Bringing colour to your past: have you got a war hero in your family?

Blogger: GemSen More and more people are becoming interested in genealogy — and in particular military genealogy — especially as the centenary of the Great War looms...
You never really know where your family research is going to take you, which is exactly what makes it so exciting. Add the events of war and history to the mix and you can often weave together some compelling, real-life stories that bring a true depth of colour to your family's past. Looking at your ancestors in the framework of such rich British military history makes genealogy much more than just dates and places – it’s about people, heroes, bravery, lives saved and lives lost. It’s about your history — it’s about you! Many people trace their history back to the battlefields of World War I and reveal fascinating stories from nearly 100 years ago, which have the potential to make the whole family interested and proud. For example, I stumbled across an article the other week where journalist, Matthew Davis had traced his genealogy back to WWI battlefields in Ramicourt, France. It was here that his great grandfather, Sgt William Henry Johnson, had been awarded a Victoria Cross for his gallant actions. Revealing the courage of a military ancestor… Back in October 1918, Matthew’s great grandfather, Sgt William Henry Johnson, would have been among a wave of Allied soldiers in the village of Ramicourt on the Beaurevoir-Fonsomme line. This area was part of the Hindenburg Line system of fortified villages, trenches, and gun emplacements that formed the last line of German defences on the Western Front. In the feature Matthew visited the fields of Ramicourt in Northern France where his great grandfather carried out this great act of bravery, all those years ago on the morning of the 3rd October. That was the date that  Sgt William Henry Johnson, a platoon leader of the 1/5th Battalion, and The Sherwood Foresters attacked the German positions along the line and advancing behind fierce artillery fire. With his platoon restricted by a cluster of enemy of machine guns at close range, Johnson took it upon himself to single-handedly charge the enemy, risking his life while bayoneting several gunners and capturing two machine guns. It was the extreme bravery that Johnson demonstrated on the battlefield that won him the highest military declaration — the Victoria Cross. A military citation by the commander of Britain’s fourth army, who awarded Sgt Johnson with the award goes on to describe the brave act in more detail: "During this attack he was severely wounded by a bomb, but continued to lead forward his men. Shortly afterwards the line was once more held up by machine guns. Again, he rushed forward and attacked the post singlehanded. With wonderful courage he bombed the garrison, put the guns out of action, and captured the teams. He showed throughout the most exceptional gallantry and devotion to duty." On the tour of the battlefield Matthew found a little piece of family history — the bunker that his great grandfather Sgt Johnson apparently stormed. “But now the dry military documents are brought to life and every detail of the scene has a potential story”, writes Matthew. Venturing into one of the bunkers Matthew sees a bullet casing, metal plate, bucket and a mug. All this paraphernalia brings his grandfather’s story even further to life. Unlike many other WWI soldiers, a wounded and sick Sgt Johnson eventually made it home from battle to Worksop, Nottinghamshire. He passed away in 1945 and rarely spoke of the war. According to the article, while Sgt Johnson was recuperating in France, one of the sisters in the hospital wrote to his wife to offer congratulations on her husband's honour:
"He has not told us by what act of special courage he won the distinction, and his modesty only enhances its value. We who have been with him through his long and trying illness can really appreciate the moral courage which goes to make up the true hero."
Source: BBC News Magazine Find out more with Forces War Records… Do you know enough about your ancestors and their military past? Why not log on to Forces War Records and search our vast collection of records to find out more  – there could be a war hero in your family just waiting to be discovered, and remembered… Why not delve into our ‘historic documents’ library and read some of the interesting war diaries that we get sent – there’s nothing quite like reading a personal account of war, as history unfolds itself through the eyes of somebody who was actually there. Forces War Records are fortunate to receive such amazing real life war stories involving lashings of courage, and now you can read some of them – completely free of charge. You can now also record your findings and import your family tree at the click of a button on Forces War Records with your GEDCOM genealogy software files. GEDCOM files contain genealogical information about individuals that can be linked together, imported and exported. Use this new family tree feature and take advantage of the company’s extensive record collection.
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