Researching a soldier
How to interpret a medal index card
The medal index cards are not easy to interpret. Here are some tips that will help you make sense of a card you have found.
The standard card
There are two variations on the standard index card. The one found most often is shown here. The items highlighted by the red box are common. They are the man’s name, numbers and the regiments or corps with which he served. In this example, Jesse S. Coulson served as Private 4658 with the 7th Dragoon Guards. There is a “do” for “ditto” under the entry: this is a common feature and it refers to the fact that he appears on two medal rolls – see below. The Star and the other two medals were issued at different times.
The next section of the card shows the medals to which he man was entitled.
There are references alongside them: CC/103/B3 page 117 and CC/7 page 13. These are references to the places where Jesse is entered in the rolls. The Victory Medal and the British War Medal are on one roll, and the Star on another. Note that the “do…do” against the British War Medal means “ditto…ditto”. The rolls are not available on line. They are held in original form at the National Archives in Kew. For thorough research it is essential that they are examined, for they often include more information about the soldier – this is certainly the case for men of the infantry, cavalry or yeomanry. Sadly, for men in the larger corps like the Royal Engineers, Royal Artillery, Machine Gun Corps, Army Service Corps, Army Veterinary Corps, Army Ordnance Corps and Labour Corps there is usually no information about the man’s unit unless he went overseas very early.
For men who went overseas up to the end of 1915 it was normal practice to enter the date on which the man had first disembarked in a theatre of war. It is usually – but not always, as we can see from Jesse’s card – accompanied by a code telling us which theatre of war it was. List of codes
Jesse may have served with other units or regiments in the army before he went overseas or once he had retuened home after the fighting. The medals documents do not tell us this for they only cover the period of entitlement, which started when he hit the shore of a theatre of war and end on 11 November 1918. As ever with these things, you can find exceptions that do mention service prior to this time, but they are rare.
Officers index cards often give the date on which he first went overseas even if it was after 1915.
Many cards are marked with an asterisk or similar symbol. These highlight the details that are inscribed in the rim of the medals (name, rank, regiment etc).
The card below shows an officer’s entitlement.
The interpretation is as follows: Cuthbert Lawson landed in France on 1 September 1917, at which point he was a Lieutenant with the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment). He later became an Acting Captain with the 7th Battalion of the same regiment. He qualified for the Victory Medal and British War Medal, and his details are on roll Off/126 page 51. His pair of medals were issued on 25 January 1922. Lawton also won the Military Cross, from the “MC” that appears next to his name. The other codes on the card have no useful meaning.
Below is a splendid example of a card for a man that was commissioned as an officer having previously been in the “other ranks”. The important reference is “Comm”, for “commissioned”.
Note too that this brave soldier was awarded the Military Cross, Distinguished Conduct Medal and Military Medal. The last two were awards to the “other ranks”, the MC was for officers and senior NCOs.
The second type of card
The image below shows the second type of card. It is essentially the same but the medals details appear in a box rubber-stamped top right instead of bottom left.
Third type of card
The third type of card covered the issue of a Silver War Badge. There is no reference to any medals. Sometimes this was because the man had no other medal entitlement; sometimes because the man had two index cards (one for the medals and one for the badge).
Here is an example where the entitlement to the Silver War Badge was written on the standard card. The soldier appears on the roll, or “List”, F/674.
Miscellaneous references on the cards
Class Z Army Reserve
Class Z Reserve was authorised by an Army Order of 3 December 1918. There were fears that Germany would not accept the terms of any peace treaty and therefore the British Government decided it would be wise to be able to quickly recall trained men in the eventuality of the resumption of hostilities. Soldiers who were being demobilised, particularly those who had agreed to serve “for the duration”, were at first posted to Class Z. They returned to civilian life but with an obligation to return if called upon. The Z Reserve was abolished on 31 March 1920.
The card below shows a reference to “A.R.Z”. This is also see as “Class Z”, “Cl. Z”, “Cl Z AR”, “Dis” and other variants, sometimes with a date. They all mean that the man was eventually discharged to Class Z Army Reserve.
Sometimes”Dis” or “Disd” appears. This means the man was discharged but not necessary by transfer to Class Z Reserve.
Death in service
If the soldier died during his army service, it is usually marked on the card. Note usually, not always. It is often given as “KiA” or “Killed” or “Dead” or similar. In the example below, the date given is that when the man’s death was officially accepted. It appears that he had been missing and his presumed death was officially recorded on 26 March 1917.
The reference “TE” or “T/E” means “Time expired” and “T of E” means “Terms of Engagement” (expired). That is, the man had reached the end of his agreed period of military service. It applies only to pre-war soldiers of the regular army, Special Reserve or Territorial Force. The man was allowed to return home. From 1916 onward, however, many TE men returned to or were retained on active service as conscripted soldiers, despite their earlier service being completed.
King’s Regulation 392 was the one covering causes of early discharge of a soldier from his service commitment. It had a large number of subordinate clauses, which are listed here. “392″ or KR 392″ or variants of it, are often seen on the cards, in most cases with a date which is when the man left the army. See this page for the clauses
The remarks “Rtd”, “Retd” or “Retd undisposed of” sometimes appear on cards. Soldiers did not have to apply for their medals – they were automatically sent out. Sometimes the man (or his next of kin, if he had died) had moved and the medals were not deliverable. They were then returned to the Medals Office. Sometimes an error was made in the rim inscription, and the soldier returned them for re-issue.
The reference “EM” or “Emb” means that the man was mentioned in despatches. The coded reference is now rather obscure. Sometimes an IV (“issue voucher”) date appears, as in this example that shows 16 June 1920.
It was not usual to record personal information such as address, age or next of kin on the cards, but it is occasionally found as in this example of a War Badge card: