WITH about five-and-a-half million men serving during the First World War, Britain truly as a nation at arms.

The result is that a century on, almost every UK household has a story of patriotism, heroism and sacrifice from the conflict.

To mark the conflict’s centenary, the Oxford Mail enlisted the help of the Oxfordshire Family History Society to research the part Banbury MP Sir Tony Baldry’s family played in the conflict.

Banbury Cake:

Sir Tony Baldry MP, right, with Alex McGahey from the Oxford Family History Society


Sir Tony’s great-grandfather Robert Paterson was head gamekeeper for Lord Brassey, who at the time was Banbury’s MP. Mr Paterson had four sons who fought in the Great War, Thomas, Robert, Roderick and Collin and, though they all returned home, the conflict scarred them in different ways.

The brothers were baptised at St Nicholas Church, in Heythrop, as children of Robert and Georgina between 1890 and 1896.

Banbury Cake:

Grandfather Roderick Paterson 

According to Oxfordshire Family History Society researcher, Alex McGahey, Sir Tony’s grandfather, Roderick, could have served in the 1st Highland Light Infantry in Mesopotamia, in the Middle East.

The MP said: “I think he enlisted before he was 18 and served in Mesopotamia. On one occasion he was wounded so badly he was reported as having been killed in action. For about 18 months my grandmother, to whom he was engaged at the time, thought he had died.”

Roderick died aged 56 from illnesses which Sir Tony said “had certainly been aggravated by service in the Great War”.

Mr McGahey found more information on Roderick’s brother, Collin, whose full service records survived and are available online.

According to these, Collin enlisted at London’s Grove Park as a private in the Army Service Corps on March 22, 1915. He was posted to France on April 1, 1915, where he served as a lorry driver.

Collin was seriously wounded on April 5, 1918, when he was shot in the left chest and invalided home on April 22. He would spend 22 days in hospital before being discharged on May 9.

Banbury Cake:

Great-uncle Robert Paterson 

Collin was ordered to be confined to the barracks on November 26, 1918, for having an untidy bunk.

Another three days were added on November 27 when he failed to report and then “stated a falsehood to an NCO”.

On June 6, 1919, Collin was demobilised and transferred to the Z Army Reserve as an acting Lance Corporal a month later.

However, after surviving three years on the Western Front, Collin went on to take his own life. Sir Tony said: “It was as a consequence of severe depression, which I suspect nowadays would have been diagnosed as post-traumatic stress.”

Sir Tony said he believed Roderick’s brother Robert joined the Machine Gun Corps but then served as a General’s driver on the Western Front, where he received a Military Medal.

But the medal record card that Mr McGahey unearthed showed Robert to be a driver with the Army Service Corps, not the Machine Gun Corps.

Sir Tony said after the war Robert returned to work at the Chipping Norton garage he had been employed at prior to joining up.

He said: “He had been very seriously gassed. As a consequence he was a somewhat solitary man who spoke little. Indeed, as a child I can never remember him uttering more than two or three words at a time.”

Mr McGahey said Thomas had not been given a second name, which meant he proved too difficult to trace.

He said: “There are 237 medal cards for that name.”

Sir Tony added: “These are all four young men, born in Oxfordshire, grew up in Oxfordshire, went to the Great War and were fortunate to return but not without scars.

“They were, though, fortunate, and there were a number from Heythrop, which is, after all, quite a small village, who didn’t return.

“There is quite a moving inscription on the war memorial which says ‘Their bodies are in France but their hearts are in Heythrop’.”

The information you need to reasearch your ancestors

ANYONE wanting to research an ancestor who fought in the First World War should find out as much basic information as possible, Oxfordshire Family History Society’s Alex McGahey advises. 

This should include their full name, date of birth, date of death, a photograph, and regiment and service number. 

The Oxfordshire Family History Society researcher said: “Find out as much information as you can before you start looking for more. 

“A photograph can show their uniform, their cap badge or rank. 

“Once you have these then you have a start and then you can go and look for more.” 

Mr McGahey then advised people to head online to a genealogy website like ancestry.co.uk to find out more. 

Those who don’t have internet access at home should visit their local library where the site can usually be accessed for free, he said. 

Mr McGahey said he first searches for the serviceman’s medal record cards, which can give their name, rank, service number, where they served and what medals they received. 

The 68-year-old said people could then search for service records that say where the person enlisted, their postings and if they served abroad. 

But Mr McGahey said these records were incomplete after more than half were destroyed during an air raid on London during the Blitz in the Second World War. 

Pension records will say whether the serviceman received a pension, if they were wounded, what their wounds were and where they were injured. 

Mr McGahey added that wounded soldiers who were discharged would be included in Silver War Badge Records. Discharged troops were given Silver Badge medals so they were not handed white feathers, which were seen as a symbol of cowardice. 

If people want to research a relative who died in the war then they should visit the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website cwgc.org 

This can say where they are buried and holds some information on the soldier’s family.

  • Do you want alerts delivered straight to your phone via our WhatsApp service? Text NEWS or SPORT or NEWS AND SPORT, depending on which services you want, and your full name to 07767 417704. Save our number into your phone's contacts as Oxford Mail WhatsApp and ensure you have WhatsApp installed.

Our top stories