This article looks at The National Roll of the Great War 1914-1918 which is an important source to consult if you’re researching a soldier who served in the First World War. I have also written articles on two similar resources The Bond of Sacrifice and De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour. These, as well as other British Army guides, can be viewed by clicking on the links below:
- The Bond of Sacrifice
- De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour
- Guides to Researching Soldiers who Served in the British Army
The National Roll of the Great War 1914-1918
The National Roll of the Great War 1914-1918 was created after the First World War to record the “names and records of service of those who helped to secure victory for the Empire during the Great War of 1914-1918”. The foreword records:
When we quietly consider what the Great War, with its gains and losses, its cares and anxieties, has taught us, we are at once struck by the splendid heroism of all who took part in it. Many by reason of special qualities of mind or soul stand out more prominently than the rest; but the names and deeds of others, who toiled no less meritoriously, are officially left unsung.
Yet it is well, if only for purely personal and family reasons, that there should be some abiding record of the self-sacrificing services of all men and women who answered their Country’s call in her hour of need, and who, whether on land, or sea, or in the air, in hospital, or camp, or workshop, were ready to lay down life itself, if need be, that Britain might live and Right prevail over Might.
It is for this reason primarily that the present “National Roll of the Great War” was projected. In these pages will be found records of devotion and patriotism of which the individual, the family, and the nation have every reason to be proud.
The National Roll contains over 100,000 entries for those who served in the armed forces or were involved in work which helped the war effort. A total of fourteen volumes were produced which covered specific geographical areas with those who appeared in them arranged alphabetically by surname. However, a lot of Britain had no coverage including Wales and Scotland. People would appear in the volume where they were living post-war or their next-of-kin was. The volumes were:
- Section 1 – London West, Central and North
- Section 2 – London West, Central and North
- Section 3 – London West, Central and North
- Section 4 – Southampton
- Section 5 – Luton
- Section 6 – Birmingham
- Section 7 – London West, Southeast and Central
- Section 8 – Leeds
- Section 9 – Bradford
- Section 10 – Portsmouth
- Section 11 – Manchester
- Section 12 – Bedford and Northampton
- Section 13 – London South East
- Section 14 – Salford
- Section 15 – Index – Created by the Naval and Military Press
Information Contained in the National Roll of the Great War
A wide variety of information can be recorded in an entry from units served with, to battles participated in or to the nature of the work undertaken. The information in the entries was either from the person concerned or their relatives and a fee was paid to appear in the book which was widely advertised at the time. A typical advert read “If his Name appears in “The National Roll of the 1914 Great War 1918” you know he has “Done His Bit” followed by the address 1 York-Place, Baker Street, London for correspondence. The information provided was then edited by those working on the roll into short paragraphs. You need to take care when using the information as there are errors and try to cross-reference as much as possible. Medal index cards and medal rolls are very useful in this respect if no service record has survived.
The great value in the National Roll of the Great War is that it often records information that you will not find elsewhere. If a soldier did not serve abroad and their service record was destroyed in 1940 during the Blitz, then an entry in the National Roll of the Great War may be the only information left recording their service. The second reason that the National Roll is so important is that it combines biographical information in the form of an address with military information. This is important if you’re trying to find a soldier who has a common name and you don’t know anything about their military service. An address was recorded after each entry and this can be cross-referenced with other records, birth and marriage certificates, the 1911 Census etc. to help you find or rule out, a possible soldier. Below are four typical entries. The General Service Medal which is mentioned is the British War Medal. The 1914 Star is referred to by its colloquial name, the Mons Star after the battle fought on 23 August 1914 in Belgium.
Commesky, J. W. 5th Wiltshire Regt. Joining in November 1915, he was shortly afterwards sent to India and thence to Mesopotamia, where he served with the Kut Relief Force and later was present at the capture of Baghdad. Subsequently, he contracted septic poisoning, of which he unhappily died in May 1919. He was buried at Baghdad, and was entitled to the General Service and Victory Medals.
“A costly sacrifice upon the alter of freedom.” 84, Devonshire Street, Higher Broughton.
Kersh, R. (Miss), Member, W.R.A.F. She joined in November, 1918, and on completion of her training was sent to Netheravon, where she was engaged on important work as a tinsmith. Throughout the period of her service she carried out her responsible duties with the utmost skill and efficiency, and was eventually demobilised in November 1919.
10, Cedar Street, High Town.
McDermott, E. Private, 4th (Royal Irish) Dragoon Guards. Mobilised from the Reserve on the outbreak of war, he was sent to the Western Front, and served in the Retreat from Mons, and the Battles of the Marne, the Aisne and Ypres. Taken prisoner on October 16th, 1914, he escaped from Fredericksfeld Camp, Germany and reaching England via Holland two months later, was engaged on Home Defence until discharged on account of service in September 1917. He holds the Mons Star, and the General Service and Victory Medals.
15, Diamond Street, Salford.
Molineux, R. Gunner, R.G.A. He was employed as a packer at Messrs. H. S. Booth & Co., Manchester on Government work until he joined up in December 1917. Sent to France in May of the following year, he took part in the Retreat and Advance of 1918, and after the Armistice proceeded with the Army of Occupation to Germany. He was demobilised in September 1919, and holds the General Service and Victory Medals.
3, Star Street, Higher Broughton.
Where to Find the National Roll of Honour
You have a number of options when it comes to finding the National Roll of Honour. I use FindmyPast which has digitized all the volumes and has an easy search facility. FindmyPast is a subscription website but they usually have a free two week trial period. Clicking on the banner below will take you to the website.
Ancestry also has some of the volumes digitized but is missing three which “cover the areas of Bradford, Bedford, Northampton, and more of London”. As Ancestry’s set isn’t complete I can’t recommend using them for the National Roll of the Great War. The books have also been reprinted by the Naval and Military Press and can easily found easily enough online.