Thursday 25 February 2021

Western Front Association releases Project Alias list

An unusual resource has been released by the Western Front Association that may help those struggling to find details of Irish and British ancestors who enlisted in the British Army and died during the First World War.

It is the product of a project to identify soldiers who enlisted and served under an 'alias' surname. Often such individuals ended up with two sets of records – one under their real family name, another under a different name. Researchers who are not aware their ancestor used an alternative name may be unable to find all his official military records.

My own family has an 'alias' case. In the dying years of the 19th century, an 18-year-old ancestor took the train to Dublin and enlisted in the Royal Irish Fusiliers using his mother's maiden name. He later told his son that he'd wanted to ensure his enlistment in the British Army didn't cause his family in southwest Cork facing prejudice.

He served for three years in the Boer Wars and was promoted to serjeant. He received the South Africa Medals, complete with his alias cut into the outer edging. He settled in London. By the time WW1 came round, his real name was known to the Army and all of his records updated. I've no idea how that came about, but his WW1 medals have his real surname on them.

While my ancestor survived WW1 and his records under both names had been 'married up', the same was not true for many other soldiers. The Commonwealth War Graves Committee identified about 3,500 men whose headstone inscriptions now include 'Served as' plus their alias.

Early last year, the Western Front Association set up Project ALIAS to identify more cases in the 'Soldiers Who Died' category of the Pension Records Cards collection. Some 150 WFA members have been involved in adding the soldiers' names to the index. The list they've produced carries approximately 20,000 names, and with names such as Doyle, Farrell, Sullivan, Murphy and Kelly scattered throughout it, you can be sure many of them are Irishmen.

The resource is now available to WFA members and non-members alike in pdf format. You can download the pdf, and find out more about the project in an interesting feature on the WFA site by clicking the logo above.

A future project is planned to add the aliases for ‘Soldiers Who Survived’. Maybe my ancestor will be listed in it.