I was watching the British version of Who Do You Think You Are? on Youtube the other day, and saw the one for comedian Lee Mack. His great-grandfather served in the King’s Own Liverpool Regiment during the First World War. As with most episodes that trace an ancestor with a military story, they visit with military historians and describe the service they did, and the battles they fought. Lee Mack’s great-grandfather served during some pretty horrendous battles including the Somme. This time though because they were talking about the same regiment that my grandfather Norman Frederick Paulin served in, and well I started to think.
I always knew Granddad had served in the war, that he had seen battle, been in the trenches. But honestly that is about all I knew. I guess the fact that they could link the regiment to specific battles, ones I was familiar enough with, and I really started to connect to the idea that my grandfather fought in the First World War. There is knowing, and really understanding this, and all the messy uncomfortable things that that entails.
So where to start? I decided first to go through what I thought I knew about his service, gleaned from conversations with him and with my mother over the years. This did not take long. Granddad did not talk much about his service. I then went to my brother and asked him to remember what he had been told. So this is what we have:
I had heard that Granddad had served in Ireland as security during the war (for Ireland British troops were there from 1916 and the Easter Rising, to the Irish War of Independence). I have no idea when exactly he was there, but that he was in Dublin and that there was really good beer. He also mentioned something about a cracker factory.
Hugh and I had both heard the story that Granddad had cut his hand in the trenches and that he had been saved by a Canadian doctor. Hugh also heard that this injury had kept him out of a big battle.
Hugh also heard that Granddad had missed a ship to France visiting with Nanny (who he would marry in 1924).
My cousin Andrea who grew up near Grandad said that he never spoke to her of the war. No stories there.
In 1981 Granddad was a bit of a military darling, when he was “a soldier for a day” when some school children he talked to arranged for him to have a visit at St George’s Barracks in Birmingham. I am not sure he shared all that much, save that he served as a drill instructor, and which regiments, but he may have talked to them more than he spoke to us about his service. Who knows?
So documentary evidence….. I have Granddad’s demobilisation papers, which states that the regiments he served in were the King’s Own Liverpool (faint on the form) and the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. The paper says he signed up for service in 9 December 1915, and was mobilised 19 December 1916. Granddad carried this paper in his wallet until he died. It does not state when he changed regiments, and does not provide the Battalion numbers for either regiment. Helpful, but only a bit.
His medal roll information which is dated 1919, says he was a part of the 1st King’s Own Liverpool. [Medal card of Paulin, Norman F Corps: Liverpool Regiment Regiment No: 94116, TNA, WO 372/15/155588]
As his service records were a part of the great destruction of service records during the Second World War (the storage facility was bombed), there were only a few avenues available. The first step was to see where the Regimental records are stored. The Museum of Liverpool houses the regimental material including an Archives. I entered his name and they have a file for him there. Unfortunately they are not answering requests for information, and recommend a visit to the Museum. They did have a list of the theatres of war by Battalion, but the first battalion’s record did not seem to match his service – what I know of it. So not being sure of the battalion number is a problem. The museum also has war diaries which would help a lot, but knowing which part of the regiment is key to the search. A visit to Liverpool is definitely in my future.
But in the meantime, I am still trying to suss out his service. Tonight I went onto the website Findmypast, and did a search for Norman Paulin in their military records. And they had more than the last time I checked him out. And here was a great clue. NF Paulin was a patient at Casualty Clearing Station number 3 the 5 April 1918. They list him as being a part of the Kings Own Liverpool, and that he had an injury to his thumb. [TNA, War Office: First World War Representative Medical Records of Servicemen, MH 106/367, No 3 Casualty Clearing Station]
I then went online to see if I could find out where the hospital was when he was treated. There is this great website: which lists “Location of Hospitals and Casualty Clearing Stations in the Great War – British Expeditionary Force”. Going through the list I found that it was located at Gezaincourt, France from 28 March to the 14th of April, 1918. The next step is to figure out what is going on at Gezaincourt in April 1918. I first had to figure out where this place is, and the answer was the Somme. Then I went and found that at the time the Germans had launched the Spring Offensive (Kaiserschladt) where they were trying to recapture the Somme and were trying to reach the coast. The King’s Own Liverpool were there, but it was the 11th Battalion, not the 1st. Maybe he was transferred later?
Did they send him home after his injury? Did he convalesce and then go back to his regiment? They later were in the Second battle of the Somme in September, was he there? More questions, more research – definitely a trip to Liverpool.
I think now that I have opened this door to Granddad’s life I have to follow it to its conclusion. I understand that he did not talk about the War because it was not a good time, it was grim, dangerous, and he likely wanted to forget it, or certainly not to share his pain with his family. Most soldiers from the First World War did not share their stories. I think that this unintentionally left some kind of mystique about war, which glorified it. But the War shaped his life, he went in at the age of 18, and was demobilized when he was 22. Critical years. I need to know more about this.