Military Archive Research
by Dr. Stuart C Blank
Member of the Orders and Medals Research Society (OMRS)
Member of the Royal Air Force Historical Society (RAFHS)
Member of the Naval Historical Collectors and Research Association (NHCRA)
Member of the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS)
Member of the International Bank Note Society (IBNS)
Member of the International Bond and Share Society (IBSS)




Newspapers and Magazines

Contemporary newspapers and periodicals are an excellent source of material for military historians and genealogy. They can yield interesting nuggets of information which add spice and character to the research topic. Lively stories are the staple diet of newspapers and where better to look for nuggets than in contemporary publications. What is to say that the individual being researched did not make headlines at some stage of his career.

Not only can the national press give up interesting stories but local newspapers can give interesting insights into what happened in the local area, regiments and personnel. General reports can shed light on individual actions at which our man was known to be present. It is possible to find mention of incidents concerning his unit or ship which were otherwise unknown.

Background research into large campaigns is largely dictated by medal clasps (sometimes referred to as bars) awarded to an individual. It can be revealing to read newspaper reports from around the time of the battle to see how things had developed. It must be borne in mind that reports from the front may not have reached the press until weeks after the event.

Obituaries of personnel, especially more senior people or officers, are often published and newspapers can be searched around the time of death to see if they have printed the obituary of the person being researched. Local papers may publish details of individuals and there are three possibilities - the local paper for where he was born, where he was stationed, and newspapers published in the region of any significant incident. 

The huge holdings of the newspaper archive serves to underline that aimless blanket searches are very time consuming and rarely rewarding. When researching a standard "medal group / individual" with no knowledge of specific details where the recipient survived the conflict, there is little chance of a useful result. Prior to the Boer War it is unusual to find any mention of other ranks. The only exceptions are those recognised for gallantry or something extraordinary; sometimes casualties feature but this cannot be guaranteed.

During the Boer War the attitude of the press towards military affairs changed. The manpower requirements of the Boer War was much larger and the newspaper readers at home wanted to hear about their "boys". Sometimes local and provincial newspapers adopted a regiment and printed features regarding them. A vastly greater expansion of the military occurred during the First World War. Millions were recruited and conscription arrived in 1916. Regional papers were full of news about the local battalions and the home front eagerly awaited news about their men. Coverage was varied - it could include letters from the front, requests for information about troops from home, obituaries, acts of gallantry, lists of prisoners, promotions and wounded men etc..

It is important to be realistic about the press coverage of a particular soldier. Given the volume of printed material it is necessary to define research parameters at the outset. Identifying as many parameters about the research topic is necessary. Getting as many facts about the individual as possible significantly aids the research. Consider anything that would be noteworthy about the soldier. Military happenings that are likely to be reported are: acts of gallantry, courts martial, appearances in civil courts, medal presentations, promotions, sporting events, and casualties.

The Newspaper Archive thus presents a good opportunity to conduct research into individuals and campaigns. If you think I can aid your research then please do not hesitate to contact me. Please send as many details as possible as this would aid drafting a research programme. I look forward to hearing from you.