Remembrance Day is an appropriate time to reflect on the military career of a relative. We are all grateful for those who sacrificed to preserve our freedom.
I have for some time been working on the military life of my father, James Henry Darby 1911 to 2003. He was known to his friends as Jim. You would think that this would be an easy task – and maybe it is for a more skilled Family Historian! It continues to be an interesting quest. Perhaps you have some suggestions to help me.
He was a British Grenadier. Because he was a volunteer soldier from 1930 to 1932 he was among the first to be “called up”when World War 2 began.
He taught me:
- War is a terrible thing
- Loyalty and support for colleagues
He never wanted to share details about his war experiences – his day to day experiences
He did tell me:
- He was blinded during a training exercise and only had his sight restored by the King’s surgeon.
- He served in North Africa and Italy.
- He was wounded on Jan 23 1944 – my mother’s birthday!
- When Mount Vesuvius erupted he had to be evacuated from Napoli to Sicily
- He organized entertainment for the troops while in Sicily
- He returned to active duty and was sent to Rome where he headed a squad assigned to retrieve bodies from a cave following a massacre.
- He became a Company Sergeant Major
- He returned home on a ship arriving on a Sunday to find the dockyard closed so no one could disembark. There was no welcome.
Is there more that can be learned about his military life?
- Get a copy of his military record
- For Canadian servicemen and women there is a web site – http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/genealogy/022-909-e.html or just google search Canada Military records – expect to pay
- Other countries – go to wiki.familysearch.org and search for military records and name a country
- The Grenadier Guards are an elite regiment in England – they keep their own records!
- There are web sites such as Find My Past which have collections of military records – this is a subscription site that is available for free at a FH Centre.
2. Gather and analyze any pictures and documents
- Don’t throw away before you look carefully – you may be surprised what you find! – even special Christmas greetings like 1943 which shows his rank on that date – and receipts for musicians in Sicily (NE of Catania) – so he did organize concerts!
3. Study history – both books and web accounts
- often the books are the bargain books at the store or available as used books –we have read some great books!
- There are collections of personal accounts on the Internet
- Through books I found where his battalion were in January 1944!
4. Talk to his colleagues -
- Are there any members of his battalion still living? Can they say what happened and where? We found a very nice veteran who is now a Chelsea Pensioner – another topic for research if you are not familiar with the term – with whom we exchanged letters – yes real letters on paper!
- We learned about a little known battle in North Africa and the terrible losses to Dad’s battalion on Monte Camino in Italy (very near to Monte Cassino).
5. Visit places he went – travel in Europe is not as expensive as you might think
- We have visited Rome and with some difficulty the Ardeantine Caves where over 340 Italians were slaughtered by the Nazis in retaliation for an attack on some soldiers – but by the time we got there the visitor centre was closed! We need to learn more Italian and be better prepared.
- We took a train through the area where he must have bee wounded – and was impressed by the terrain.
Observation: Although there are more and more resources on the Internet, much of this research did not involve the internet.
The quest continues . . . .
Any research suggestions would be appreciated.