Red Cross POW records and a mystery solved

One of the many digitisation projects sparked by the centenary has been carried out by the International Committee of the Red Cross. They have digitised the Prisoner of War records from their archives which were released (80% complete) on 4 August. The site can be found at http://grandeguerre.icrc.org/.

The release of these records has allowed me to clear up one of the outstanding identifications from the roll. Listed under Dorking was a W Hills, recorded as being a Private in the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment). From census records the only plausible candidate seemed to be the William James Hills living at Chalkpit Cottages in 1911, but I had not been able to find any military information. The roll also indicates he had been a prisoner, so the Red Cross records were an obvious avenue to explore.

A little experimentation showed that the records tend to be grouped under a single variant, so Hills appeared with those named Hill. At first it seemed I would continue to draw a blank. None of the records for the Queen’s matched, but I noticed that some men were actually in Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment), so eventually I looked at the section for those too, reasoning that the confusion might work both ways.

There I found a record card for William Hills. Using the reference numbers recorded on the original card, this links to 3 other records. These confirmed he was William J Hills, and giving a home address matching the 1911 census, the birthplace of Burpham, Arundel also matched. But he is shown as belonging to West Kents rather than West Surreys

So in fact it was the roll of honour which was incorrect and had muddled the West Surreys and West Kents. With his regimental number from the card (initially wrongly recorded as 14619, but an amendment on the card indicated it should be 17619) I also found a matching medal index card, but sadly (but unsurprisingly) no service record. However this is quite enough to be sure of the identification.

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2 thoughts on “Red Cross POW records and a mystery solved

  1. Graham hills

    My grandfather was william hills, born in burpham in 1880 and died oct 4 1917 at ypres. Is there any chance he was the surrey bell ringer you were researching. He is remembered on the burpham war memorial.

    Graham Hills,

    Reply
  2. davidunderdown95 Post author

    That would be this man – http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/484323/HILLS,%20W ?

    It’s interesting that he is actually Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment), but I don’t think there’s much chance your man is the correct one. The association roll of honour lists all members who served, not just those killed. All the Dorking men are shown as survivors. The man I’ve identified was born in Burpham on 17 September 1881 according to the Red Cross records, and there is a matching birth registration http://www.freebmd.org.uk/cgi/information.pl?cite=36mxYA8bLxsC45LedfjbjQ&scan=1 whereas your man would match this registration http://www.freebmd.org.uk/cgi/information.pl?cite=qmov6KMnre0%2BA41A74YNtQ&scan=1

    There’s nothing to conenction your man with Dorking either, the CWGC information shows his parents still in Burpham, while his widow is in High Wycombe. Whereas the man I’ve dientified was at the same address as given in the Red Cross records in the 1911 census (admittedly he was then listed as a widower, so he must have remarried before he was taken POW, and I’ve not yet looked for that).

    Reply

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