The Association is very pleased to have Graham Sacker as one of its members and incredibly privileged to be permitted to share the body of work that has dominated his time for the last twenty years. This is now accessible and searchable through the Discovery catalogue of the National Archives free of charge. Graham previously charged for provision and interpretation of the information so please consider supporting the Association when using this resource.
Notes about the Machine Gun Corps Database
PLEASE read these notes which are for your assistance, and are important.
Construction of the database commenced in the year 2000 with the limited objective of capturing all of the Corps’ casualties as shown in Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-19 (The War Office, via HMSO 1921), so that these could more easily be compared with the (then) records of Corps casualties held by The Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
It should be remembered that this was the era prior to computerisation of such records, and the data captured from both places had to be reverse engineered so that a comparison could more easily be made. It soon became apparent that there were significant differences, ie some recorded in Soldiers Died did not appear in CWGC records – and vice versa. Cooperating with my good friend and colleague Lt Col Bob Alexander REME(Rtd), we constructed a document entitled “The Lost Boys”. Of course, there was nothing that we could do about omissions from Soldiers Died, but we could certainly approach the CWGC about men “missing” from their records and it was a matter of satisfaction that within a year or so, all had been accepted as casualties and work put in hand to suitably commemorate them.
The next job to tackle was to list all of the very many awards for gallantry and good service made to members of the Corps (and those from other units attached to the MGC when they were decorated) shown in the pages of the London Gazette. Some attempts had been made previously but it was clear that there were many omissions. It was necessary to make many visits to The National Archives and to photograph every page of the Gazette, for the entire war period (up to 1922). Only then could the job of extracting awards to the Corps be commenced. This task took over two years, since it all had to be checked and re-checked for accuracy. It became clear that there had been over 14,000 gazetted awards and that there had been almost 17,000 casualties up to the date of disbandment (10136 killed in action, 6,600 died of wounds or died, 49 accidentally killed, 59 drowned, and 13 killed – cause of death unknown). The MGC memorial “The Boy David” at Hyde Park Corner mentions 12,498 casualties – a gross understatement of the true number. Ignoring the fact that some who died were also decorated, the database then contained around 31,000 records. MGC numbers (including the first 3000 men of the Motor Machine Gun Service, Royal Artillery, later absorbed into the MGC) ran from number 1, up to just over 200,000 by the date of disbandment, not including those men who were renumbered with seven-figure ones in 1921, and those who joined and only ever had seven-figure identification. Thus, there were approximately 169,000 men who had, at some time, worn the crossed-Vickers Gun cap badge about whom the database (at that point) revealed nothing. Then there were all of the officers who were neither casualties or decorated.
We were at a point some twenty years ago when it became possible to access the surviving personnel records of Great War soldiers via the internet. A decision was then made to attempt to identify all of the enlisted men, and along the way to include as many officers who served as well. At the time of writing this introduction, approximately 100,000 additional entries have been made. There is still a very long way to go. However, the general feeling is that whatever has been found to date should be made available to researchers and genealogists. It is intended that regular updates will be carried out in future.
There now follow a few necessary caveats about the database. The first thing to say is that this is largely the work of one person. Every reasonable care has been taken to ensure that the information is as accurate as the circumstances of such an undertaking might permit. I fully accept any errors contained herein as mine. I will take seriously any criticism of the format and content from anyone who has attempted or completed any comparable task. Most important of all, the reader should regard what has been recorded here as a starting point for their journey of research. Never could it be imagined that what you have here is the full story – that would clearly be an impossible task. My hope is that it will form the beginning of your search to discover more about those incredible men who served in the
prestigious unit that this database is all about. The database is very much a “work in progress” and if your relative cannot be found, I would ask you to re-check from time-to-time as more records are added. Along the way, I have received encouragement and various degrees of help from a multitude of people. They know who they are and I thank them most sincerely.
Finally a necessary warning to anyone attempting to misappropriate data and reproduce it en bloc in a different format. I have introduced identifiable spurious information which, if it appears elsewhere, will make all too obvious the origins of that data. Thus, permission must be sought to extract large blocks. Web scraping is intellectual theft!
How to use the database
Firstly, you ought to be familiar with the National Archives Discovery catalogue. It is not the most intuitive to navigate if you don’t have a specific search term to use. If you’re not used to it, then Rich has done a short (7 minute) video on how to search the database. Make sure you subscribe to the VMGCRA channel while you’re there to get updates of future videos on how to use the database in a little more detail.
The Database ‘collection’ can be found here https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/browse/r/h/A16474821. There is the hierarchy view where you need to click the title and not ‘details’ as that won’t take you down a level.
You can search using any information in the database, such as the service number, name, unit, location and much more. Some entries have more details than others. An example entry is below, with an individual that has quite a lot of information about them. If you want to search only the MGC Database then you can find this record by putting ‘SKR/DAT Abbott’ into the ‘Search Records’ box at the top of the screen, or you can search for ‘Abbott Machine gun Corps’ to find all the Abbotts listed as well as any other files, such as Medal Index Cards, that are recorded in the National Archives catalogue.
The “War Theatre” codes were changed at the end of 1915 and errors may exist in the database. The main ones will be correct, but Egypt was changed from 3 to 4 and Africa from 4 to 5 – some letters were also used for different parts of continents.
Up to 31/12/1915: 1: France & Flanders; 2a: Salonika; 2b: Gallipoli; 3: Egypt; 4a: Brit East Africa & German East Africa; 4b: German SWA (but no MGC units involved); 5a: Mesopotamia/Arabia.
From 1/1/1916: 1: France, Belgium, Italy; 2a: Salonika – later included Serbia, Bulgaria, European Turkey; 2b: Gallipoli; 3: Russia; 4: Egypt; 5a: East Africa; 6a: Hejaz; 6b: Mesopotamia; 6c: Persia; 6d: Caucasus 6g: North West Frontier, India.
In addition to the abbreviations and terms that are available for the whole website, the following list provides some specific abbreviations and acronyms used in the database entries.
AR: Army Reserve
AVL: Absent Voters List
BEF: British Expeditionary Force
BWM: British War Medal
Boy David (or BD): Original name for the journal of the MGC Old Comrades Association
CCS: Casualty Clearing Station
Class Z: Army Reserve Class “Z”
DAH: Disordered action of the heart
DCM: Distinguished Conduct medal
EmmaGee: later name for the journal of the MGC Old Comrades Association
FA: Field Ambulance
FGCM: Field General Court Marshal
FMP: Find my Past (genealogy research media)
GH: General Hospital
GOC: General Officer Commanding
GSW: gun shot wound
ICRC: International Committee of the Red Cross (Geneva)
IFTC: In from the cold – organisation set up to trace soldiers not yet recognized as casualties
IWM: Imperial War Museum
Kellett Certificate: an unofficial certification of service most usually awarded to wounded or sick men
KR (xvi, xvia, xxva, x & others): discharge under King’s Regulation No 392 – see below
MEF: Mediterranean Expeditionary Force
MH106: Military Hospital Registers (National Archives series MH106)
MM: Military Medal
MSM: Meritorious Service Medal
MIC: Medal Index Card
National Roll: series of soldier service records of that name published in the 1920s
OCA: MGC Old Comrades Association
Pension Cards: Ministry of Pensions serviceman’s records of pensions claimed/awarded
PIN or PIN26: National Archives selected First World War pension award files
POW: Prisoner of War
PUO: pyrexia of unknown origin – commonly referred to as Trench Fever
RDC: Reserve Depot Company
SWB: Silver War Badge (a National Archives register)
TEM: Territorial Efficiency medal
TFWM: Territorial Force War medal
VDH: valvular disorder of the heart
VIC: Allied Victory medal
WD: War Department
WO Cas List: War Office Casualty Lists
WO363: the burned records archive at National Archives – soldiers’ papers survived blitz
WO364: soldiers’ pension papers which survived the blitz of 1940
Causes of discharge under King’s Regulation No 392 of 1912:
- (i) references on enlistment unsatisfactory
- (ii) having been irregularly enlisted
- (iii) not likely to become an efficient soldier
- (iv) having been claimed as an apprentice
- (v) having claimed discharge on payment of £10 within three months of attesting
- (vi) having made a misstatement as to age upon enlistment
- (vii) having be claimed for wife desertion
- (viii) having made a false answer on attestation
- (ix) unfitted for the duties of the corps
- (x) having been convicted by Civil Power of, or of an offence committed before enlisting
- (xi) for misconduct
- (xii) having been sentenced to penal servitude
- (xiii) having been sentenced to be discharged with ignominy
- (xiv) at his own request on payment of…
- (xv) free, after …..years service
- (xvi) no longer physically fit for war service
- (xvia) surplus to military requirements having suffered impairment since entry into service
- (xviii) at own request after 18 years service, with a view to a pension
- (xix) for the benefit of the public service after 18 years service with a view to a pension
- (xx) inefficiency after 18 years service with a view to pension
- (xxi) the termination of his period of engagement
- (xxii) with less than 21 years towards engagement
- (xxiii) having claimed discharge after 3 months notice
- (xxiv) having reached the age for discharge
- (xxv) services no longer required
- (xxva) surplus to military requirements (without impairment since entry)
- (xxvi) at own request after 21 or more years service, with a view to pension
- (xxvii) after 21 or more years qualifying service and with 5 years or more as a Warrant Officer
- (xxviii) on demobilisation
For more information on the Machine Gun Corps, with more history on the units as well, you can go to the Machine Gun Corps web pages on this site as well as purchasing the following books from our shop.
If you would like to understand anything further or add something to or amend something in the database, then you can contact us. If you have an academic enquiry and would like to access larger portions of the dataset, this will be passed to our education officer to discuss what you need. If you would like to feedback on how the information has been of use, please use the comments section at the bottom of the page.
Sources used to build the database
1914-15 Star Rolls
The rolls for the 1914-15 Star. These pages provided the details necessary for the issue of the Star to servicemen who had qualified, before being transferred to the MGC. Most importantly they provide, in many cases, the battalion of the original unit served-with.
Similarly, the rolls for the 1914 Star have also been searched. Although these were constructed differently, many are annotated to reveal a transfer, at a later date, to the MGC. This information has also been incorporated into the database.
The Army List
A monthly Army List which contained the name and rank of all men who held the King’s commission, both permanent and temporary, throughout the war years.
British War and Victory Medal Rolls
The rolls for the issue of the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. These usually provide a date of discharge from the service.
Soldiers Died in the Great War
During the 1920s, HM Stationery Office printed an eighty-volume set of registers known as “Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-19″. All of the deaths in service of soldiers other than officers, were gathered together by Regiment or Corps, and then alphabetically. The text provided each soldier’s full name, where he was born and enlisted, his regimental number, rank, cause of death, locality, date of death and in many cases former unit served with. In almost all cases, the cut-off date for death was 11/11/1918 – the date of the armistice. A similar one-volume register containing rather less detail is available for commissioned officers. All of the MGC casualties from these pages have been incorporated into the database.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The duty of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (formerly The Graves Registration Council and later Imperial War Graves Commission) was to record all deaths in service up to a cut-off date of 31st August 1921 – the official date of the end of the Great War, and to establish and maintain in perpetuity graves or memorials to all of those casualties. The extended date is important for researchers because it incorporates the large number of deaths that took place both in combat (North Russia, in Mesopotamia and in Afghanistan) after the armistice, and from illness or injury as a result of war service. All of the records of the CWGC relating to the MGC have been added to the database, and in some cases enhanced. The units of a substantial number of officer casualties are missing from the War Graves registers. Most of these have been reconciled from the personal files of the officers concerned. Some years ago the MGC Old Comrades Association established a Graves Photographic Project with a view to acquiring a photographic image of every MGC grave and memorial. We can therefore provide copies at a modest cost. Only those which lie in the most difficult regions (North Russia, and Iraq for example) now remain to be visited.
General Service Medal and Indian General Service Medal Rolls
Many of the Corps soldiers who remained in the army after the armistice saw active service in the middle-east and in India. This resulted in the issue of either the General Service Medal (for Iraq, Kurdistan,and Persia) or the Indian General Service Medal (Afghanistan, Waziristan etc). The medal rolls relating to personnel of the MGC who qualified for such an award have been searched, and this information added to the database – along with the unit they were serving with at the time. This is the only major source for that information, since the medals themselves are marked simply “MGC”.
The London Gazette
In order to put together a register of all servicemen who gained an award for gallantry or meritorious service, the pages of the London Gazette have been searched, year by year, from 1915 (the year of the establishment of the MGC and the Motor Machine Gun Service) up to 1922 (the year of the disbandment of the Corps). Wherever possible, the citation (the reason for the award and brief description of the gallant act) has been incorporated. Many citations were not published in the Gazette, but a substantial number have been reconstructed from the War Diaries of the unit in which the recipient was serving. (See the section on “War Diaries”) Also, a large number of Military Medal awards do not reveal the recipient’s unit. These have been reconciled using the relevant microfiche of original award cards, held at National Archives.
Officers’ ‘Long Numbers’
At the time of the Great War, commissioned officers were not identified by a number – simply by their name, rank and regiment (or corps). Due to the vast increase in the number of officers created between 1914-1918, this eventually led to much confusion, especially in the case of a common surname. In fact, both regular and temporary commissioned officers (but not those of the Territorial Army) were allocated what was known as a “long number” – used only for their strict identification and the location of their files. The “long numbers” record is held at National Archives and is a useful research tool because in many cases it provides the officer’s full name, a clue to the unit into which he was originally commissioned, and an indication of whether his original service file still exists. All of this register has been incorporated into the database. If an Officer file exists, although we may not have its content on the database, we can arrange to access it very quickly and to digitally photograph everything which has survived.
Medal Index Cards
A Medal Index Card should exist for each and every soldier, showing which medals of the Great War period were earned. A small percentage have not survived. Some also provide details of previous and subsequent units served with, and first date abroad. It is important to remember that only those soldiers who left the UK earned service medals. Many were not sent overseas and consequently no Index Card will have been prepared for them. All of the information on Medal Index Cards, relating to the MGC has been incorporated in the database.
Records of Military Hospitals (MH106)
During the war, substantial records were created relating to the injured soldiers who found themselves in a casualty station or military hospital. Only a very small proportion of such records have survived and these are held at National Archives. Where an entry can be found for an individual, a wealth of information becomes available. The surviving registers are currently being searched for entries relating to MGC soldiers. This is an on-going project.
Prisoners of War
A full record of every soldier taken prisoner of war between 1914-1918 once existed. These were amongst documents held at the War Office Repository situated in Arndale Street, Lambeth prior to World War II. During the blitz of 1940, all of these records were destroyed. Information as to whether a soldier became a prisoner is very difficult to come by. In the case of Officer POWs, a high proportion are identifiable from a document compiled by Messrs Cox & Co in 1919. Every army officer held a bank account with Cox & Co into which their pay and allowances were channeled. When officers were taken prisoner, the simplest way of relaying that information back home was to issue a warrant or cheque via their captors, which was allowed, for the purchase of goods. When the cheque arrived in England (via neutral Switzerland) it was a sure sign that the account holder was alive. A complete record was made by Cox & Co, and the information relating to MGC officers has been incorporated in the database.
Rolls of Honour
Very many Rolls of Honour were compiled after the end of the war, by Schools, Colleges, Institutions, Employers and by local bodies. They commemorated the fallen, sometimes with a great deal of information and photographs. So far as is possible, a high proportion of these registers have been searched for MGC casualties and the information extracted and incorporated into the database.
The British Red Cross Society
The British Red Cross Society (during the war amalgamated with the Order of St John) was responsible for producing regular Enquiry Lists, showing the details of servicemen wounded and missing in action. These were produced in the hope that comrades who had knowledge of any soldier whose name appeared, might come forward with information, for the assistance of relatives. A few of these lists have been published, and the entries relating to MGC personnel extracted and incorporated in the database.
The Marquis de Ruvigny
One of the major Rolls of Honour of Great War casualties is that compiled by the Marquis de Ruvigny, published in five separate parts, and alphabetically within each. Numerous photographic images were included. All of the entries relating to MGC soldiers have been incorporated into the database.
Silver War Badges
Originally introduced to give soldiers discharged from active service some token of recognition that they had “done their bit”, the Silver War Badge continued to be issued well into 1919. Individually number, it was recognised everywhere as a symbol of courage and honour – so much so that many owners had their badges fitted with safety chains to prevent loss, since the badges could not be replaced . 13,000 such badges were issued to ex-MGC soldiers who were discharged as unfit through wounds or sickness – a measure of the appalling casualties sustained by the machine gunners.
Territorial Force War Medals
Pre-War Territorial Army soldiers who volunteered immediately for overseas service, but did not go until after the end of 1915, lost the chance to gain the 1914 or 1914-15 Star. Many of them were retained at home in a training role. Those who finally managed to get themselves overseas were rewarded with the issue of the bronze Territorial Force War Medal. Some transferred to the MGC, and their details have been added to the database.
Official War Diaries
Each active unit in the field was required to maintain a War Diary – a day-by-day journal of activities and happenings. Their quality vary from poor to excellent depending upon the literary skills and overall care of the officer delegated to keep them. By and large, the names of “Other Ranks” are seldom encountered – Officers are much more likely to be mentioned. However, some are gems of information containing recommendations for gallantry awards, long lists of officers and men killed, wounded and missing, and detailed descriptions of major battles and the parts played in them by individuals. They are a prime source, and extracting this vital information is an ongoing project for the database.
The War Illustrated
A weekly magazine throughout the period of the Great War containing articles, maps and above all, photographs – mostly of Officer casualties, although there is a smattering of images of Other Ranks decorated for bravery. Any connected with the MGC have been captured for the database.
War Services of Military Officers (1920)
An addendum to the official Army List, this publication contains the names of commissioned officers of the regular army only, (not Temporary Officers) who saw service during the Great War. Arranged alphabetically, “War Services” is a useful source, since it lists all the gallantry awards, and gives the London Gazette dates of all “Mentions in Despatches”. Although these appeared in the Gazette, they are extremely difficult to find, even using the on-line tracing service which uses a very poor character recognition programme.
Enlistment Papers of Great War Soldiers (WO363)
The so-called “burned records”. These are the surviving enlistment and service papers for soldiers of the Great War. In the 1930s they were stored at the War Office repository in Arndale Street, Lambeth which was severely damaged by fire (and water) during the blitz of September 1940. Painstakingly handled and microfilmed almost two decades ago, they represent (we are told) the papers of about 2.6 million soldiers – a further 4 million sets having been completely destroyed. However, a substantial number are duplicated, reducing the probable unique survival rate to under 2 million. Many are fragmentary and a high percentage have some vital documents missing. It was an immeasurable tragedy for family historians. For some unknown reason, the MGC seems to have been particularly badly affected. We estimate that less than 25% survive, but we have the facility to check immediately, and WO363 remains a prime information source.
Pension Papers of Great War Soldiers (WO364)
The “Pension Papers”. They represent a percentage only of cases where pensions were paid to discharged soldiers by reason of war injury or disability. Pensions would only be paid to them if they had dependants – ie. wives, children or others. Many of the papers to be found in this series are to soldiers who did not serve overseas.
15 July 2023
19 August 2023
- another 5,000 soldiers added (up to 133,800)
- reorganised so the entire database is sorted by MGC service number making it easier to identify a soldier’s probably unit based on surrounding service numbers (more to come of how to do this)
- improved presentation so it’s easier to read.