WW1 OFFICER RECORDS
by Ian Sewell
This article was originally published in the August 2008 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
PART 1 - SEWELL
Unlike the records for the ranks, the records for the officers are much thinner on the ground.
They broadly fall into two categories, the first WO339 are what is known as the long papers and the second WO374, the personal records. In reality both sets cover the same sort of records: pension enquiries, medical examinations, posting correspondence, and in the case of those killed in action, details of wills. Unlike the records for the ranks there is no standard attestation document. Some officers do have these where they were promoted from the ranks but for the most part you have to pick through various documents looking for details that may be of interest.
As such for the genealogist the data available is sparse but sometime details of next of kin are provided, plus their addresses and a number of the officers addresses.
In total there are 51 Sewell Officer records, 39 from WO339 and 12 from WO374, which clearly is only a part of the Sewells who served as officers. Of these 11 were killed in action or died of wounds received and 12 were commissioned from the ranks.
The most famous record is that of Lt Cecil Harold Sewell who was awarded the VC posthumously. His records are limited but in his brother’s record, Lt Harry Kemp, there is a sad letter from their father requesting details of a gratuity form for all three of his sons who were killed in the war. The other son was Lt Herbert Victor Sewell
Lt Douglas Clifford Cambell Sewell’s body was discovered by a civilian, M Page Gaston, at Mons after being killed in action on 9th September 1914. Major William Tait Sewell lectured in pathology at Durham university and was posted missing in action 1st July 1916. Two month later his identity disk was returned to his father who then interviewed a private in his company who confirmed that Major Sewell died from bullet wounds to head and chest.
A large number of the records are from non-frontline units like Lt Reginal Percy Sewell RFC who after fighting in the trenches and being wounded did not wish to return due to health and shell shock. Luckily for him he was able to transfer to the RFC where he became part of the Kite Balloon Section based at Kensington Oval. On 24th March 1917 he suffered concussion when he leapt form a burning balloon, no doubt caused by enemy action, and fell 3,200ft. Luckily he had been issued with a parachute – not all RFC were.
Lt George William Sewell served in the 2nd Chinese Labour Corps and Lt George Sewell was in the Imperial Camel Corps. Capt Herbert William served in the Royal Engineers and built number 1 power station in Calais. Capt Kenneth Darcy Sewell was part of the Vetinary Corps but wished to transfer to the Canadian Vetinary Corps being Canadian, but was refused due to a shortage of vetinary officers.
2Lt Leonard Gauge Sewell was in charge of the Diagram, Colouring and Lithographic Section of the technical printing section of the RFC at Kensington and as such was in charge of many servicemen. To make life easier for him and the men he was commissioned into the RFC but with notes that he was not allowed to go in the air. Rev Archibald Sewell served as Chaplin to interned British POW’s in Switzerland
Many of the records deal with requests for gratuities due because of wounds, however not all were given:
Capt Vincent Cambell of the 3rd Royal West Kent was invalided out due to clitos and diarrhoea. Since this was probably caused by contracting dysentery in Ceylon before the war, his request for a gratuity because of continued illness was denied.
Lt Lancelot Sewell served as Chief Accountant of the Sudan Government Railway where he contracted malaria. He also damaged his shoulder falling from a horse in 1918 but neither this nor the malaria were considered was related and his request for a gratuity was turned down.
As the war progressed many of the older men who were overlooked initially were conscripted into the army, and many, because of their age were commissioned. However Lt Henry Sewell was commissioned from the ranks in the Royal Engineers but when sent to the front was considered not suitable due to his age (40) and lack of experience. Also he did not have “qualities of energy, leadership and power of command”. As such he was sent home a month later to work in the timber industry.
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