Sometimes visits to the Archives don’t go the way you think they will. A couple of years ago a visitor came in to look at building records. As he was about to leave he asked if we had any records on his Grandad’s military service during World War 1. As a young boy he could remember his Granddad, Robert Doig, telling him that he suffered an injury as he went into battle in 1917 and was taken as a prisoner of war. The injury to the leg was so severe it resulted in its amputation by a German doctor. These childhood memories were all the information he had. Were they true and could we find out more?
Unfortunately when it comes to the First World War, information about surviving soldiers can be a little scant. Most service records were destroyed in a fire in 1940. Those which do survive are held at the National Archives in London. It seems that Robert’s record was one of the many that was burnt. Without knowing his regimental number or even the regiment he served in, finding any information would be a bit tricky.
Always keen to help, we put our thinking caps on. When looking for information you have to think about what you already know . What did we know about Robert? He was in the Army in 1917. He was wounded and taken prisoner. In some cases missing men were often reported in the local press.
After a bit of searching on the British Newspaper Archive, we found an article in the People’s Journal from the 27th of October 1917. This confirmed Robert’s story of losing a leg in the war and his capture by the Germans. We found out that Robert was a Private in the Black Watch.
We were aware that the International Committee of the Red Cross made their WW1 POW records available online in 2014. We helped the enquirer to search these records and find out more information about his grandfather. There were 2 Robert Doig’s, both Privates in the Black Watch, who were taken prisoner. As one was captured in 1918, we soon worked out which one was our man. View Robert’s records on the ICRC website.
From the records we see that Robert was born on the 8th of August 1892. His next of kin was his father James Doig whose address is given as Watson’s Land, Invergowrie. It appears that Robert received a bullet wound to his right leg on the 31st of July 1917 at Ypres, which was the opening day of the Third Battle of Ypres (also referred to as Battle of Passchendaele).
As a result of this wound he was captured and moved from Belgium and taken to a POW camp in Duisburg, Germany and later Dülmen. Robert was later repatriated back to the UK via the port of Boston, Lincolnshire. He was then moved south to London on the 20th of January 1918 to receive medical care at the 1st London Hospital. The records show that his leg by this time had been amputated.
The researcher was overjoyed by what we helped him to find. The Red Cross records were able to confirm his grandfather’s stories about how he lost his leg. These are a valuable resource and well worth trying if you know a relative was taken as Prisoner of War during WW1.