First World War soldiers

This guide was last updated in 2009

Beginning with a distinguished ancestor of his own, Martin Purdy offers his tips on tracing the Great War heroes in your family.

This story starts with an old sepia photograph of a First World War soldier. Frank Williams who was my great-grandfather, a sergeant with the kind of straight-backed pose and well-groomed moustache that appear to have been obligatory for men of rank in the Edwardian age.

I first became interested in “finding Frank” after accompanying a friend on a tour of the Great War battlefields. The preserved trenches and bits of rusting militaria that had been uncovered in the undergrowth impressed us both immensely, but it was the image of those rows of matching white headstones that were what really stayed with me.

I was also left with a burning question: how did the man in the family photo album escape the same fate?

For the record, Sergeant Frank Williams of the Royal Engineers won a Distinguished Conduct Medal at Passchendaele for carrying in wounded comrades when badly wounded himself. He was quite a man, and you may have such a “hero” in your own family.

Researching a soldier is not as daunting as you might fear. It requires patience and time, but the internet means much can be done at your leisure.

Photo © Getty Images

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