Soldiers Died In The Great War – Publication, Circulation and Reception – New Perspectives

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The cover of a surviving original copy of Soldiers Died In The Great War 1914-19 Part 14. The Norfolk Regiment. H.M.S.O.: London printed in September 1921. The copy lacks the preface found in the reprints issued in the 1980s based upon the original bound copies kept by the Imperial War Museum Library. It begins with the list at page 3 and it looks like the inside cover and preface pages were lost at some point in the copy’s history.


I have already written about the War Office origins of Soldiers Died In The Great War (S.D.G.W.) and published evidence showing that the War Office was absolutely aware of the inaccuracies caused by errors in the submissions from the Army Record Offices (to see the relevant article click here and also in relation to discussions between the War Office and the Imperial War Graves Commission about S.D.G.W., covered in articles in the Glossary, see below).

Elsewhere I have discussed the use by the Imperial War Graves Commission of Officer’s Died In The Great War (O.D.G.W.) and S.D.G.W. as the main basis for their list of the missing, with much subsequent work to verify and include/find names missed in the compilation of these publications (my analysis is included in many of the C.W.G.C. WW1 glossary articles I have written, to see click here). There is also information in the Glossary (obtained from C.W.G.C. files) on how the War Office amended officially held copies of S.D.G.W. and O.D.G.W. in the 1920s and 1930s.

This post looks at the publication, reception and some new perspectives on S.D.G.W. and O.D.G.W. including the Officers’ Casualty Card Index.

Publication and Reception

The following articles are taken from newspapers between December 1920 to April 1922. The articles from the Nottingham Evening Post, published in December 1920 and the Belshill Speaker And North East Lanark Gazette from April 1922 are based on advertising for the volumes placed in local newspapers at the beginning and end of the printing of the various parts of S.D.G.W. Army Record Offices had been asked where to place the adds in January 1921 (see here for the circular instruction at the bottom of the linked page from A.G. 1R at the War Office) just after the publication of the volumes had started. So far no evidence has been seen to suggest that tailored advertising was placed mentioning the issue of specific volumes of local interest alongside information on the general run of the series.

The article from the Hull Daily Mail from 11 November 1921 is moving in its account of the writer looking through Part 20, the volume covering the dead of the East Yorkshire Regiment. The article also mentions that the names of 7,146 men are included in the volume, a statement that leaves the question where did the writer get the figure from as the volumes do not include totals for the numbers of casualties covered by each volume. Once the officers from O.D.G.W. included in modern online versions of S.D.G.W. (e.g. Ancestry, FindmyPast) are taken out of the total the figure looks to be about right. Counting the individual entries in S.D.G.W. volumes is a long job due to the small font used and their layout (some entries occupy more lines than others). It is possible that the figure given in the Hull Daily Mail comes from another source rather than a laborious count of the volume’s contents.

The last article included below (from The Scotsman January 1922) shows that some members of the public were aware of the inaccuracies in S.D.G.W. and the background in difficulties in the Army Record Offices. The difficulties listed are many of those which the Imperial War Graves Commission found when using S.D.G.W. (see here for articles explaining the problems experienced by the Imperial War Graves Commission in using the volumes).





List of Parts From the Inside Cover of an Original Surviving Copy of Part 14: The Norfolk Regiment

Part of a list of parts included on the inside cover of the surviving original copy of Part 14, The Norfolk Regiment (H.M.S.O. September 1921) setting out the volumes for sale and their prices. The back cover completes the list and also includes a price for the Officers Died In The Great War volume.

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List of Parts Arranged by Army Record Office

The Army Record Offices listed represent the arrangements from 1917 onwards and before the Record Office mergers/reorganisation of the 1920s.

The S.D.G.W. volumes reflect the organisation of the infantry and corps record offices, with infantry volumes divided by battalion (reflecting the organisation of service records in the Infantry Record Offices) and corps volumes not including units, except in some volumes those relating to Territorial Units (Territorial Force records were with the regular Army Record Offices by 1917). The organisation of O.D.G.W. is discussed towards the end of this post.

The following includes a useful summary of the numbering systems in use at the Army Record Offices and organisation of service records before August 1920 (click here and here).

The importance of cities like London and Manchester to the British Army and its recruitment/training, even after the introduction of conscription in 1916 is clear from the arrangement and pricing of the S.D.G.W. volumes. Large infantry regiments with many battalions are covered by volumes priced at 7s 6d per volume or included in large multi-section volumes. For example Volume 76  has 16 parts, most of them covering the different components of the London Regiment, with each section available separately for a shilling or 15 shillings for the complete volume. Volumes dealing with smaller regiments were priced at 2s 6d per volume.

The larger corps volumes are also priced at 7s 6d (e.g. Part 4 Corps of Royal Engineers), unless they were either big enough to need require issuing in separate sections (Part 2 Royal Horse and Royal Field Artillery etc.) at between 1s to 2s 6d per section (depending on the size of each section), 15 shillings for a complete volume. The corps volumes also clearly reflect the relative risk faced/number of fatal casualties incurred by the different corps during WW1 as well as their size. For example Part 80 includes large corps such as the Labour Corps and Royal Army Ordnance Corps alongside much smaller corps such as the Corps of Army Schoolmasters in a volume priced at 5 shillings. Other corps such as the Royal Army Medical Corps experienced enough deaths during the Great War to be covered by single volumes priced at 5 shillings.

Soldiers Died VolumesSoldiers Died Volumes2Soldiers Died Volumes3Soldiers Died Volumes4Soldiers Died Volumes5Soldiers Died Volumes6Soldiers Died Volumes7Soldiers Died Volumes8Soldiers Died Volumes9Soldiers Died Volumes10Soldiers Died Volumes11Soldiers Died Volumes12

List of Parts With Prices for the General Public and Serving Members of the Armed Forces

The volumes as offered for discounted sale to members of the British Army, in an Army Council Instruction from December 1921, approximately one year after the publication of the first volumes. Discounts on the price to the public varied from between a 21% price reduction on the volumes costing 7 shillings and 6d to a 12% reduction on constituent sections offered for sale at 11d instead of 1 shilling. This list includes much more detail on the contents of the volumes offered for sale by section.

The War Office file number (45 signifying casualty related issues) under which the instruction is recorded comes from C2c, part of the War Office C2 Division responsible for supervising the issue of publications produced by the War Office, in collaboration with the responsible department of the War Office and H.M.S.O (see the War Office List 1921 pp. 91-92).

LIST OF PARTS OF S.D.G.W. Pages 6 to 10LIST OF PARTS OF S.D.G.W. Pages 6 to 10 2LIST OF PARTS OF S.D.G.W. Pages 6 to 10 3LIST OF PARTS OF S.D.G.W. Pages 6 to 10 4LIST OF PARTS OF S.D.G.W. Pages 6 to 10 5

From The National Archives (TNA) WO 293/12 War Office: Army Council: Instructions.

List of Parts/Prices as Transcribed From the Cover of the Original Surviving Copy of Part 14: The Norfolk Regiment

LIST OF PARTS OF S.D.G.W. Replacement First Page


Some Publication Dates, Printing Dates and Numbers Printed for Officers Died In The Great War and Soldiers Died In The Great War

It is interesting to compare the print numbers for Officers Died In The Great War, a total of 5,000 copies, or expected sales (if the whole print run was sold) of roughly 1 copy for every 55 Officers (The figure comes from adding the number of commissioned officers at the start of the War to the commissions granted during the War to 1st December 1918, then dividing by the print run for O.D.G.W., see War Office (1922) Statistics Of The Military Effort Of The British Empire During the Great War 1914-1920: pp. 234-235), with  expected sales of for example Part 3, covering the Royal Garrison Artillery. Comparing the size of the R.G.A. in November 1918 against its print run of 1,000 copies produces a figure of 1 copy per 192 other ranks (Ibid: p. 211). A figure which included the actual number of R.G.A. other ranks who served in the War, reflecting demobilised R.G.A. men, casualties and men who were transferred out of the R.G.A. would produce a ratio of  1 copy somewhere to the 200s per other rank. The volume produced for the Machine Gun Corps and its offspring the Tank Corps also had a print run of 1,000 copies. A comparison of the print run to the size of the M.G.C. and Tank Corps in November 1918 produces a slightly higher number of copies per other rank, of 1 copy per 150 other ranks (Ibid: pp. 216-219). A figure of somewhere between 150 and 200 other ranks per copy would be reached by adding in casualties and transfers/demobilised soldiers from the M.G.C.  Print runs of 1,000 copies seem to be typical for volumes costing 7s 6d and 500 copies for most (not all) of the volumes costing 5s.

It was clearly either expected that the S.D.G.W. volumes would be of less interest to the families of other ranks than to the often relatively more prosperous families of officers. Alternatively it is possible that the War Office/H.M.S.O. learnt that the demand for such volumes was less than their estimate for the print run for O.D.G.W. and the S.D.G.W. print runs were adjusted accordingly. Both of these considerations may have ultimately led to the proportionately smaller print runs for S.D.G.W.

S.D.G.W. Publication DatesS.D.G.W. Publication Dates2

An Instruction from Part 1, Household Cavalry and Cavalry of the Line etc.

An instruction from Part 1, Household Cavalry and Cavalry of the Line (HMSO:London. June 1921) setting out in which S.D.G.W. parts Yeomanry Regiments that had become infantry battalions (plus the Record Offices responsible for their records) can be found below. This is the only additional instruction that I am currently aware of in S.D.G.W. to help users understand the records other than the preface and the ‘Explanation of Abbreviations’. By contrast there is much more information in the preface to Officer’s Died In The Great War (see Preface section below).

Prefaces etc ODGW and SDGWPrefaces etc ODGW and SDGW2

The Preface in Soldiers Died In The Great War and Officers Died In The Great War

Preface from a volume of S.D.G.W. The preface does not differ between S.D.G.W. volumes. It is interesting to compare the statement of purpose below, with that included in the April 1922 War Office/H.M.S.O. derived statement of 1922 in the Bellshill Speaker and North-East Lanark Gazette (see ‘Publication and Reception’ for the complete article), ‘..The roll is based on the official casualty lists and its compilation was undertaken primarily to meet the demand for information required by those responsible for the erection of local and other public memorials’. This is a far clearer statement of purpose, perhaps representing a later attempt to increase interest in the volumes, rather than just stating that S.D.G.W./O.D.G.W was published to allow the information ‘…to be available in volume form…’.

Prefaces etc ODGW and SDGW3

The preface from O.D.G.W., dated October 1919 was the first to include the statement that ‘…Nothing whatever contained in these rolls is to be quoted or made use of in any representation which it may be desired to make on the subject of rank, decoration, nature of casualty, or anything consequent upon any casualty…’. A clear statement that these volumes were not to be regarded as legal documents certified by the War Office and fit for use as evidence in any claim regarding the casualty or financial or other issues related to soldiers’ deaths. They were simply offered as snapshots from the Army Record Offices of the information available regarding deaths at the time of publication with no certification as to their accuracy.

The information offered in the preface for O.D.G.W. apart from being followed by useful information on the recording of staff officers, also refers to additions and problems obtaining the information, issues not addressed in the preface to S.D.G.W. The O.D.G.W. preface also refers to late additions and corrections added late to the proof copy before it was printed and published. However the most interesting part of the preface in terms of information is the fact that the two parts of M.S.3. Casualties, one dealing with Regular and New Army Casualties (Part I) and the other dealing with Territorial Officers (M.S.3. Territorials) tabulated the information for the volumes differently. This difference is considered in the next section, which includes a transcription of a surviving War Office example of an M.S.3. Officers Casualty card.

Prefaces etc ODGW and SDGW4Prefaces etc ODGW and SDGW5

An M.S.3 Officer’s Casualty Card and the M.S.3. Officers’ Casualty Card Index

The card below is the only known surviving example from War Office records of a card from the Casualty Card index of M.S.3. Casualties covering officer casualties. The importance of these cards is made clear in the extract below as the central and most important part of the system for recording and tracking officer casualties in the War Office. Beyond the card’s reference to parts of the theatre based personnel management function, 3rd Echelon (in terms of the B.E.F. based for most of the War at Rouen) we can also see from looking at the surviving casualty cards relating to Royal Flying Corps officers held by the R.A.F. Museum, that some of these cards come from a portion of the M.S.3. Army Officers’ Casualty Index transferred to either the R.A.F. or Air Ministry in 1918:

It is also interesting to consider why Part I ‘The Old and New Armies’ and Part II ‘The Territorial Force’ were organised differently in the volume. Why was ‘…Any other method found to be impracticable…’? Both sections had the same index  cards at their disposal and it suggests that Part I and Part II may represent different sets of index cards reflecting the organisational division within M.S.3. The arrangement in O.D.G.W. with Part I organised purely alphabetically within regiment/corps (with battalion noted to the left of the name if known) and in Part II by rank, arranged alphabetically, within battalion/unit. This suggests a much more certain knowledge of the units of Territorial Force officers, perhaps related to the fact that most Territorial Force Officer records were kept by Army Record Offices during the War (see here and go page 7, section X  ‘Territorial Force Records’ of the 1921 Interim Report on Record Offices).

To understand more about the list references included in the card below, together with more information on the surviving extracts from casualty lists/other lists of Great War casualties compiled by Army Record Offices now held at the C.W.G.C. archive, see here.

Information about C2 Casualties and the main Casualty Card Index can be found here.

MS3 Casualties page one amendment

MS3 Casualties2MS3 Casualties3

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