The UK Ministry of Defence has passed more than six million soldiers’ pension record cards to the Western Front Association (WFA).
The WFA says: “Some two years ago, we learned that the Ministry of Defence was no longer able to retain and manage its archive of Great War soldiers’ pension records cards and related archives. The MoD had held these cards, passed to it from prior custodians, all of which date from the time of the conflict.
“There was a possibility that the records would have had to be destroyed unless they could be passed for safe keeping to a reputable organisation. The WFA has, in this time, made a study and catalogued the primary information for of each group of records in the archive, and arranged the safe transfer and storage of the records to the WFA’s secure premises.
Background to the archive
“During the Great War, dependents of each serving British soldier, sailor, airman and nurse who was killed were entitled to a pension, as were those service personnel who were wounded or otherwise incapacitated due to the conflict. There is a card for each. These cards are categorised as follows:
- Other Ranks Died (this contains nearly one million individual records);
- Widows and Dependents of Other Ranks Died (in excess of one million records);
- Other Ranks Survived: Requested/Rejected/Receiving Pension (over 2.5 million records);
- Officers survived and Officers’ Widows (approximately 150,000 records);
- Merchant Naval Cards (about 5,000 records).
“Originally, the cards were maintained regionally and it was only much later that they were collected into a single group. The Pension Records cards were held regionally because many claimants – especially those who were wounded or suffered ill-health aggravated by their service in the conflict – had to attend regional assessment boards to ensure their entitlement remained valid. These assessments created a further invaluable archive, known as the Army, Navy and Air Force Registers, all of which are held in ledger books. These ledgers also record the outcome of assessments.
What will the WFA do with the records?
“The WFA’s aim is to preserve the archive for as long as possible. Included in this is our aim to make the records available to the public for individual family research, to find the records of their forebears and to learn more about their war service. We also believe the Pension Records will be invaluable to Great War historians and for academic research.
“In order that the information on the card records can be preserved for posterity, we wish to create an online searchable archive. We plan to scan the records digitally and to make them findable with a searchable database. This is a major undertaking, not just to scan every record (a major task in itself), but to ensure each record can be “tagged” with sufficient data to make the search useful.
“The WFA intends to determine the best methods of digitisation with archiving organisations, and to discuss potential partnerships to undertake the work. We also intend to seek out sources of grant and other funding for the task, and we will soon launch a fund-raising campaign to help preserve the records in the meantime. Prior to the records being digitised and made available online, we will offer a manual look-up of records through application via this website, in the near future.”
You can see examples of the records at the WFA website.