Something a little different this time. In the spirit of the current focus on all things “Start of World War One”, I thought we’d talk about my great Grandfather. And we’ll do so, in the spirit of education, by having a look at the documents of his that I was able to track down on Ancestry.co.uk a while back. We’ll go through them one by one, detailing what they tell us, and hopefully someone else trying to decipher some of them will find some tips and explanations of certain things.
First up is a “Short Service” enlistment form. Let’s take it from the top:
This is the “attestation” of Patrick Costelloe, who was looking to join the Royal Munster Fusiliers. It begins with listing his name and then his “Parish or Town”, in this case that of St Munchins in the town and county of Limerick. He acknowledges that he is a British subject and then lists his age: 18 years and 0 months. So, he joined the army as soon as he was legally able. Or he’s lying about his age to get in, because isn’t that just a nice round number.
Under “What is your Trade or Calling?” he has simply written “Labourer”. So, we can tell Patrick Costelloe was a young man without much education or amazing employment prospects. He has not resided outside of his “Father’s House” – his family home then – for more than three years.
There follows a list of basic questions. Patrick Costelloe has never been apprenticed to a trade. He is not married. He has never been imprisoned. He has never been a member of the Armed Forces before. He has never been rejected for service before. He is willing to be vaccinated.
The unit he wants to join is the Royal Munster Fusiliers. He received a notice about the details of his enlistment from a Sgt whose name I can’t make it, from a Corps I also cannot distinguish. He agrees to serve in the Armed Forces for 12 years, seven in the regulars and five in the reserve, with all of the usual addendums for emergencies.
Lastly for this page, he declares his answer true and signs his name twice, once for the form and once for an oath of allegiance. A Sgt’s signature, presumably the enlister, stands as witness. According to the footer box, he has been enlisted in Limerick on the 29th day what looks like December, 1898. We can tell his personal signature is a little bit different from the rest of the writing, more clumsy, so we can perhaps infer that Patrick Costelloe was no great writer.
Next up is a descriptive form. First, some basic characteristics are listed: Patrick Costelloe was, again, 18 years and 0 months old upon his enlistment. He was only 5 foot 4 ½ inches, quite short, even for the time. He weighed 118 lbs. His chest was 33 inches at minimum and 34 ½ at maximum. He had a “Fresh” complexion, brown eyes and “Reddish brown” hair. He was a Roman Catholic. He had no distinguishing marks. So, he was a short, thin, fresh faced and sandy haired Irish labourer.
Next, a medical officer confirms that he has examined the patient, and that he is fit for army service. I can’t make out the name of this officer, but the examination happened in Limerick on the same day as Patrick Costelloe’s enlistment. Next, confirmation from the recruiting officer, whose name is fairly illegible, that Patrick Costelloe has been found fit for military service. Then the “Approving Officer” does the same thing. A lot of people needing to sign this piece of paper.
We then move on to some of the more substantial stuff, with a “Statement of the Services”, essentially a very basic listing of Patrick Costelloe’s army career. He joined his unit on the 3rd of January 1899, at Tralee, County Kerry, only a few days after his enlistment. His attestment date is listed again, and then he is “Posted” sometime in April 1899, presumably for basic training. An entry for the 29th December 1900 lists something about “Pay”, but the rest is illegible. All of this is signed off on by various people whose names are not clear, along with a stamp that says something about the “101st Reg”. The Munster Fusiliers were formed out of a combination of the 101st and the 104th several decades before this document was signed, so presumably has something to do with that.
Next there is a scrawled “P. Costello” (why the misspelling I don’t know) to an illegible declaration that he will “come under ??? governing…” something, signed in 1898. Underneath is another stamp, wherein Patrick Costelloe agrees to more regulations and pay details, and extends his service to eight years, signed in 1904.
Next is a scrawl of handwriting, mostly illegible. Costelloe was granted two badges for something on the 1st of August in what I think was 1904. He is noted as extending his service and something to do with “colours” (“Eight years service with the colours” I think) in the same year. There are two crossed out lines and then another “Posted” notice, this time for December 1906. We can infer from all of this that Costelloe was on active service somewhere in the British Empire, extended his service at some point and then was posted somewhere else. Looking at the dates, we could reasonably conclude that he was in South Africa during the Boer War(s), and so was a member of the RMF’s 2nd (Regular Service) Battalion which served in South Africa during that time. All of these lines are signed off by various Captains, whose names I cannot make out. The same signature repeats (it almost looks like “Aubert” or “Awbert”) indicating a constant commanding officer.
A stamp dated to the 16 January 1907 declares Costelloe’s transfer to the Army Reserve, as per his terms of service. He is “Transferred” to something in the next note, on the 17th of January 1908, perhaps to a different reserve unit. On the 18 of July 1910 his service was apparently up, but Costelloe chose to become “Re-engaged” at that time for whatever reason.
The next part is where it gets really interesting. A stamp boldly declares that Costelloe has been “Mobilized at TRALEE” on the 5th of August 1914. So, he was a reservist who was called to arms when World War One started. A stamp next to that declares he has been “POSTED” the following day, presumably as part of the initial BEF. Next to that are a collection of numbers that are apparently “costs” but costs of what exactly is unclear, possibly pay.
Underneath all of that comes more handwritten notes. On the 18th of September 1914 Costelloe was “awarded 10 days F.P No 2 by ??? Falling out of line of march”. Oh dear. F.P is “field punishment”. From this website:
Field Punishment Number 1 consisted of the convicted man being shackled in irons and secured to a fixed object, often a gun wheel or similar. He could only be thus fixed for up to 2 hours in 24, and not for more than 3 days in 4, or for more than 21 days in his sentence. This punishment was often known as ‘crucifixion’ and due to its humiliating nature was viewed by many Tommies as unfair. Field Punishment Number 2 was similar except the man was shackled but not fixed to anything. Both forms were carried out by the office of the Provost-Marshal, unless his unit was officially on the move when it would be carried out regimentally i.e. by his own unit.
Costelloe would have been 34 at the time, and would not have been in the regular army for seven years, so we might perhaps understand why he may have fallen out of a march. If it was fatigue related.
But then, something happened, because the next line declares Costelloe as “Discharged” on the 21st of April 1915. A further addition lists his years of service – 16 years and 114 days apparently – and some illegible notes about a pension. Throughout all of this, Costelloe’s rank is listed as “Pte” – Private.
This is where we start to get more solid info about what happened to Patrick Costelloe, in his “Military History Sheet”. It starts with another listing of his service, but this one is more legible. He was “Home” for the first eight months of his military career, presumably training. Then “South Africa” for three years and a few months, up to the latter half of 1902. Then something new: “East India” it looks like, on garrison duty for the better part of five years and to the end of his regular service. Then “Home” again, for all of six days, before his transfer to the Reserves. The next line is fairly unclear, but you can just about make out “Mob”, probably meaning “Mobilisation”, in August of 1914. After that, Costelloe is a member of the “British Expeditionary Force” for 150 days, up to January 1915, before a final return “Home” until his discharge. His years and days of service are listed in exact detail.
There follows a series of blank sections. Costelloe had no military education, no certificates of education, no “Passed classes of instruction”. Just an uneducated, perhaps illiterate, private then. The next line lists his “Campaigns”, that is, active military service. South Africa, from 1899 to 1902 is listed, and then the B.E.F again from the 13/8/14 to 9/1/15.
Then the big one. Under “Wounded”, it states “Left leg blown away by shrapnel in action”. So, this is the reason for the discharge. There is a date listed next to this, “18th or 19th” of a month that is unclear, in 1914.
Costelloe’s battalion and unit were heavily engaged in the early months of World War One, taking tremendous casualties at every turn at places like Mons and Ypres, and especially during a famed rearguard action at Etreux. But the exact engagement that Costelloe suffered this wound at escapes us unfortunately. Since he was punished for falling out of a march on the 18th of September of that year – and we can hope the reason wasn’t because he was missing a leg – we know that he was wounded sometime in October, November or maybe even December. Shellfire did it, so would not necessarily have been while in direct contact with the enemy.
“Effects of wounds” confirms that Costelloe’s left leg has been amputated up to his thigh. There are no “Special instance of gallant conduct” to be listed. Under a “Medals, decorations and annuities” heading, there are some illegible words indicating something about a “King’s African Medal” – presumably a campaign medal – given to him while in “Cape Colony”.
There are no entries under anything related to “Deferred Pay” and it’s on to “Next of kin”. There are several scratched out lines here, that we can just about see to be “Father John”, “Mother Mary” and perhaps “Brother Tony”, with an address in Limerick. They have been superseded by another: A wife whose name is a bit unclear. It looks like “Moary” or “Moaly”. It is remarkably frustrating, but the letters really do seem to fall that way. In the next section though, what appears to be this woman’s pre-marriage surname is listed, as something that looks like “Mourray”. There’s what seems to be an “o” after the “M” in both instances, that if removed makes everything simpler: “Mary Murray”. Perhaps that is what it is, but the way of signing the “M” seems bizarre.
Anyway, his wife is listed as a spinster before the wedding, which took place in Saint Munchins Church, Limerick, on the 8th of October 1910 with a “Revd J. Maloney” presiding. Two witnesses are listed, perhaps “Martin Riordan” and “Charlotte Dickenson”.
Next, with the quality fading fast, are listed what children the couple had while Costelloe was still in the military. First is what looks like “Francis Josephine”, born on the 6th of August 1911, just ten months after the wedding. There are two other names listed, but the blurriness makes recognition difficult. Perhaps “Catherine”, “Bartholomew, “Cornelius” (who would have been my Grandfather), “Christine”. It doesn’t help that genders aren’t listed. Regardless, the second child was born on the 6th of April 1913 and the third sometime in December 1914 when their father was still in France, presumably in a hospital somewhere. You don’t want to skew your impressions too much, but it is easy to imagine such a time being difficult for Mary, at home with three children while her husband, presumably the main or only provider, might have been dying on the continent.
Plenty more of these documents to cover, and I’ll go through the rest of them another time.