Military archives held by Gloucestershire Archives are considerable in volume and wide-ranging in content. The term “military” has been widely interpreted and includes military material of an archive nature transferred from the Gloucestershire Collection into the archives. These include records of Gloucestershire’s regular, militia, volunteer and Territorial Army units and the records held at Gloucestershire Archives relating to the Royal Navy, Merchant Navy and Royal Air Force. They include the military experiences of individuals, various European and non-European conflicts from the late 15th century onwards, civil defence and military buildings - whether or not these records relate specifically to the county. This exhibition covers just a tiny fraction and aims to give a flavour of our holdings – to which end, we have decided to proceed in a chronological order ending in WW2.
Henry VIII's Wars
Henry VIII’s reign was marked by a series of on-and-off wars with Scotland & France. In July 1544, Henry kicked off his third invasion of France by sending a large army from the Pale of Calais to lay siege to Boulogne, which was taken in September. The parish register of Buckland records it’s capture alongside the date: "in this yeare, the XXVth of September was Bullen wonne“. Boulogne remained an English possession until 1550 when it was returned to France under the Treaty of Boulogne which also concluded the war of ‘Rough Wooing’ in Scotland.
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The Irish Rebellion
The Irish Nine Years' War took place from 1593 to 1602, with Irish clans and their Spanish allies fighting against English rule and was a response to the ongoing Tudor conquest of Ireland. It was the largest English conflict fought in the Elizabethan era and at its height more than 18,000 English soldiers were fighting in Ireland. It ended with the decisive English victory at the Siege of Kinsale (1601–02) and subsequently many of the defeated Irish lords left, never to return, marking the end of Gaelic Ireland. This is a letter from Lord Chandos to the Privy Council informing them that as ordered he had ‘levied and impressed out of this County of Gloucester’ 100 men for service in Ireland. The paragraph of writing on the left below the main text is a cautious request by Chandos for payment as he had obviously outfitted the men in uniform and paid expenses for them to march to Bristol.
"I humbly pray your Lordships to give directions, that according to the accustomed manner, her Majestie's usual allowance for Coat and Conduct may be delivered to this bearer, which comes to for 100 men at iiijs the Coat...£20And for three days march at 8d per diem........£10 [total] £30"
War with Spain
The Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604) was a conflict between the Kingdoms of Spain and England. Made famous by the defeat of the Spanish Armada (the first of 4 failed invasion attempts), it included much English privateering against Spanish ships, and several widely separated battles. Cash-strapped Elizabeth I required money, and the gentry were often called upon to help. This is a list of Gloucestershire contributions to aid defence against the 1588 Armada and includes members of the Clifford, Clutterbuck, and Winchcombe families.
Threat of Siege
Arguably Gloucester’s finest hour, the siege took place between 10 August and 5 September 1643 as part of a Royalist campaign to take control of the Severn Valley from Parliament. The City governors recorded preparations in the Borough Minute book on 6 March 1643; ‘Whereas this city is threatened with a siege and therefore it is requisite that provision of victuals be forthwith made for the use of inhabitants and souldiers….any fatt cattle, corne, or other provision to be kept and imployed for the use aforesayed.’ In the event, the siege failed and it ultimately proved to be the downfall of Charles I: unable to link up his forces in Wales, the South-West and the Midlands, it allowed Parliament to gain the upper hand and successfully win the war.
Samuel Webb of Nether Lypiatt
During the English Civil War, there were forces of both sides moving through the county or being billeted in the vicinity and many locals suffered from plundering by troops of both sides. Richer individuals however could purchase protection and this example is a protection order for Samuel Webb, a wealthy clothier from Nether Lypiatt, signed by Prince Maurice. It orders that no [Royalist] officer or soldier should ‘plunder any house or table or take away any of his goods, horses, sheep, oxen, beasts or other cattle’. As well as handing over money, Webb also had to satisfy that his allegiance lay with the King.
War of Spanish Succession
Described as ‘the first world war of modern times’ the War of Spanish Succession saw fighting in Spain, Italy, Germany, Italy and at sea. It arose out of the disputed succession to the throne of Spain following the death of the childless Charles II, the last of the Spanish Habsburgs. This note from the parish register of Long Newton records the Duke of Marlborough’s victory at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. This was a major battle of the War of the Spanish Succession and was an overwhelming Allied victory that ensured the safety of Vienna from the Franco-Bavarian army, thus preventing the collapse of the reconstituted Grand Alliance. Although the war dragged on for another 10 years, the allies proved victorious, and the ultimate outcome was the erosion of French and Spanish power in favour of an ascendant Britain and its growing colonial empire.
The War of the Austrian Succession (1739-1748) was a European conflict that took place primarily in Central Europe, the Austrian Netherlands, Italy, India, North America, the Atlantic and Mediterranean. This letter is from Captain Francis Reynolds (3rd Lord Ducie of Tortworth) onboard HMS Weazle to his father mentioning a skirmish with an enemy privateer, which Weazle and another navy ship, HMS Escort, were able to drive ashore. The enemy crew were saved but the ship itself was lost. The war ended in 1748 after the two largest powers in the war, Britain, and France, decided on terms: France was on the verge of starvation thanks to a Royal Navy blockade and the British decided potential gains were not worth the effort.
Letter from Major-General Wolfe
The Jacobite Rebellions were attempts to return James Edward Stuart [the Old Pretender], son of King James II, to the throne and are known as ‘the 15’ and ‘the 45’. The latter was the most successful and was launched at a time when the bulk of the British Army was fighting in Europe. It saw Charles Edward Stuart [the Young Pretender] land in Scotland and march south, rallying support as he went. Despite victories at the battles of Prestonpans and Falkirk Muir, and advancing as far south as Derby, support for the Jacobite cause failed to materialise in sufficient numbers and the Rebellion ended with a crushing decisive British victory at the Battle of Culloden. Charles subsequently fled to France, but he was unable to get further support to undertake further expeditions and ultimately died as an alcoholic in Rome in 1788, although he has remained as a romantic figure of heroic failure. This is part of a letter from Major-General James Wolfe to William Sotheron, written while Wolfe was part of the British army on campaign against the Jacobites. Wolfe – who would later find fame as the victor of the battle and capture of Quebec – was aide-de-camp to Henry Hawley, commander at the Battle of Falkirk, but he also fought at the Battle of Culloden in April under the Duke of Cumberland. The three-page letter accurately describes the battle’s length and the Jacobite casualties, “the Duke engaged the Rebel army & in about an hour drove them from the field of Battle, where they left near fifteen hundred dead”.
Guydickens Commission to Regiment of Dragoons, 1760
The Seven Years War (1756–1763) was a global conflict involving most major European powers and smaller states, as well as nations in Asia and the Americas. It arose from issues left unresolved by the War of the Austrian Succession (1739–1748). The war ended in 1748 after Britain and France, decided on terms: France was on the verge of starvation thanks to a Royal Navy blockade and the British government decided that the costs of continuing the war were more than any potential gains. This document is a commission from the archive of the Bowly family, appointing Gustavus Guydickens as a Lieutenant in 6th (Inniskilling) Regiment of Dragoons in 1760. The purchase of officer commissions into a cavalry or infantry regiments of the British Army was standard practice from the 17th to the late 19th century, avoiding the need to wait to be promoted for merit or seniority (the highest rank available was ‘Colonel’). One reason for the use of purchased commissions was to ensure that the officer class was largely filled by persons having a vested interest in maintaining the social and political status quo; thereby reducing the possibility of the military participating in a revolution or coup. This commission would have cost the family about £1,000 (about £108k today).
Capture of Fort Washington
The American War of Independence saw Britain fighting against the rebel American colonists in North America and also their French and Spanish allies (both of whom realised that they might be able to expand their own North American territories at the expense of Great Britain). This letter from Henry Rooke of St. Briavels is an account of the capture of Fort Washington in 1776, described as the worst Patriot defeat of the war and one of the few British victories. However, the French intervention was decisive, as by doing so they were able to secure local naval superiority, so that the Royal Navy was unable to supply the British land forces with men, arms, food, and ammunition. This ultimately led to the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown and the loss of America.
This broadsheet was a privately funded call for ‘landed proprietors, the funds of the stock-holder, the capital of the merchant & trader, the profits of the farmer & manufacturer, the earnings of the mechanic & artist and even the wages of the servant & labourer’ to make voluntary financial subscriptions to fight France. Such contributions were never enough, so in his December 1798 budget, William Pitt the Younger introduced income tax – and it’s been with us more or less ever since! Originally intended just to fund the war against France and Spain, it was set at a rate of 2 pence in the pound on incomes over £60 and increased to a maximum of 2 shillings (10%) on incomes of over £200. It raised just over £6 million in its first year.
Collection for Wounded Seamen
The Battle of Trafalgar took place on 21 October 1805 and was a decisive victory for the Royal Navy, ending French invasion plans and Napoleon’s ambitions for global domination. Such was the nation’s feeling of gratitude that numerous funds sprang up to provide for the families of seamen killed in the battle, such as this example from Kingscote parish, which collected £8 10s (about £380 today). Despite the death of Admiral Lord Nelson, Trafalgar established an air of invincibility upon the Royal Navy which it retained up to and beyond the Second World War.
The Battle of Waterloo was fought on Sunday 18 June 1815, near Waterloo (then in the Netherlands, now in Belgium). A French army under Napoleon was defeated by two Allied armies – one a British-led coalition under Wellington and the other a Prussian army under the Field Marshal von Blücher. The battle marked the end of the Napoleonic Wars. This document is an enquiry made to the British War Office by John Lloyd Baker about missing servicemen from Maisemore. Baker made many enquiries about such missing servicemen some with better results than others. This one is for Matthew Biscow, who’d enlisted at Gloucester and was wounded at Waterloo. Nothing had been heard from him since.
Estcourt Watercolour of Crimean Camp
The Crimean War, 1854 to 1856, saw Russian forces in conflict with the allied armies of Britain, France, and Turkey. After a hard-fought campaign that included the battles of Alma, Balaclava and Inkerman, and the Siege of Sevastopol, the allies emerged victorious. This is one of a series of watercolour sketches by Major-General James Estcourt showing various scenes in the Crimea. Estcourt was born in 1802 and was educated at Harrow School, entering the army as an ensign in 1820. He reached the rank of lieutenant-colonel by 1839 and in February 1848 he entered parliament as a Conservative MP for Devizes (the family borough). He did not seek re-election in 1852 and in February 1854 he applied for a staff appointment in the Crimean expedition. Although he had no experience of actual warfare, he was made a brigadier-general, and appointed adjutant-general to the British expeditionary force – a position he owed largely to the support of his friend Lord Raglan, the overall British commander. He performed his duties efficiently and was subsequently promoted Major-General in December 1854, but along with General Airey, he was held by the public to be responsible for the sufferings of the British Army during the first winter in the Crimea, despite the fact that Lord Raglan defended them. On 21 June 1855, he was suddenly struck down by cholera and although he began to recover, a thunderstorm on 23 June caused a relapse, and he died on the morning of 24 June. As well as two albums of watercolour sketches, he also kept a diary in Crimea and in addition to recording visits to hospitals, these contain several comments and criticisms of Florence Nightingale, whom he described as "very overbearing and presumptuous."
Letter from Brevet-Major Alan Gardner
The Anglo-Zulu War was fought against the Zulu Kingdom, after a British attempt to create a union of African Kingdoms, tribal areas and Boer republics in South Africa failed. The man responsible for the war was Sir Bartle Frere, who had been sent to South Africa as High Commissioner for the British Empire to promote the scheme. On his own initiative, Frere sent a provocative ultimatum to the Zulu King Cetshwayo in December 1878 that ordered him to disband his forces. Not surprisingly this was rejected, which gave Frere the pretext to order Lord Chelmsford, the commander of the British forces in the Cape Colony to invade Zululand. Chelmsford believed that the massed firepower of small bodies of professional European troops with modern firearms would overwhelm natives armed only with spears, cowhide shields and a few obsolete firearms. It was a disastrous overestimation as the Zulus outsmarted Chelmsford and achieved victories at the Battle of Isandlwana (where the British lost 1,300 troops and more officers were killed than at Waterloo), Hlobane and Intombe, the Zulu’s only defeat being at Rorke's Drift (where a heroic defence by 140 British troops held off 4,000 Zulus). Shocked by these defeats, the British reinforced and reorganised themselves and the second invasion was undertaken much more cautiously, ending with the Zulus being decisively defeated at the Battle of Ulundi in July 1879. This is part of a letter sent by Brevet-Major Alan Gardner to the 4th Baron Sherborne recounting his escape from the disastrous Battle of Isandlwana (where he was one of just five officers to do so) and the Battle of Hlobane, another British defeat 2 months later. In the latter, his horse was shot out from under him, but he managed to get hold of a packhorse and got away, knowing that if he didn’t, the fact that he ‘should have been killed is a certainty’.
Born at Churcham, Alfred Henry Hook was amongst those who were awarded the Victoria Cross for the defence of the Rorke’s Drift mission station. Hook had served in the Monmouth Militia for five years before enlisting in the regular army in March 1877, aged 26. After serving in Africa in the 9th Xhosa War in 1877, he was a private in B Company of the 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot (later The South Wales Borderers), stationed at Rorke’s Drift mission station when the Zulu War broke out. Although portrayed in the film ‘Zulu’ as an insubordinate malingerer and drunkard who only comes good during the battle, he was in fact a good soldier, a teetotaller and had been awarded Good Conduct pay shortly prior to the battle! During the defence of Rorke’s Drift, Hook (who was acting as the hospital cook at the time) and five other privates were ordered to protect patients unable to be moved from the temporary hospital. The men held the hospital for over an hour until their ammunition ran out and the Zulus broke in, but despite engaging in hand-to-hand combat, the British soldiers were able to evacuate eight patients to safety. Hook received a scalp injury during the battle and retired from the regular army in June 1880 (although he subsequently joined the 1st Volunteer Battalion, Royal Fusiliers). After retiring, he accepted the position of inside duster at the British Museum thanks to the intervention of Gonville Bromhead (second in command at Rorke’s Drift), Lord Chelmsford and the Prince of Wales. He was subsequently promoted to ‘Keeper of readers' umbrellas’, before resigning due to ill health in 1904. During this period, he lived at Sydenham Hill but then returned to Gloucestershire. He died of pulmonary tuberculosis on 12 March 1905 at Osborne Villas, Roseberry Avenue, Gloucester and is buried in St Andrew's churchyard, Churcham.
Lieutenant Percival Marling
This was a brief conflict prompted by Boer discontent following Britain’s annexation of the Transvaal in 1877. The Boers rose in revolt and defeated an Imperial force under General Colley at Laing’s Nek and Majuba Hill (February 1881). This letter from Lieutenant Percival Marling to his grandfather recounts British manoeuvres around Laing’s Nek prior to the battle. Marling was most impressed by using a heliograph for communications, ‘you can send messages from a distance of about 30 miles with marvellous certainty.’ As the British government was unwilling to get bogged down in a distant war, especially as it would require vast expenditure and large troop reinforcements, it signed a peace treaty allowing Boer self-rule in the Transvaal.
More from Marling
The Mahdist War was fought between the Mahdist Sudanese of Muhammad Ahmad bin Abd Allah, the self-proclaimed ‘Mahdi’ of Islam (the ‘Guided One’), and the Khedivate of Egypt and Britain. This is another letter from Lieutenant Percival Marling (who’d been awarded the VC for heroism in an earlier action). At this time, he was in the Mounted Infantry, which was part of Nile Expedition, a mission to relieve Major-General Gordon at Khartoum. This British force headed up the Nile towards Khartoum agonisingly slowly and was attacked by the Mahdist forces twice, at Abu Klea and at Abu Cru, defeating them both times. At this point, the force was split into two forces: the main force was to continue along the Nile and a Desert Column, which was to cut directly across the Bayuda Desert to reach Khartoum faster. In the event, a small element of this force reached Khartoum two days after it had fallen. Knowing that they were severely outnumbered, the whole British force withdrew to Egypt, allowing the Mahdi to establish an Islamic state in Sudan that would last for the next 13 years. In 1898, in the context of the ‘Scramble for Africa’, Britain decided to reassert Egypt's claim on Sudan and sent forces under Lord Kitchener against the Khalifa (the successor to the Mahdi) and the Mahdist Islamic State defeating it at the Battles of Omdurman and Umm Diwaykarat.
One more from Marling
The Second Boer War was fought between the British and the Dutch descended Boers of the Orange Free State and Transvaal. It included the famous sieges of Kimberley, Ladysmith and Mafeking as well as numerous Boer successes causing high British casualties. British victory came eventually through a war of attrition, after serious reverses in the face of guerrilla tactics and superior enemy marksmanship. Now a Major, Percival Marling, commanded the 18th Hussars in the war and took part in the ‘scorched earth’ policy adopted by the British to try to deny resources to the Boers – as shown in this letter which records the numbers of animals and wagons captured as well as Boer prisoners. In two days, this amounted to 8 Boers, 1,300 cattle, 22 wagons, 60 horses of the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars (as Imperial Yeomanry) in Africa on active service.
Ampney Crucis Photograph Album
In terms of local records, the First World War is the first conflict to provide a wealth of material on the home front, from propaganda and air raid records to food production and rationing records, as well as memorial lists and faculties. Letters and diaries of serving troops are also far more numerous than in earlier conflicts, while the popularity of photography has resulted in a range of mostly formal individual and corps pictures. This example shows soldiers from Ampney Crucis and is contained in an album that shows all the men in the parish who served in the armed forces, complete with biographical information - making it an invaluable resource.
Roll of Honour
Very quickly the casualties from the fighting in Europe began to rise. The Cheltenham Chronicle & Gloucestershire Graphic began publishing images of local servicemen who had been wounded and those who had been killed. Even though this was a weekly publication, these ‘rolls of honour’ quickly spread to double-pages – indicative of the terrible toll that was being taken. As time passed the number of wounded diminished and the pages were filled with those who had been killed.
Cheltenham Chronicle & Gloucestershire Graphic
Military Service Exemption
Conscription was introduced in March 1916, but individuals could refuse military service, allowing men to be exempted from combat with the option of performing alternative civilian service or serving as non-combatants in the army. There were several reasons why a man could apply for an exemption: moral grounds, medical grounds, family grounds and economic grounds and applications were decided by local Military Service Tribunals, which comprised four local men of good standing (often councillors) and a Military Representative. This form was completed by the Tytherington Stone Co. who applied for the exemption of Jessie Charles Brown, an engine driver at the quarry. Such was the need for stone for munitions works, the company needed its experienced men to fulfil its orders and because it was for the war effort, Brown was granted a permanent exemption.
As the war progressed there was a need for more hospitals to care for wounded soldiers. The Red Cross set up many Voluntary Aid (VA) hospitals across the UK, of which there were about 65 in Gloucestershire. Many of these hospitals were based in large residential houses loaned to the Red Cross by their owners, while others were set up in public buildings (including church halls, community centres – one was even set up in the main grandstand at Cheltenham racecourse). The hospitals were run by Voluntary Aid Detachments (VAD), which was a voluntary organisation founded in 1909 to provide field nursing services, mainly in hospitals, in the UK and other countries in the British Empire. This magazine was the Christmas 1917 souvenir number of the VA hospital established in the two West Wards of the Gloucester Poor Law Infirmary on Great Western Road. It was the first VA hospital in Gloucestershire to open and the last to close. It eventually had capacity for 270 beds and there were few, if any, VA hospitals larger than this.
Perhaps the only positive aspect of WW1 was that it raised the status of women in society – especially in the minds of men. With men off fighting, there was a need for women to fill their roles left behind – and they undertook all sorts of work admirably. This photograph is thought to be that of Nell Slatter in the working clothes of the National Filling Factory No.5 which was established at Quedgeley. This munitions factory was opened in March 1916 by the Ministry of Munitions. At its height it employed 6,364 people, of which 5,007 were women. Employees engaged in the danger area were issued with special flannel overalls coloured to indicate their work area in khaki grey, blue, brown, and black. White indicated a TNT worker, and the photograph suggests that Nell was one of these. In total, the factory produced over 10.5 million 14" and 16" shells, 7 million cartridges and 23 million fuses and other components. It covered over 308 acres and had a horse convalescence unit. It was cleared in the mid-1920s, but was reused in 1939 as RAF Quedgeley, as No. 7 Maintenance Unit, a storage and maintenance site for aircraft equipment and motor vehicles. It continued in this logistics role until its closure in 1995.
No reference. Courtesy of Gloucestershire Family History Society
Kingsholm Gardens, 1940
There is less material regarding in the archives regarding WW2 than WW1 – primarily because much more of the war effort was undertaken by centralised government. There are however evacuation records, bomb damage reports and some photographs. Oddly, a few WW2 records can be found in local Planning and other council departments – even the Army had to get planning permission for sites like this searchlight battery in Kingsholm Gardens in Gloucester! A lot of the correspondence was the council trying to obtain guarantees that the land would be reinstated and returned once the war was over.