs they were abashed by the imposing portraits; they found themselves whispering. They followed large cardboard arrows painted in House colours and sorted themselves out into dormitories. Every available room upstairs was filled with beds, from the thirty ranged under the painted ceiling of the Salon to the six or seven in the smaller bedrooms. 1
Elizabeth’s bed was underneath the enormous Adam fireplace in the Salon, overshadowed by a very large statue of Hercules in marble. It was very scary in the moonlight! She remembers that in the beginning, Longleat was not on the main electricity grid, and had its own generator. The supply became weak in the afternoons and evenings. When the girls had lessons and prep the candles were lit down the dining room table. They sat round the table and the teachers read from text books as the pupils tried to write in semi-darkness.
Elizabeth was one of a team of girls who were fire fighters. “Sixteen girls were chosen for this task (I was one of them), who it was considered were not likely to become hysterical. When the ‘Green Alert’ went up in Bath, the two ARP wardens on the roof of the House rang a bell. The school all went down to the cellars except us, who had to stand at our fire stations in the various corridors in the House. We were in pairs and had a water cart and a stirrup pump, waiting for the bombs and the incendiary bombs! Although we had several ‘dog fights’ over the House and grounds fortunately there were no bombs.
“We had training sessions with the stirrup pumps and one day I hit the PE mistress (who was in charge of the firefighting gang) with the hose water. She was not amused and allocated me the spookiest area as my station. This was the south corridor at the top of the House, which was supposedly haunted. This was my punishment!”
Food was of course very important to growing girls and Vivienne vividly remembers what they were given! “Our main cooked meal was at lunch time and was eaten in one of the three dining rooms. I still remember the menu, which never changed! Sunday was a roast, Monday grated vegetables. On Tuesday we had shepherd’s pie and Wednesday was stew. I don’t remember Thursday, but Friday was fish and Saturday cold meat.
“Every day we had a pudding, usually treacle or currant. Each dining room also had an extra rice pudding. Unfortunately, there was only enough for one table, so your turn didn’t come around very often! Saturday tea was eaten in the cellars and we were served by the senior girls. We had bread and margarine with pilchards, followed by bread and treacle – all on the same plate!”
The arrival of the School also brought change for the village of Horningsham, as there were opportunities for employment, particularly women. Lionel Marsh and his mother both found work at the school. “I can remember singing in the church choir when the Royal School girls used to attend the church morning service in Horningsham. The church always seemed to be full of them. From what I can remember, they used to walk to and from church along the footpath from just above the Longleat Lodge gates, past the front of Mill Farm, and joined the main road above the almshouses.
“My mother used to work for the School. Most of the time she rode her bicycle, but sometimes she would walk there and back, along White St and across the Park. Sometimes she would carry home a fire wood limb on her head.
“I also worked at the School in the evenings. My job was to load the dirty crockery on to a four-wheeled trolley and to take it in the lift down to the washing up room. Here the women from the village used to load the crockery into metal containers which were then passed through a washing machine. Six school girls did the drying up. I then took the crockery back upstairs to the maids, who returned it to the dining rooms. I was paid 2s 6d for around two hours work each evening. I did this job until I was called up for National Service in August 1946.”
Lord Bath enjoyed sharing his home. Only a couple of months after the School’s arrival he wrote to the headmistress: “I am quite honest that I am enjoying every moment. It is twenty-five years since I had children running about the house. I have enjoyed my life even when alone, but I never realised how lonely I have been, and I love hearing the children all over the place – in fact I keep my door open on purpose.” When a girl celebrated her birthday, a slice of cake was always given to Lord Bath. It was therefore a huge shock when he died suddenly on 9th June 1946. For two days he lay in state in the Great Hall. The day of his funeral the girls in their blue capes with red-lined hoods formed a guard of honour on the steps while men from the Estate carried the cedar coffin down between their ranks.2
The Royal School remained at Longleat for another year, finally leaving on 30th July 1947. It was time to return home to Bath, leaving the 6th Marquess of Bath able to take full possession of his home.
Helen Taylor, Senior Community History Advisor
1 and 2. H Osborne, A History of the Royal School for Daughters of Officers of the Army 1864-1965.
In 1941, Syria like Iraq and Persia was under German influence, and garrisoned by the hated Vichy French. The strategic concern at the time, was that Syria could be utilised by the Axis forces to mount attacks on Egypt. The RWY less one squadron was part of the 4th Cavalry Brigade and with the Household Cavalry and the Warwickshire Yeomanry were given the objective of the ancient and ruined city of Palmyra, one hundred miles from the Iraq border.
On 2I June 1941 the CO Lt Colonel Williams led the advance which was joined by a company of the Arab Legion, reaching Juffa, fifty miles inside Syria where a lone French aircraft escaped to warn the main Vichy garrisons at Homs and Palmyra. Arriving at the outskirts of Palmyra at 11 a.m. the CO briefed his squadrons overlooking the ruined city and the objective of Yellow Ridge the most prominent landmark occupied by dug in French machine guns. With no air support or artillery, numerous foot patrols were sent forward but progress was painfully slow against such a well-prepared enemy. Sheltering in slit trenches and suffering in the intense heat for twelve days, the Regiment’s vehicles were systematically destroyed. These relentless Vichy bombing attacks that followed from the air were difficult to counter with rifles and old Hotchkiss machine guns. Lt M. St J.V. Gibbs distinguished himself assaulting the hills but had to withdraw due to a combination of exhaustion and overwhelming opposition.
Trooper Ken Batt, in an interview with the author in 2018 recalled his orders from Sergeant Bannister ‘get up that hill and if you see anyone in front of you, shoot them.’ Lieutenant Kenneth Mcllwraith, a Canadian born liaison officer, was tasked to take a French prisoner back to Brigade HQ but his car was attacked and he and his batman were taken prisoner on 2 June by a French patrol. He was handed over to a French Foreign Legion officer and flown 145 km to Homs in an ancient biplane whose Gallic pilot was far more concerned with the cases of wine he was transferring than the welfare of his prisoners. From Homs he was flown to Greece and then onwards to Salonika. The conditions in which he and other British prisoners were held in a dockside warehouse were appalling but after five days he was moved to a passenger ship. Following the armistice between the British and Vichy forces on 14 July, Mcllwraith was transported through Germany to Toulon in southern France, again in horrific conditions and finally by sea to Beirut and Cairo. He re-joined the Regiment but missed the battle of El Alamein due to jaundice and desert sores, the crewman who replaced him was killed in the battle. Mcllwraith was clearly traumatised by these experiences because he rarely spoke about them after the war. Returning to the battle unfolding in Syria, by 26 June, the daily bombing and strafing had reduced as the RAF stepped up activity against the French airfields. Water was now rationed to a gallon a day but thankfully artillery support had arrived to turn the tide. Further attacks by RWY patrols and soldiers from the Essex Regiment were made on the prominent ridge overlooking the town and repeatedly repulsed but on 3 July the enemy garrison finally surrendered. By 29 June 1941, both A and C Squadrons could only muster seventy-eight fit men.
Somerset de Chair in his book The Golden Carpet described the air bombardment of the RWY:
South of Palmyra bluff John Morrison of the Wilts, who was to join me in Parliament a year later, told me he had seventeen vehicles under his command on the first morning and only four left including the water wagon, the next day; the rest were destroyed by air attack.
The regimental war diary records the whole of A Echelon destroyed by machine gunfire from the air. Following the fall of Palmyra, the Regiment prepared for an attack on Homms but the Syrian armistice intervened and the yeomen trekked northwards to Aleppo where the 4th Cavalry Brigade was concentrating. They bivouacked in olive groves north east of the town, where shade following the incessant heat and glare of the desert sun was most welcome, as was the abundance of fresh fruit after a diet made up of bully beef and biscuits for two months. The yeomen were allowed into Aleppo in the evening which was full of French soldiers, an odd sight as the French Foreign Legion had previously been the despised enemy at Palmyra.
Lt Col Stephen Keoghane is the author of Primus in Armis: An illustrated history of the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry, published in May 2020 by Fonthill Media. The author served as Regimental Medical Officer for 22 years.
A few weeks ago Max posted two blogs listing some of the fantastic online resources available to family and local historians during the lockdown. It looks like we’ll all be waiting a little while longer for archives to start reopening, so in the meantime I thought it would be useful to highlight some more valuable sites that can help us scratch the history itch during these strange times. We often get enquiries from customers looking to find out more about a relative who served in the armed forces and given the recent VE Day celebration this seemed like a timely topic.
Trooper George Sweetman, Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry (WSA 3560/10/22)
Before we dig into some of the websites that offer access to soldiers’ records, it’s worth bearing in mind a few things. First, the sources that follow largely deal with historic records from before 1922. It is possible to get some material after that date, but soldiers’ service records after 1922 are still with the Ministry of Defence. Access to these records can be provided, for a fee, as long as the service member is no longer living - please see https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/requests-for-personal-data-and-service-records for more details.
Secondly, as with many other types of historical records the further back in time we go the sparser and less revealing the records become, and this is particularly true for ‘other ranks’ (Privates, Lance Corporals, Corporals, Sergeants and Warrant Officers). Before the First World War ‘service records’ as we would recognise them today did not exist for enlisted men, though they are more complete for officers. As such, if you are looking for soldiers serving before World War One you will very likely need to piece together information from multiple different sources, and even then, it’s likely that many of the records have not survived. Personnel records were more comprehensive after 1914, however more than two-thirds of these were destroyed by an incendiary bomb in 1940 and so the surviving papers are very incomplete.
Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry collection WSA 3560/10/22
Finally, looking at military records can be quite confusing if you don’t know which unit your relative served with, where that unit was stationed at a given time, or whether they were an enlisted soldier or an officer. Just as we recommend when taking your first steps in family history, it’s worth asking relatives what they remember and checking family documents to gather as much information as you can. A little work before you start can save you a huge headache further down the line.
With that, let’s have a look at some of the sites providing access to military records. Sadly, not all sites offer free access, but those that charge offer a free trial and I have provided a link to these trials where possible.
Most military service records are held at The National Archives, mostly but not exclusively in the War Office files. Obviously we can’t access the originals right now, and the majority of the files aren’t digitised, but at the moment any that are available electronically are free to download for as long as TNA remains closed (you will need to register with the site first). Luckily for us a lot of the War Office’s records are also available through TNA’s Digital Microfilm Project. This link will take you to the project home page which has instructions on how to access the material; to see which records are available from the War Office, scroll down until you see reference numbers beginning ‘WO’. It’s also worth searching TNA’s catalogue Discovery as some of the records are searchable by the soldier’s name, for example WO25 (registers of service) and WO374 (officers’ service files, 1898-1922). TNA also have an excellent series of guides on how and where to find information on members of the armed forces and they’re well worth a read.
Findmypast has an excellent collection of British Army Service Records transcripts and digital images which are indexed and searchable. It is a subscription service, but they’re currently offering a free 14-day trial for new members. The transcripts give a wealth of information including service number, rank, regiment and unit, birth year and birth county. The images accompanying the transcripts can give you even more information, including the soldier’s physical description, occupation, name and address of next of kin, religion and their service history.
Ancestry is, like Findmypast, a subscription service, but they also offer a free trial. Ancestry’s collection of Military Records covers everything from First World War pension records through to the Roll of Honour for seamen 1914-1945 and is well worth searching.
Some of the material on Ancestry is provided via their affiliate fold3 which hosts military records. Once again it’s a subscription service but they also offer a free trial, albeit only for seven days. The material is primarily American, but there’s a vast amount of material relating to Britain and the Commonwealth. Most useful will be the British Army Lists which contain information on officers in the regular army between 1882 and 1962, British Army WW1 Service Records, Medal Roll index cards, and British WW1 Wounded and Missing, though there are many other excellent collections on the site, all of which seem to be indexed by soldier’s name.
Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry WSA 3560/10/22
If you know that the soldier you are searching for was killed during a conflict then the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website can also be helpful. You can use its search function to find fallen soldiers, which in turn can give you information such as the soldier’s rank, service number, service branch, date of death and place of burial. If there is an inscription on the grave marker, this can be shown as well.
Finally, the websites of regimental museums can also provide a wealth of information. For example, The Wardrobe (The Rifles Berkshire and Wiltshire Museum) has a comprehensive history of the regiments related to Wiltshire, and also offers excerpts from unit War Diaries (which give an indication of what a unit was doing on a given day). These can be invaluable for getting a flavour of the actions soldiers took part in during a conflict.