Carrying out local history research is rather like trying to solve part of a vast jigsaw puzzle, in which there are several different versions of the picture, where most of the pieces have been lost, and the rest have been widely scattered and may be difficult to find. Sometimes one tries to reconstruct one part of the picture and finds that there are insufficient pieces, while pieces from an adjacent area seem to fall into place easily. One can start with a few questions and every time one question is answered two more take its place.
When I was writing The London Gunners come to Town there were major problems with getting information on what the soldiers were doing in the area - which got worse as the war went on.
The Hemel Hempstead Council Records were very frustrating as everything had been disposed of apart from the minute books - and there were frequent references to, for example, "Mr Locke's report was accepted" but none of the supporting documents had been retained. There was rather more in the archives of Berkhamsted and St Albans, but not much.
At least in the first year of the war newspapers such as the Hemel Hempstead Gazette, the Watford Illustrated and the Herts Advertiser were reasonably helpful. The Gazette carried detailed reports of the council meetings - and occasionally quoted missing statistics from the missing reports. Initially there were reports of social activities, such as concerts involving local people and named units and officers. However there is little mention of military route marches and exercises - unless there was a newsworthy incident - such as a road traffic accident.
Military records were also unhelpful. When the war broke out and the troops went to their was stations in Hertfordshire each unit started a war diary, which recorded events day by day. Each month's diary, with all supporting documents, such as orders received and issued, were placed in a bundle. Such information would have been invaluable - if it had survived. However some archivist had decided that only information about fighting was important - and all bundles before the troops embarked have been destroyed. Fortunately there were some mistakes - and the details of the exercise to the north of St Albans, described earlier, had been misfiled in the March 1915 bundle for one of the units involved.
This emphasis on the war, rather than the preparations in England, is repeated in most of the published military histories of the units involved - some only starting at the point of embarkation. For most local history books the war was to recent to include any details - apart from the occasional photographs of troops.
More useful were the private diaries, kept by a few of the soldiers themselves, and now in the Imperial War Museum. One by Philip Harold Pilditch was particularly useful, with some 40 pages relating to the period he spent at Boxmoor.
If anyone has any specific information about identifiable units, with their Hertfordshire address and dates, please tell me.
A detailed bibliography is included in The London Gunners come to Town.
Page created October 2005