Is “Scotland’s War Dead” Really New?

I was very interested to see last week that BBC Scotland was marking the 69th anniversary of VE Day with an online database containing “gathered data on the thousands of Scottish men and women who lost their lives during the Second World War.” What sort of data had they gathered? I wasn’t expecting five generation pedigree sheets complete with sources, but it did cross my mind.

On the database website we are given the disappointing news: “This data, collected using the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) online search tool, provides details on 21,740 Scots killed between 1939 and 1947.” Extracting data from one freely accessible database and placing it in a separate, less complete (they only extracted the Scots), freely accessible database isn’t really new and exciting.

The introduction goes on to explain that these 21,740 casualties are not a full count of Scotland’s World War 2 dead because “BBC Scotland searched the CWGC’s database by all Scottish county names — but due to discrepancies in how data was submitted by families, county was not always recorded by the deceased’s next of kin.” This part was new and exciting, I didn’t recall the CWGC database as being searchable by county.

Does It Do That?

A quick visit to http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead.aspx shows an impressive array of search terms, but no option to search by County or even by UK country. At the bottom there is a box for “Additional Information” – perhaps that was the key.

A Result of Sorts.

Entering a county or country name in the “Additional Information” box returns a fair sized list even though there is no column in the results to confirm just where this geographical information is stored or what it infers. A cursory look showed it was not based solely on regiment names (good). It was also not the same place as the service country – a search for “Wales” returned soldiers with the service countries United Kingdom (obviously), Australian*, New Zealand, Canadian*, Indian* and South African*.

*The “Service Country” column in the results corresponds to the filter for “served with” where the options are United Kingdom Forces, Australian Forces, etc. It’s not particularly relevant, but consistency would be nice.

Why Reinvent the Wheel?

Having found how to extract the names of the war dead connected in some way to a particular county or UK country (it is still not clear to me whether this is the birthplace, address of record, address of next of kin, or something else) I am unsure as to why we would need the BBC Scotland database. Time for side by side comparisons.

The Test.

Searching the CWGC database for “Aberdeenshire” and “Second World War” gives 745 results.
Searching the BBC Scotland database for “Aberdeenshire” slowly gives 1,756 results.

Setting the results of each search to sort by name I quickly found an entry from BBC Scotland that was not in the CWGC results.

Aberdeenshire ABERDEIN THOMAS 18 09/08/1945 Guardsman Scots Guards _ United Kingdom ABERDEEN (GROVE) CEMETERY

Searching for Thomas Aberdein in the CWGC database gave me the following result:

ABERDEIN, THOMAS Guardsman 2703844 09/08/1945 18 Scots Guards United Kingdom Grave 2839. ABERDEEN (GROVE) CEMETERY

The CWGC database has additional information, if you click on the deceased’s name you are taken to the casualty details:

ABERDEIN, THOMAS
Rank: Guardsman
Service No: 2703844
Date of Death: 09/08/1945
Age: 18
Regiment/Service: Scots Guards
Grave Reference Grave 2839.
Cemetery ABERDEEN (GROVE) CEMETERY
Additional Information: Son of Thomas and Margaret Aberdein, of Aberdeen.

and the Cemetery details:

ABERDEEN (GROVE) CEMETERY
Country: United Kingdom
Locality: Aberdeenshire

So now we can see that Thomas’ parents are “of Aberdeen” (in Aberdeenshire) but also he was buried in Aberdeenshire. Which part of the information triggered the match at BBC Scotland, but not at CWGC?

Digging Deeper.

The first name on the BBC Scotland results who is not in the CWGC results and who is not buried in Aberdeenshire is:

Aberdeenshire ADAM JAMES GREEN 30 15/04/1943 Sergeant Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve 431 (R.C.A.F.) Sqdn Germany RHEINBERG WAR CEMETERY

Searching for James Green Adam by name at CWGC returned:

ADAM, JAMES GREEN Sergeant 1029111 15/04/1943 30 Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve United Kingdom Coll. grave 18. E. 15-18. RHEINBERG WAR CEMETERY

Casualty details:
ADAM, JAMES GREEN

Rank: Sergeant
Trade: W.Op./Air Gnr.
Service No: 1029111
Date of Death: 15/04/1943
Age: 30
Regiment/Service: Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve 431 (R.C.A.F.) Sqdn
Grave Reference Coll. grave 18. E. 15-18.
Cemetery RHEINBERG WAR CEMETERY
Additional Information: Son of James Adam, and of Jane Ann Green Adam, of Aberdeen.

RHEINBERG WAR CEMETERY
Country: Germany
Locality: Nordrhein-Westfalen

Testing the Pattern!

Both of the above entries had the soldier’s parents as “of Aberdeen” so the BBC Scotland database has tagged the Aberdeen entries as Aberdeenshire – which is not incorrect – and thus Aberdeen shows up in the Aberdeenshire results.

A search on CWGC for “Aberdeen” and “Second World War” gives 2197 results.
Searching the BBC Scotland database for “Aberdeen” slowly gives 1,772 results.

Hmmm, obviously not all of the Aberdeen entries have been tagged as Aberdeenshire at BBC Scotland.

Here We Go Again

The first result in CWGC that is not in BBC Scotland is John George Aberdeen, who despite his name, has no obvious connection to Aberdeen.

The second result was Isak Adams who had a connection to the wrong Aberdeen: “Son of Manie and Francina S. Adams, of Aberdeen, Cape Province, South Africa.”

The next was Carl Maurice Adamson with a connection to yet another Aberdeen: “Son of David and Annie Adamson, of New Aberdeen.”

Then we had Robert William Addison: “Son of Frank and Jane Addison, of Ballater, Aberdeenshire.” He can be found on BBC Scotland under Aberdeenshire but not Aberdeen, but on CWGC he turns up in both searches.

On the CWGC results but not BBC Scotland is: John C. H. Aitken “Home Guard. Son of Agnes Aitken, of Pinewood, Bieldside, Aberdeen, Scotland, and of the late Robert Aitken; husband of Ruth Wilson Todd Aitken, of Windsor, West Cults, Aberdeen. Died at Muntok, Banka Island.” I am unsure as to why he is missing from the BBC Scotland data.

The next are:

ADAM, ALEXANDER SMITH Chief Engineer 31/05/1940 56 Fishing Fleet United Kingdom Panel 124. TOWER HILL MEMORIAL

Casualty details:
ADAM, ALEXANDER SMITH

Rank: Chief Engineer
Date of Death: 31/05/1940
Age: 56
Regiment/Service: Fishing Fleet Steam Trawler Corennie (Aberdeen).
Panel Reference Panel 124.
Memorial TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
Additional Information: Husband of Euphemia Adam, of Aberdeen.

TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
Country: United Kingdom
Locality: London

and:

Casualty details:
ALEXANDER, JAMES

Rank: Second Engineer Officer
Date of Death: 21/09/1941
Age: 49
Regiment/Service: Merchant Navy

S.S. Rhineland (Leith)
Panel Reference Panel 87.
Memorial TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
Additional Information: Son of James and Margret Alexander; husband of Catherine H. Alexander, of Aberdeen.

TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
Country: United Kingdom
Locality: London

Neither of these men are included in the BBC Scotland database, and while I would agree that the spouse may not live in or be native to the same place as her husband, the same could be said for the parents and the other entries show that parents “of Aberdeen” does get a soldier listed at BBC Scotland. If not that, could the omission be service related? To test that theory I searched the BBC Scotland database for “fishing fleet” and “home guard” with no results, but “Merchant Navy” gave 89 results.

But Is It Better?

The data isn’t new, but is the BBC Scotland database better? Sadly, the answer is no. The inclusion of fallen soldiers as being Scottish based simply on the residence of their parents is misleading. Excluding home guard, fishing fleet, or other civilian deaths is also misleading when the database claims to include “thousands of Scottish men and women who lost their lives during the Second World War” with no mention of which particular Scots are deliberately excluded. Also missing from the BBC Scotland data is the casualty’s service number (a little ironic since they omit the only casualties who would not have one), grave reference and, for genealogists, the crucial “additional information that may include nativity, parents names, spouse etc., all of which are included in the CWGC database.  Lastly, the interface on the BBC Scotland database is ugly, it reacts slowly with no indication that it is doing anything at all, and does not fit on the screen.

Anything Nice to Say?

I wanted this to be a glowing review and I am disappointed that it is not, but it isn’t all bad. Testing this database necessitated testing the CWGC database for comparison and I am thrilled to say it held up remarkably!  A search on CWGC for “native Scotland” returned 1035 results and each one that I checked had the clear notation “Native of Scotland” even when his parents were listed as being “of” somewhere else.

The Scotland’s War Dead database is at: http://marcellison.com/bbc/war_dead/war_dead_db/

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission database is at: http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead.aspx

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