If your British Army Ancestor served overseas during the First World War there should be an MIC (medal index card) recording his medal entitlement. And if there's a medal index card there should be one or more medal roll entries. The latter can often add detail not found on the medal index card such as a battalion or unit, a date killed in action, or a date discharged. For some soldiers, this may be all that survives in terms of documented evidence of service.
It is well-known that the majority of service records - 60 per cent is the figure commonly offered - was destroyed in bombing during the Second World War, hence the need to fully understand and explore what's left. As I often tell people, the medal index card had a specific purpose and that was to record the unit/s a man served with overseas. This information was then used when it came to impressing the correct details on the man's medals. Any service in the UK with other units prior to embarkation should not appear on the medal index card (or medal roll/s) although there are plenty of instances where this instruction was not followed.
The sentence in bold is important to understand because when looking at a man's medal index card, the first unit that appears on it may not have been the first unit he served with.
I have just completed an interesting research project for man - 'boy' would be a more accurate description - who was captured by the Germans on the opening day of their spring offensive on the 21st March 1918. This soldier's regimental number indicated to me that he must have joined the battalion in late January or early February 1918. However, when I looked more closely, there was compelling evidence to suggest that he was probably a conscript and probably first spent time with one of two - and possibly both - Training Reserve battalions. This would not have been possible without a closer analysis of his regimental number.
Digging deeper to discover this is important because it helps to explain the logical path to the Western Front that this particular man took. Luckily for him, his time in the trenches was short-lived, and surviving documents held by the ICRC outlined where he was held.
The undated photograph that I have used on this post shows prisoners of war at Stendal camp.
I research soldiers!