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New UK Military Records on Fold3!

December 30, 2019 by | 24 Comments

Our UK military records are expanding! We’ve recently added a new collection, “UK, Militia Attestation Papers, 1806-1915”. These records or attestation forms were filled out at the time of recruitment, and in most cases, annotated to the date of discharge. They form a record of military service for soldiers who fought in conflicts during that time period.

The collection is arranged alphabetically under regiments and in order of seniority.

Attestation Papers contain wonderful details for researching specific soldiers. They list parish, town, and county of birth, address at the time of enlistment, age, and trade or job. The papers also include a physical description including a place to list any distinctive characteristics or scars. The files list military service rendered and whether a soldier was wounded or received medals or decorations. They also list the name and address of next of kin.

Here are a few examples of what you might learn in this collection. John Hart from Wales served in the Royal Monmouthshire Engineers. His papers reveal that he didn’t show up for training in 1891 and was liable to serve for an additional year. In 1894, he was discharged by purchase, in other words, he obtained a discharge by payment.

The Attestation Papers for Robert Eastburn from Leeds record that his superiors deemed him unlikely to be an effective militiaman with defective intelligence and insubordination. He was discharged in 1906.

James Allison from Paisley, Scotland, was just 17-years-old when he joined the 26th Foot (Scottish Rifles) in 1875. His service record shows military service for 20 years before being discharged in 1895.

This collection of Attestation Papers provides a glimpse into the history of militias and multiple conflicts in the United Kingdom. If you are researching ancestors that served for the United Kingdom during this time, be sure to check out the collection on Fold3 today!

The WWI Christmas Truce

December 17, 2019 by | 41 Comments

On December 24-25, 1914, an impromptu cease-fire occurred along the Western Front during WWI. Amid the battle, soldiers from both sides set aside their weapons and came together peacefully in an event that has come to be known as the WWI Christmas Truce. Here are a few first-hand accounts of that historic event.

British and German Officers Meet in No-Man’s Land During WWI Christmas Truce
Courtesy of Imperial War Museums

The Canadian Expeditionary Forces 24th Battalion recorded their experience. “Early in the afternoon shelling and rifle fire ceased completely and soon German soldiers were seen lifting heads and shoulders cautiously over the parapet of their front line trench. Encouraged by the fact that no fire was opened by the men of the 24th, a number of Germans climbed over the top, advanced in No Man’s Land, and, making signs of friendship, invited the Canadians to join them and celebrate the occasion. Regulations frowned on such action, but curiosity proved strong, and a group of Canadians, including a number from the 24th Battalion, moved out to see what the enemy looked like at close range. Conversation proved difficult at first, but a number of the Germans spoke English fluently and others, having rehearsed for the occasion, one must judge, endeavored to establish their benevolence by constant repetition of the phrase, “Kaiser no damn good.” For nearly an hour the unofficial peace was prolonged, the Canadians presenting the Germans with cigarettes and foodstuffs and receiving in return buttons, badges, and several bottles of most excellent beer. By this time, news of the event had reached authority, and peremptory orders were issued to the Canadians in No Man’s Land to return to their own line forthwith. When all had reported back, a salvo of artillery fire, aimed carefully to burst at a spot where no harm to friend or foe would result, warned the Germans that the truce was over and that hostilities had been resumed…For some days after Christmas comparative quiet prevailed in the front line, but soon activity increased and the Battalion’s losses indicated that normal trench warfare conditions again existed.”

Captain Hugh Taylor from the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards led his company in an attack near Rouges Bancs on December 18-19, 1914. His troops succeeded in pushing back German soldiers and occupying their trenches. While returning alone to the British trenches to report, Taylor was caught in machine-gun fire and killed instantly. For nearly a week, his body lay near the German line. During the informal Christmas Truce, soldiers from both sides collected the dead and brought their bodies to the center space between their respective lines. They dug two trenches and buried British soldiers in one and German soldiers in the other. An English Chaplain conducted a service. Afterward, the soldiers spent several hours fraternizing with one another. Captain Taylor’s body was carried to a small military graveyard at La Cardoniere Farm and buried.

British and German troops bury soldiers during the WWI Christmas Truce – 1914
Courtesy of Imperial War Museum

Three Americans serving in the Foreign Legion took part in the Christmas Truce. Victor Chapman, Eugene Jacobs, and Phil Rader were in the trenches that day. Rader, a former United Press correspondent, wrote a stirring account of his experience. “For twenty days we had faced that strip of land, forty-five feet wide, between our trench and that of the Germans, that terrible No-Man’s Land, dotted with dead bodies, criss-crossed by tangled masses of barbed wire.” Rader recounted cautiously raising his head. “Other men did the same. We saw hundreds of German heads appearing. Shouts filled the air. What miracle had happened? Men laughed and cheered. There was Christmas light in our eyes and I know there were Christmas tears in mine. There were smiles, smiles, smiles, where in days before there had been only rifle barrels. The terror of No-Man’s Land fell away. The sounds of happy voices filled the air.”

The Christmas Truce of 1914 eventually ended, and the goodwill shared between enemies for a brief moment during WWI evaporated as fighting resumed. To learn more about WWI and the soldiers who fought in it, search Fold3 today!

Christmas During the Battle of the Bulge

December 1, 2019 by | 270 Comments

On December 16, 1944, German forces surprised American soldiers in the densely forested Ardennes region of Belgium, Luxembourg, and France, with a massive offensive also known as the Battle of the Bulge, or the Ardennes Counteroffensive. Germany pushed through an Allied line, creating a bulge in the Allied defensive lines. The deadly battle, which lasted until January 25, 1945, was the largest on the European western front during WWII and resulted in an estimated 1 in 10 American combat casualties during the entire war. It also meant that thousands of soldiers spent Christmas 1944 in temperatures that hovered around zero, in knee-deep snow, and with limited rations for Christmas dinner. On the home front, their families spent a nervous holiday season, waiting for word of their loved ones.

Cpl. Frank D. Vari spent Christmas Eve huddled in a foxhole as shells exploded around him all night long. “We could hear their guns going off and the shells landing at the same time. They were close. They almost surrounded the whole place. I remember Christmas Day. I got up, and we had a real bad night, with artillery and everything. The first thing I saw was the steeple of a church down in the valley. It was a beautiful day, the sun was just coming up over a little village at the bottom.” The clear skies allowed US planes to reinforce soldiers along the front. The break in the weather saved Vari’s unit.

Sgt. Metro Sikorsky woke up Christmas Day 1944 in a bombed-out building. He was 25-years-old and serving in Company B, 17th Tank Battalion of the 7th Armored Division. It was his first time away from home in Pennsylvania. All around were the bodies of the frozen and his job included picking up the dead. He said it was so cold that when a soldier died, in a short time the body froze where it lay. There were no presents and no Christmas dinner, but Sikorsky felt lucky to be alive. It was so cold that soldiers cut blankets into strips and wound them around their frozen feet.

Tech Sgt. Maurice Glenn Hughs remembered the terrible winter conditions during the battle. “Hundreds of people lost their feet because they were frozen,” he said. Hughs was hospitalized after the battle and doctors in Paris told him that his feet would need to be amputated. “My legs were painted up to my knees to be amputated. And then the doctors checked and said they wouldn’t have to be,” said Hughs.

Mattie Dickenson of Georgetown, Louisiana, remembered Christmas 1944 as a difficult one. She anxiously waited for news from her husband Benjamin F. Dickenson. Benjamin was drafted when he was 38-years-old and found himself fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. “I do remember that was the saddest Christmas I ever spent. For 21 days I didn’t know if he was dead or alive,” said Mattie. Though Benjamin was wounded, he made it home alive. Mattie kept a piece of the parachute that dropped supplies to her husband at Bastogne.

Soldiers from the Third United States Army carried a printed copy of Gen. George Patton’s Christmas Prayer of 1944. Patton had a copy distributed to each soldier before the battle. It petitioned the heavens for good weather and concluded with a Christmas greeting from the General. It read, “To each officer and soldier in the Third United States Army, I wish a Merry Christmas. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We march in our might to complete the victory. May God’s blessings rest upon each of you on this Christmas Day.”  

The Battle of the Bulge was Hitler’s last major offensive along the Western Front. Within a month Allied forces pushed the Germans back and closed the bulge. The battle was called “the greatest American battle of the war” by Winston Churchill and it crushed Germany’s hopes for ultimate success in the war. To learn more about the Battle of the Bulge and soldiers who fought in it, search Fold3 today!

Four New States Added to the WWII Draft Registration Card Collection

November 20, 2019 by | 37 Comments

Fold3 has added four more states to our collection of U.S. WWII Draft Registration Cards! The collection now includes cards from New York, New Jersey, North Dakota, and Vermont. We now have Draft Registration Cards from 45 states or regions! The cards in this collection are registration cards and do not necessarily indicate that the individual served in the military.

There were seven draft registration periods in the United States for World War II service. The first draft registration was held on October 16, 1940—before the United States had entered the war. Men ages 21–36 were required to register at their local draft board. The second draft registration was also held prior to the American entrance into the war, on July 1, 1941. This registration was for men who had turned 21 since the previous registration date nine months earlier.

The third (February 16, 1942) and fifth (June 30, 1942) registration periods expanded the ages required to register; the age ranges for the third were extended to 20–21 and 35–44, while the fifth extended them to ages 18–20. The sixth registration (December 10–31, 1942) was for men who had turned 18 since the fifth registration six months prior. There was also a seventh registration, known as the “Extra Registration,” from November 16 to December 31, 1943, which was for American men ages 18–44 who were living abroad.

The cards from the fourth registration (April 27, 1942; for men ages 45–64) are not included in the WWII Draft Registration Cards but in Fold3’s WWII “Old Man’s Draft” Registration Cards collection.

Pictured below is the draft card for Jacob John Dukart of North Dakota. He registered for the draft during the first registration period in October 1940. He enlisted in 1942, and in 1943, Pvt. Dukart was captured by German soldiers and sent to a POW camp. That Christmas, POWs in the camp sent a short wave broadcast greeting home to their families. It is not clear if the broadcast reached anyone at home during Christmas, but in February 1944 the messages were re-broadcast and listeners in Montana and Florida picked up the voice of Pvt. Dukart. He sent greetings to his wife and parents back in Dickinson, North Dakota, and asked for a photo of his daughter Jacqueline whom he had never seen. Pvt. Dukart was eventually freed and returned home to the United States. He passed away in 2004.

What stories will you uncover using this collection? Get started searching our WWII Draft Registration Cards today on Fold3!

November 12, 1864: The Destruction of Atlanta and Sherman’s March to the Sea

October 31, 2019 by | 192 Comments

On November 12, 1864, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman ordered the destruction of the business district in Atlanta and the Union Army started their March to the Sea which ended just before Christmas in Savannah, Georgia. The march, also known as the Savannah Campaign, bolstered the Union Army and helped lead to the surrender of the Confederacy and the end of the Civil War five months later.

Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman

During the Civil War, Atlanta served as a hub for the Confederacy and a major transportation link for supplies and troops between the eastern seaboard and the west. After a five-month successful campaign from Tennessee through northwest Georgia, Union troops made their way to the doorstep of Atlanta in mid-July. Gen. John B. Hood decided to surrender the city and evacuate his Confederate troops on September 1, 1864. Before leaving, Hood ordered the depots destroyed to prevent them from falling into Union hands.

On September 2nd, Sherman captured the city, but with a tenuous supply line, he knew he couldn’t hold it for long. Sherman divided his army into two, sending half towards Nashville while some 60,000 remaining troops would join him on a march across Georgia.

Ruins of the depot, blown up on Sherman’s departure

Relying on a scorched-earth policy, Sherman ordered that all railroads, factories, and commercial buildings be destroyed before leaving the city. He wanted to obliterate anything that might be of use to the Confederate Army. Sherman also ordered civilians out of their homes and businesses and destroyed them if they contained anything that might aid the Confederates. Before it was over, 40% of the city (an estimated 3,000 buildings) lie in ruins. Much of the destruction was in the business district around Peachtree Street. Pvt. James H. Peterson from the 13th New Jersey Infantry recorded his observations in a pocket diary. “On Sunday November 15 we left Atlanta in going through the city we passed large buildings on fire…”

Sherman and his army, now cut off from any supply lines, headed towards the coast. They lived off the land, taking supplies from fields and farms as they beat a pathway of destruction towards Savannah. Along the way, they encountered pockets of Confederate resistance and destroyed railroad tracks and cut telegraph lines. Pvt. Peterson recorded that on November 26, “while we was skirmishing with the Rebels at Sandersville I was wounded in the leg by a ball.” Peterson ended up in a hospital outside of Savannah where on December 10th he wrote about the approaching Union Army, “The troops burnt the Charleston and Savanna Railroad we lay about 6 miles from Savannah in the Field Hospital we can hear the cannon the savanna River and the broadsides from the big guns very plain.”

Telegram to President Lincoln presenting the city of Savannah as a Christmas gift

On December 21st, after a march of 37 days and some 250 miles, Union troops entered Savannah. Just days before Christmas, Sherman sent a telegram to President Abraham Lincoln, “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah, with one hundred fifty guns and plenty of ammunition. Also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.”

The destruction of Atlanta and Sherman’s March to the Sea demoralized the Confederacy and contributed to the end of the Civil War in April 1865. To learn more about the destruction of Atlanta and the March to the Sea, search our Civil War records collection on Fold3 today!

Gorrell’s History: A Gripping Narrative of Aviation During WWI

October 23, 2019 by | 26 Comments

World War I was the first major conflict where airplanes were introduced on the battlefield. Recognizing the significant contribution airplanes made to the war effort, the Assistant Chief of Staff of the Air Service, Colonel Edgar S. Gorrell, wrote a history documenting the contributions of aircraft for use in future conflicts. That history now referred to as “Gorrell’s History of the American Expeditionary Forces Air Service 1917-1919” is a 282-bound volume narrative and is available to view on Fold3. It provides valuable historical insight, first-hand accounts, and pages of Weekly Progress Reports, Cablegrams, Squadron Histories, and more.   

As WWI came to a close, the AEF instructed all Air Service Units to send historical information to Gorrell’s office before returning to the United States. Some squadrons fulfilled the request, while others were anxious to get home saying, “Writing history does not appeal to them.”

The 1st and 8th Aero Squadrons complied with the request and sent a gripping report of their involvement in the Battle of Saint Mihiel, fought September 12-16, 1918. The battle was the first US-led offensive during WWI and the first major usage of the US Army Air Service in wartime.

Lt. Harry D. Aldrich of the 1st Aero Squadron was flying over the front on September 12, 1918. He guided American Expeditionary Forces to enemy positions by reconnoitering the area and then dropping messages to those on the ground. That afternoon, Lt. Aldrich received reports of a German battery delivering heavy fire, but their location could not be ascertained from the ground. Aldrich took to the skies with Lt. David Ker acting as Observer. While flying towards the German gun positions, they were attacked by a patrol of six or seven Fokker airplanes. “Lt. Ker opened fire on them while I put our ship into a spiral,” said Aldrich. “I found that my control wires were shot away and smoke and flames began pouring out of the cockpit. The Germans were following us down.” Observers noted that the burning plane was spiraling out of control, but moments before crashing, the fuel tank exploded. The explosion acted as a cushion and broke the fall of the aircraft.

“I remember nothing more until I woke up in the hospital,” said Aldrich. Lt. Ker was killed in the crash, but Aldrich spent months recovering from two gunshot wounds and severe burns from the crash.

In addition to first-hand accounts from fighter pilots, Gorrell’s History also includes information from the Balloon sections and Photographic sections, where military aerial photography first started during WWI. The AEF also formed a Radio Section to take advantage of this new experimental wartime form of communication.

If you would like to learn more about the history of aviation and other technological advances during WWI, search Gorrell’s History on Fold3 today!

The Sullivan Brothers and the Sinking of the USS Juneau

October 15, 2019 by | 119 Comments

In September 1940, as Nazi bombs rained down on London during the Blitz, America began the first-ever peacetime conscription and enacted the Selective Training and Service Act. The country was moving closer to war and the Sullivan family of Waterloo, Iowa, answered the call. That fall, Joseph Sullivan, 22, registered for the draft. By the following summer, the other four Sullivan brothers – Albert, 19; Madison, 21; Francis, 25; and George, 26; also made the trip to the Federal Building in Waterloo and filled out their registration cards. The Sullivan brothers insisted they serve together. Weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, they enlisted in the US Navy.

The Sullivan Brothers

All five brothers were assigned to the USS Juneau. Juneau was part of Task Force 67 and sent to escort a resupply convoy to Guadalcanal. The Battle of Guadalcanal (codenamed Operation Watchtower) was an offensive aimed to protect critical supply and transportation links between the United States and Allies in Australia and New Zealand. It was the first major offensive against Japanese forces.

On the night of November 12, 1942, after hours of fighting off Japanese torpedo bombers, a Japanese destroyer launched a torpedo that struck Juneau on the port side. She began to list and retreated from the battle. Operating on one screw, the Juneau steamed towards Espiritu Santo for repairs. The following morning, a Japanese submarine fired another torpedo hitting Juneau in the same spot she was hit the night before. Following a loud explosion, the USS Juneau broke in two and sank in just 20 seconds. Concerned about the possibility of another submarine attack, the American task force left the scene. The USS Helena messaged a nearby B-17 search plane to report survivors in the water. Unfortunately, Helena’s message did not reach command headquarters, delaying rescue efforts for days. More than 100 men did survive the initial attack. Francis, Joseph and Madison Sullivan died instantly, but Albert may have survived until the second day before drowning. George lived for four or five days in a raft before succumbing, according to a letter from a shipmate to his parents. Eight days after sinking, ten survivors were plucked from the water. The tragedy claimed the lives of 687 men.

USS Juneau

Back in Iowa, the Sullivan family received word that all five sons were missing. As a result of their deaths, the US War Department adopted the Sole Survivor Policy. This policy protected family members from the draft or combat duty if they already lost family members in military service. The parents of the Sullivan boys, Thomas and Alleta Sullivan, toured the country promoting war bonds and visiting shipyards and manufacturing plants to motivate workers. The only surviving Sullivan child, daughter Genevieve, 24, joined the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) and served for 21 months before being granted an honorable discharge. The US Navy later named two destroyers after the Sullivan brothers, and the Iowa Veterans Museum is named in their honor.

For 76 years, the wreckage of the USS Juneau rested undiscovered on the ocean floor. On March 17, 2018, an expedition funded by billionaire Paul Allen discovered the Juneau lying on her side about 2.6 miles below the surface of the ocean in the Solomon Islands. There are no plans to raise the ship.

If you would like to read multiple survivor accounts from the Juneau, or learn more about the Battle of Guadalcanal, search Fold3 today!