This week we launch the latest collection from The National Archives: military burials from overseas garrisons.
Continuing our partnership with The National Archives (TNA), we have added burial records from collection WO 156 (War Office: UK and overseas garrisons: Registers of Baptisms, Confirmations, Deaths/Burials, and Marriage) to the Deceased Online database.
The series dates from 1801 and includes miscellaneous registers of deaths and burials from British military bases in overseas. Details for some of the deaths recorded here may not be found elsewhere; not all those named have a surviving death certificate, for example. Previously, searching these records would have involved a visit to Kew. Much of the collection dates from the period of heavy imperial involvement in the years leading up to the First World War and most are not recorded as official war graves.
The records include military personnel and their families. A surprisingly high number of British women and children were taken to live with the servicemen, particularly in area of non-conflict. My great great grandfather, William Jolly, was stationed on Malta for two years from 1880. His wife, Maria and their four children accompanied him. Happily no one from my family died on Malta but other families were less fortunate. As well as records of those who served in peacetime, there are details of the deaths and/or burials of those who served in the two World Wars. The latest burial dates from as recently as 1984.
The records are as follows:
|Overseas Sites||Burial Dates|
|Cyprus: Polemedia Camp Military Cemetery (WO 156/106 Limassol, Troodos and Polimedia)||1882 - 1984|
|Egypt: Abbassieh Garrison and Helmich Garrison (WO 156/110) 1933-1946||1927 - 1946|
|Egypt: Ismailia Cemetery (WO 156/109) 1931-1942||1929 - 1978|
|Egypt: New British Cemetery, Cairo (WO 156/107 Cairo and Khartoum)||1897 - 1914|
|Egypt: Port Said, Cairo (WO 156/108 Cairo and Port Said)||1902 - 1918|
|Malta: military and civilian burials (WO 156/111) 1823-1829; 156/111 1837-1853; 156/113 1853-1862; WO 156/117 1915-1924;1946; WO 156/121 1830-1837)||1823 - 1946|
|Malta: Garrison of Malta Burial Ground (WO 156/114)||1891 - 1909|
|Malta: Imtarfa Military Cemetery (WO 156/116)||1899 - 1908|
|Malta: Rinella Military Cemetery (WO 156/115)||1890 - 1908|
|Malta: Floriana - Military and Civil Cemetery, Mesida and Quarantine Bastion Cemetery (WO 156/122)||1801 - 1867|
|Singapore: Pasir Panjang (WO 156/119)||1947 - 1959|
Malta became part of the British Empire in 1800 and was an official Crown Colony from 1814. The small rocky island would be of prime strategic importance as the headquarters of the British Mediterranean fleet and on the sea route between Britain and India. Most troops were based at Valetta on the east side of the island. The oldest records of British burials are found in those of the nearby Quarantine Bastion Cemetery in Floriana. This was the largest cemetery in Floriana: the others were Msida Bastion, Cholera Cemetery and Greek Cemetery.
Although Quarantine Cemetery was the largest and enlarged further in 1843, it became full in 1868 and later fell into decay. Further damage was incurred during the Second World War and the cemetery is now the site of the Hotel Excelsior. Details from the memorials and headstones in Msida and Quarantine Bastion cemeteries were saved when they were copied in May 1939. Those copies are held at TNA.
|Msida/Quarantine Cemetery headstone details for Lieutenant James Smyth of the 39th Dorsetshire Regiment, who died Floriana 28th October 1804, aged 27 years.|
Rinella Cemetery is situated at a fort across the Grand Harbour from Valetta and was used by British servicemen and their families between 1865 and 1915. These bodies were later removed to Capuccini Cemetery on the island.
Imtarfa (Mtarfa) Cemetery is near Rabat and Mdina, towards the west coast of the island. Although it is now tended by the Commonwealth War Grave Commission, Imtarfa contains more than 1000 non-war graves.
|The New Dock in the Grand Harbour of Malta as pictured in the Illustrated London News of 24 October 1867|
During the Second World War, Malta was besieged by enemy forces trying to reach North Africa. Pounded by bombs and with little food, the Maltese held out with the support of the Royal Navy in the Grand Harbour, RAF Hurricane fighters and Spitfires. In 1942, King George VI awarded the island the George Cross in thanks to its people for their bravery during the worst of the wartime hostilities. On bestowing the award, the King declared:
"To honour her brave people I award the George Cross to the Island Fortress of Malta, to bear witness to a heroism and a devotion that will long be famous in history."
In 1964, Malta gained independence from the British and became a republic in 1974.
The Malta RAMC website contains a useful list of all regiments that served in Malta over 180 years of colonial history.
Britain was granted control of Cyprus in 1878 by the Sultan of Ottoman Empire in gratitude for recent support against Russia. Strategic to Britain's trade with the Middle East and the Suez route to India, Cyprus would become the base for the occupation of Egypt from 1882.
|Burial entry of Eleanor Dorcas Higgins, daughter of Sergeant Higgins, Commissariat & Transport Corps, who lived at Limassol and who was buried at the Military Cemetery, Polimedia Camp, Cyprus on 12 December 1884, aged 189 days.|
The Ottoman Empire declared war on the Triple Entente of Britain, France and Russia in 1914, breaking ties with their old ally. The Greeks of Cyprus helped Britain in its fight against the Turks and the island became central to the Dardanelles campaign.
|Camp at Troodos, 1900|
From 1925, Cyprus was a Crown Colony and played a major part in the Second World War. After the war, Greek and Turkish independence movements pressed the British to leave. Cyprus became independent in 1960 but British military bases remained. The oldest remaining base is RAF Troodos Station in the mountains, which originally served as a cool summer field hospital for those injured in the Egyptian campaign.
|Cairo c. 1870-1890|
After Britain became the majority shareholder in the Suez Canal from 1875, Egypt formed a key part of the British Empire. Although not an official colony, Egypt was under British economic control. The Suez thoroughfare to India was central to British trade and diplomacy in south Asia. However, the ruler of Egypt, the Khedive strongly objected to this pseudo-colonization and led a revolt against the British in 1882. British forces situated nearby were quick to react. This led to the battle of Tel-el-Kebir in 1882, which the British won, and the subsequent occupation of Egypt.
In 1896, General Kitchener based troops in Egypt and used local forces to support British troops in his attempt to recapture Sudan. Sudan became an Anglo-Egyptian condominium in 1899.
Records of the wives and families of servicemen who were overseas in 1911 can be found on census databases as part of the military census. Both Florence Emptages in the example above were recorded on the 1911 military census of Egypt. That record reveals that 35 year old Florence was born in Somerset and had been married for 5 years. Besides Florence she had another daughter, Marguerite Kathleen, aged 1, who had been born in Ambala, India. Her husband was 30 year old Gunner Henry Thomas Emptage of the Royal Horse Artillery.
In 1914, Egypt was declared a protectorate. As part of the British Empire it was attacked, but not defeated, by the Ottomans. Nationalist movements grew stronger in Egypt after the war and by 1922 Britain granted the nation full independence.
The Singapore collection is smaller than those of Malta, Cyprus and Egypt, covering a shorter period towards the end of the Empire: 1947-1959. Records exist for burials at Fort Pasir Panjang (Labrador Battery), a coastal artillery fort at the southern tip of Singapore, which dates from the 19th century. The fort fell to the Japanese after the Battle for Pasir Panjang in February 1942.
After the war, the country reverted to colonial rule in the form of a British Military Administration from September 1945 to March 1946. In April 1946 Singapore became a Crown Colony, but as elsewhere in the Empire nationalist agitation was growing. On 16 September 1963 Singapore merged with Malaysia and became an independent republic on 9 August 1965.
After British forces were withdrawn from the island in 1971, the cemetery at Pasir Panjang closed and burials were moved to a new military cemetery at Kranji.
|Extract of a page in the Pasir Panjang burial register for 1954|