I had assumed that every patient who died in a UK war hospital during World War 1 would have a Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) headstone, but I was wrong…..
I am cataloguing the records of Graylingwell Hospital in Chichester, among which are some items about Graylingwell War Hospital (1915-1919). There are no existing formal patient records for the war hospital, however – or indeed for most of the UK’s war hospitals. As War Office property, all these records were deposited in the (then) Public Record Office after the war had ended. They included admission registers, giving details of each man admitted to each war hospital. In the 1920s the decision was taken to destroy all these records, keeping only a small sample.
In order to collect together whatever information I could find about patients in Graylingwell War Hospital, I created a spreadsheet with a new entry for each new source of information. Of the more than 29,000 servicemen admitted from overseas, 131 patients died. Each of these deaths was noted in the Medical Superintendent’s journal, and in Graylingwell Hospital’s annual report for 1920.
In 2013 it occurred to me that I could cross-check each patient who died against the CWGC website. This soon proved to need more time than I had available, so I enlisted the help of my volunteer Ros. She filled in a number of gaps on the spreadsheet during her checks, and put ‘yes’ in the CWGC column to indicate she’d found a record.
Driver George Slater could not be found on the CWGC website, which was a surprise as I had assumed that every man who had died in Graylingwell War Hospital would be there. His entry in the Medical Superintendent’s journal shows that he died on 3 October 1916, aged 25. He was a driver in the Army Service Corps, and he died of osteomyelitis femur, sepsis and cardiac failure.
I sent the CWGC a photocopy of this entry. They replied that it was possible George Slater’s details had not been passed to them by the Service Authorities after the war. They requested further documentation, details of the grave, and a death certificate. These would be reviewed by the Commemorations Policy Officer and, if approved, would be passed to the Ministry of Defence who approve eligibility for war grave status.
The death certificate stated that the home address was Pegswood, Morpeth Urban District. I contacted Northumberland Archives to ask if they could provide me with a copy of the burial entry in the parish register. It duly arrived, accompanied by a note wishing me success. The photocopy showed that George Slater, of Shilbottle, had been buried on 7 October, just four days after his death. An additional comment recorded his death in Graylingwell War Hospital after active service in France.
I also found an entry for George in the 1911 census, when he was living in Shilbottle with his parents and older brother. His occupation was carter (road contractor).
Unfortunately the paperwork became submerged on my desk, and didn’t reappear until 2015, when I submitted it to the CWGC. It was acknowledged, and passed on to The National Army Museum. Three months later I was informed that George Slater qualified for commemoration as a Commonwealth war casualty. The next query from the CWGC was whether I had any grave details, but I did not.
Everything then went quiet for a couple of years, until I received an email from CWGC two weeks ago. I was absolutely delighted to learn that George Slater now has a CWGC headstone in Shilbottle churchyard. The exact location of his burial is unknown, so the wording at the top of the headstone says ‘Buried elsewhere in this churchyard’. He has also been added to the CWGC website. It has taken quite some time to get to this point, but it has been well worth the wait.
Katherine Slay, Archives Assistant