By Sean Clemenson
It has been five months since the Lloyd's Register Foundation Heritage & Education Centre (HEC) launched 'HEC needs you!' and the team thought it would be worthwhile to provide a summation of the project’s inception as well as an in-depth update on its progress.
How did the project come to be?
The project’s creation came about after the team discussed the archived information for the members of staff named in 71 Fenchurch Street’s War Memorials and how it could be used online for military and ancestry enthusiasts alike. It was deemed that information for those named in the First World War Memorial would take precedence given the centennial year of the First World War.
The project had a simple aim - discover as much personal information as possible about the 15 men named in our First World War Memorial.
After sifting through our archive, it became clear that information the Centre had was very limited. Most files only showed a member of staff’s place of work and regiment. Subsequently, the team decided to crowd source the information from the public - the first project of its kind for the Centre.
Work initially began on the project in earnest in August. Before appealing to the public for information, the team thought it was best to present as much of its own archived information as possible, in an effort to ensure that information was not duplicated. The Lloyd’s Register staff journals, commonly referred to as the 'Staff Bibles', were the foundation of the project's research. This reliance was made evident with the working title for HEC needs you! initially the 'Staff Bible Project'. The working title is still used in the URL for the project's webpages. Unfortunately, the Bibles didn't reveal much about most of the men. Several historic culls of the Centre's archive has meant that vital information (D.O.B, registration number, service career) that would be recorded in these journals, was lost.
Subsequently, the team had to use alternative records such as the General Committee Minutes and Cricket club histories. External resources such as the Imperial War Museum's Lives of the First World War website, regimental heritage museums and online remembrance forums also became an integral part of our research. When the team ran out of potential leads, these communities put us on the right track and went above and beyond supporting the project.
The project has reached a digital audience spanning 44 countries worldwide!
Since the launch of the material online in November 2016, the public's response to the project has been astonishing. The Centre has received over 100 responses from relatives, heritage sites and the general public. The multitude of responses included personal biographies, addresses and even photographs of the men and has significantly improved our archived files on the men named in Fenchurch Street’s First World War Memorial.
Incredibly, the team even managed to get in touch with a relative of one of the men.
As details came in thick and fast, it became apparent that the most frequent additions focused on information logged in the 1911 census (age, address, occupation) or from the military service records (regimental number, date of enlistment ). This was not surprising given that the extensive records of the War Office are now readily available through a number of sources, most notably The National Archives and Ancestry.com. However, there are still a number of ‘black holes’ for the military career of the men. This was in large part due to the destruction of the majority of the British Army’s service records during the Second World War.
“Unfortunately, more than half of their [War Office] service records were destroyed in September 1940, when a German bombing raid struck the War Office repository in Arnside Street, London.” - The National Archives
The records held at Arnside Street included medal receipts, complete soldier medical records, casualty returns, and entire operation intelligence records. It was estimated that roughly 60% of the records held at the repository were destroyed. A full list of articles lost can be viewed here. Fortunately, about 2 million documents were saved from the fires, meaning that researchers have a 40% chance of successfully finding a soldier’s service record.
The loss of archived information caused quite a headache and meant that the team would rely on military information being provided via obituaries from the public or through the surviving remnants of the repository. The team were aware that they may face the possibility of military information about the men being impossible to find - lost to the sands of time, or to the fires of the Arnside Street blaze.
As of today (27 April 2017), these ‘black holes’ can still be found for several of the service careers of the men. In particular, the location of death is unknown for eight of the 15 men.
In spite of this, the team remain hopeful that this information can be found. With articles about HEC needs you being written by Centenary News and the Western Front Association, the team hope to reach those that can shed a light on any missing information. For contributions to the project, please use the contact form or email Sean Clemenson.
Lastly, the LRF Heritage & Education Centre is delighted to announce that members of the public can see both the First and Second World War Memorials on Saturday 16 September during Open House London. The event is a rare opportunity for the public to see the historic Collcutt and Rogers buildings. The last time the Centre participated in the event, over 2,000 people visited.