I have spent the past few months researching my paternal grandfather’s war years – but to no avail.  I believe only 30% of the First World War records survived a fire and it looks like his may not have.  With no service record, military number, medal, newspaper articles or documents to go on, I don’t think I will ever know that part of his history.

I began in my usual manner, putting what information I knew into various genealogical websites.  I was told if Ancestry.com did not have the information, I might as well give up.  It didn’t and I didn’t.

What made things a little harder was that I traced my grandpa through the Census until 1905 in Maryton, Angus but then he disappeared.  He was a teenager then so I tend to think he moved away from the family for work but I don’t know yet if he stayed in the area or moved perhaps to Glasgow.  My gut feeling is that he stayed in Angus maybe with another farming family.  So I am not entirely sure where he enlisted.

I turned to the Great War Forum and put in the details there – William Smith, born Maryton on 23.8.1896, Corporal Machine Gunner in the Black Watch, fought in Mesopotamia.  I had a huge response.  Historians and ex-military personnel (I assume) with an interest in the war, replied giving me what information they could.  Some went to a lot of trouble trying to find him and I was very grateful.  In the end, it was a process of elimination.  There were so many William Smiths in the First World War but we were able to rule some out due to age, place of birth, regiments and so on.

I managed to come up with a list of William Smiths I could not eliminate.  The gentlemen on the Forum were able to help me here.  It seemed the regimental number gave an indication of the soldiers’ battalions and many of these were discounted because their battalions did not go to Mesopotamia.  Apparently the only battalion from the Royal Highlanders’ Black Watch that did serve there was the 2nd so I was able to narrow down the number of William Smiths quite a lot.  However some of the Battalions changed their number when they moved or merged with another regiment and some members of the Black Watch were moved from one regiment to the Machine Gun Corps.  All very confusing for me especially as when this happened, the soldiers were given different numbers.

In an earlier post, I told the story about my grandfather’s Princess Mary Christmas Tin and I mentioned this on the Forum.  Apparently that narrowed it down to either the 1st, 2nd or 5th battalion so the 2nd was still looking hopeful!

In the end, I have one William Smith left that I cannot eliminate.  That is William
Smith, 11863/61734.  I do know that this soldier’s war records did not survive the war but he did.  I think this is my grandfather but I can’t be positive so, for the moment, I am at a dead end.

What I do know is that the soldiers who fought in Mesopotamia had a terrible time with the freezing cold, lack of supplies and being outnumbered by the Turkish army.  Very few survived and I can only be grateful my grandpa did – or I would not be here!

A postscript to this is a very strange coincidence.  One of the members of the Great War Forum told me that he knew the area of Maryton very well as he lived close-by.  My grandfather also lived in Dennistoun, Glasgow for a while and he also knew that area.  After exchanging messages and information over a few weeks, the gentleman wrote to me to tell me that while looking at my grandpa’s details he realised that he had actually lived in the very same house in which my gran and grandpa married!  That gave me such a thrill.  Even though I wasn’t able to confirm that I had found my grandfather, this news gave me a sense of being very close to him.

The only photo I have of my grandfather taken in 1956 in Glasgow

The only photo I have of my grandfather taken in 1956 in Glasgow