Home > Family History > Social History – Alfred Thomas King: National Roll of the Great War

Social History – Alfred Thomas King: National Roll of the Great War

Whilst engaged in further research of my Grandmother’s first husband, Alfred Thomas King’s service during World War 1 with the Royal Field Artillery, I came across this fascinating entry (below) from the National Roll of the Great War.

I didn’t realise it immediately, but I am told that we are indeed fortunate to have found such an entry as they are quite rare in the case of those who perished during the war.  The entry simply confirms many of the details already known, but one interesting fact did emerge that adds to our knowledge, that of the confirmation of his mobilisation with the army reserve in August 1914.

The entry also makes it clear that Alfred did indeed die as a result of German aerial bombing in June 1917. When he left Britain in 1914, it was still the era of the cavalry regiment, but by the time of his death only three years later, tanks and flying machines had taken over as the future instruments of death and destruction.

Alfred King witnessed first-hand that extraordinary change in modern warfare that has carried on until today, one hundred years after he left these shores for the uncertainty of life (and death) on the Western Front.

You can read more of Driver Alfred King (RFA) story here.

I’ve uploaded much of Alfred King’s story to the on-line Lives of the First World War project

The National Roll of the Great War

Section 1: London – South West and North

Top Left on page 95

King, A. T., Driver, Royal Field Artillery

National Roll of the Great War AT King downloaded 08 2014

What was the National Roll of the Great War?

Here is what I’ve pieced together from various sources:

‘Shortly after the cessation of hostilities in 1919, the National Publishing Company sought to publish a brief biography of as many of those participating in the Great War as was possible. The vast majority of entries refer to combatants who survived the World War 1 and the National Roll is often the only source of information available. The scale of death and destruction of World War I was terrible and unprecedented: claiming the lives of over a million British and Commonwealth servicemen.

The National Roll of the Great War was published in 14 regional volumes. The volumes themselves are very rare and now command high prices. The valuable information stored within them is not widely available. Although the publication profiled ‘only’ around 100,000 of the people who served in World War I, of these approx 16% were participants who died. This would be one of the motivating forces behind the project, to precisely record the contribution of those who survived, with many entries referring to injuries sustained and men discharged early.

This is one of the most sought-after sets of reference books of the First World War and the Naval & Military Press has reprinted the complete work of fourteen volumes. The National Roll makes no claim to being a complete book of reference – in fact such a record could not be compiled. Yet, if you are lucky enough to find that your relative is among these, you will find a fascinating snapshot of their experience of the war which might not be readily available elsewhere.

The format of an individual record is fairly constant. The header line gives the surname, the person’s initials and their rank and unit, or other qualification for being included. After the header line, there is a paragraph of on average eight or nine lines of text summarising the individual’s contribution to the war (often giving a potted service history and mentioning wounds, medals and/or demobilisation) and closing with an address. Finally, each entry has a reference number. The significance of this reference is no longer clear but presumably referred to a card-index or other filing system used by the publishers to track contributions to the book and published entries. It is thought that the information came not from official sources but from the subjects themselves or their families’.

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