Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

To all my friends, family, and especially to you, my gentle readers, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas in the Trenches

As part of the focus on the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I this year's Sainsbury Christmas advertisement focused on the events that happened during Christmas 1914.


What occurred were a number of informal truces at various places along the Western Front. However, what needs to be remembered is that these truces did not extend throughout the theatre of war and there were still skirmishes occurring between Christmas Eve (December 24) and Boxing Day (December 27).

In various war diaries of the time there are hints of these events. From the The Bedfordshire Regiment in the Great War 1914 War Diary transcription:
24 Dec 1914 Relieved by Manchester Regt. at 8pm. Battn took over a section on their right from Dorset Regt. at about 9 pm. without any casualties. Wolverghem & Battn. Hd Qrs shelled by enemy. Reinforcements 69 R & File arrived.
25 Dec 1914 Christmas cards from Their Majesties the King & Queen distributed to all ranks of the Battn. Also present from Her R. Highness Princess Mary. Cold & frosty day. Quiet day. Germans semaphored over that they were not going to fire. Hard frost all day.
26 Dec 1916 Another quiet day. A little shelling by both sides. Some Germans came forward unarmed apparently with a view to friendly intercourse. A few shots fired in their direction as a hint to withdraw. Later, enemy shelled trenches & Wolverghem: damaged several rifles, but only wounded 1 man.
The personal diary of Regimental Sergeant-Major George Beck, of 1st Warwickshire Regiment, included details of those days. An image of the diary pages from the Dorset History Centre along with a transcription was included in the August 24, 2014 article "Midland soldier's poignant war diary reveals Christmas truce of December 1914" in the Birmingham Post:
24th Dec 1914 - Point 63
Quiet day. Relieved 2nd R DUB FUS [Royal Dublin Fusiliers] in the trenches in the evening. Germans shout over to us and ask us to play them at football, and also not to fire & they would do likewise. At 2 a.m. (25th) A German Band went along the trenches playing “Home, sweet Home” and God Save the King which sounded grand and made everyone think of Home. During the night several of our fellows went over “No Man’s Land” to German lines & was given a drink & cigars.

25th Dec 1914 - Trenches St Yves
Christmas Day. Not one shot was fired. English and German soldiers intermingled and exchanged souvenirs. Germans very eager to exchange almost anything for our bully beef and jam. Majority of them know French fluently. A few men of the regiment assisted in burying the dead of the Somerset Light Infantry who were killed on 19.12.14. Fine frosty day. Very cold.

26th Dec 1914 - Trenches St Yves
Unofficial truce kept up and our own fellows intermingled still with the Germans. No rifle shots fired, but our artillery fired a few rounds on the German 3rd and 4th lines and Germans retaliated with a few rounds on D Coys (Company’s) trenches. Two wounded.

In 1984 John McCutcheon wrote the song "Christmas in the Trenches" that poignantly described the scenes and thoughts through the eyes of a fictitious soldier named  Francis Tolliver.

For Canadians the version by John McDermott is probably most familiar to us.

So during this Christmas season, sometime between doing your Christmas shopping and attending those parties, take a moment to remember all those affected by war regardless of the side they were on during the conflicts.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Online Resources for Your Loyalist Research Project

When trying to research your Loyalist ancestors the challenge is locating those key records. It is even harder when you live a distance from that archive, museum, or library (You have checked the online resources of that library near where your Loyalist lived?) that holds a copy of the files you desperately want to read. Fortunately with the Internet it is a little bit easier (although still a challenge).

One thing to keep in mind are the following guidelines as to what defines a Loyalist:

  • Either male or female, as of 19 April 1775, a resident of the American colonies, and joined the Royal Standard prior to the Treaty of Separation of 1783, or otherwise demonstrated loyalty to the Crown, and settled in territory remaining under the rule of the Crown; or
  • a soldier who served in an American Loyalist Regiment and was disbanded in Canada; or
  • a member of the Six Nations of either the Grand River or the Bay of Quinte Reserve who is descended from one whose migration was similar to that of other Loyalists.

Here are just some of the online resources I use:

United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada

  • List of Branches - Often the best place to ask for assistance is either the nearer branch of UELAC or the branch closest to where your Loyalist settled.
  • Loyalist Directory - Besides just the list of known Loyalists and whether someone has proven their descent from that specific Loyalist you may also periodically come across the actual application form that was submitted (like what I sent in for proving my descent from Lt. Caleb Howe of the Queens Rangers).

Ancestry ($)

Library and Archives Canada

LAC has a page describing the various fonds available both onsite and online that can aid in locating information on your Loyalist Ancestor. The following online collections may save you a trip to Ottawa (although it is a very nice city if I do say so myself).

Provincial Archives of New Brunswick

"Wallace Hale's Fort Havoc" collections are an amazing set of documents compiled by R. Wallace Hale that he has made available via the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick web site. Of particular interest to Loyalist researchers are the following starting pages:

Nova Scotia Archives

Until 1874 Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were one colony. New Brunswick was split off from Nova Scotia when the large influx of Loyalists leaving the thirteen colonies of what became the United States of America when the British lost the war and many of those Loyalists settled in Parrtown. If you have any New Brunswick Loyalist ancestors then checking the records at the Nova Scotia Archives needs to be done.
  • Nova Scotia Land Papers 1765-1800 - Volumes 1-25, the surviving records from 1765 to 1800, have been indexed and made available online. The searchable index contains 11,464 names of people who received land in the province during that time period.


New Brunswick, County Deed Registry Books, 1780-1930 - This unindexed collection of the New Brunswick County Deed Registry Books includes not only the usual land records of the settlers of New Brunswick (before 1784 New Brunswick was a county of the Colony of Nova Scotia) but also a listing of those that drew lots in Parrtown (later Saint John). The same list, although with some more details, can be found in Dr. Esther Clark Wright's book "The Loyalists of New Brunswick". You can find some instructions for looking through this collection in my post "Expecting only Deeds and Mortgages? How About a Will?"

Internet Archive

This is one of those great resources that just keeps on giving. Here you will find many out of copyright books that have been digitized for preservation. Just search for the keyword "Loyalists" or "Loyalist" and you will come across articles that may be only 2 pages in length to books with over 600 pages. You can read the articles and books on line or you can save them to your computer in PDF (and sometimes EPUB or Kindle) formats. Here is just a very small sample of what can be found:

Usually if I find a mention of an older book in an article on Loyalists I will see if it has been digitized and made available either through Google Books or the Internet Archive.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Diary of Regimental Sergeant Major George Beck

The Dorset History Centre has embarked on an interesting project as part of commemorating the Great War of 1914-18. Daily they are posting the entries from the personal diary of Regimental Sergeant Major George Beck of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. The full entries from his diaries will be posted but they are also tweeting the entries 100 years after RSM Beck wrote them.

Some of the diaries are of the usual stuff that soldiers deal with on a daily basis and can be quite drab and boring.

29th November: NIEPPE
"29th November: NIEPPE", Dorset History Centre, The diary of Regimental Sergeant Major George Beck, 19 Nov 2014, ( : 30 Nov 2014)

While other entries in his diary describe the action and activities of the battalion in detail:
13th October - CAESTRE
"13th October – CAESTRE", Dorset History Centre, The diary of Regimental Sergeant Major George Beck, 13 Oct 2014, ( : 30 Nov 2014)

What makes this interesting, at least to me, is that his diary is a personal one and not the official battalion or regimental diary. Although it may parallel what is written in the official diaries, he will also include items of a personal nature or of interest just to him.

If you are interested in reading the World War I battalion level war diaries (AKA WO 95) of the 10 Infantry Brigade: 1 Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment for the period of 1 Aug - 31 Dec 31 1914, they can be downloaded from The National Archives for the cost of £3.30 or viewed for free in The National Archives reading room at the archives itself.