Who Was He? Researching a Medal Group

The Museum’s extensive archive collection is always a point of interest for our visitors, especially those interested in researching their own family history. As our research service reopens following our extensive redevelopment project, read on to learn about Rod’s journey through the archive to uncover the service history of Military Medal recipient, Sergeant Robert Hynch.

There’s always a sense of anticipation when I embark on a search of our archives, but it’s often a matter of luck that determines if I’m successful or not.  Having knowledge of the history of the Regiment, the collection, the archive material and how it all connects to each other gives a fighting chance, however the search can be a bittersweet process. Every time you look you gain more knowledge of the archive but despite undertaking an extensive search, it is not always possible to find a particular soldier.

Identifying Your Soldier

The first step is to identify the soldier you are looking for. Do you have their Regimental number? Do they have an unusual surname? Did they die in service? Were they awarded a medal for bravery? Were they a sportsman or a musician? These details can help unlock the path to finding service information, but a Regimental number is key (although on a rare occasion you can find a soldier with the same name and number!).

Finding a Regimental Number

This is also known as a ‘service’ or ‘Army’ number. Most medals before and after WW2 will be inscribed with the recipient’s rank, name, Regimental number and the abbreviation of the soldier’s Regiment or Corps.

  • The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders:
    • A and SH
    • A&SH
    • ASHldrs
  • The 91st Highlanders: 91st Foot
  • The 93rd Highlanders: 93rd Foot

Regimental numbers will also appear in service books, enlistment and discharge papers, and often on other military documents. It’s not unusual to find different units on different medals within a set; this means the recipient transferred from one military unit to another during his service. Likewise, if you find a name inscribed which you don’t recognise, the owner may have purchased this medal to replace a lost one.

Where Does the Real Search Begin?

We are searching for the Sergeant Robert Hynch. He received the Military Medal during WW1, and we would like to know why.

From his medals alone we can see that he served before, during and after WW1, and was the recipient of a medal for an act of bravery. This means the search isn’t confined to WW1 sources. My starting point was the Regimental Magazines, which often list when a soldier is promoted, moves between companies, passes an educational or skills course or other significant life events.

In Robert’s case I could also search for his post-war service, and as luck would have it he appears in the first of a series of post-WW1 enlistment books. These give details of soldiers who continued their service after the war, or joined the Regiment after 1919. The enlistment books take us to the end of WW2, when their usage ceased.

The page records that Robert enlisted in Manchester on 7th June 1905, aged 18 years 5 months. When he joined, his civilian trade was noted as ‘plumber’s assistant’. He was born in Hulme, Manchester, and later married Ethel Barnard. His Argylls career finished on 1st December 1926, when he was discharged at the rank of Sergeant with ‘exemplary’ character. This book also notes his later Regimental number 2966401 – this is an important detail which allows me to continue following his post-WW2 service.

From pre-WW1 Regimental gazettes I could confirm his service in the 1st Battalion, and significant life achievements like the award of his 2nd Class Certificate of Education on 15th October 1910, his marriage to Ethel on 12th November 1911, and promotions to the rank of Lance Corporal in August 1912, then Lance Sergeant in December 1912. In February 1914, the couple welcomed a baby daughter.

Knowing that Robert served in the 1st Battalion, my next point of call was the 1st Battalion Nominal Roll books for 1914-1918. Produced in three volumes, this wonderful source gives details on the 1st Battalion men who served during that period but can make for harrowing reading as it notes injuries, illnesses and those who were killed.

Robert was ranked as Sergeant in D Company, and embarked for France on 19th December 1914. His entry reads: “Sent to Hospital (Malaria). To Duty at Infantry Brigade 4th February 1915. Returned to 1st Bn at Front 21st Feb 1915. Wounded in Action 13th April (GSW to neck, slight wounding)”. This was either a ‘general shrapnel wound’ or ‘gun shot wound’; from here I look to the Battalion War Diaries for a clue of the action taking place that day. Unfortunately, the war diary gives little clue as to what was happening in the trenches near Ypres, ‘An average trench day. All trenches, breastworks not very secure, weather good.’ Robert was sent to the 81st Field Ambulance for medical treatment on 16th April and returned to duty shortly afterwards.

Robert’s second entry in the Nominal Roll (pictured above) sees him embarking from Marseilles, France on 27th November and arriving in Salonica on 12th December 1915, still serving in D Company. He suffers from the ill-effects of mosquitoes; he is hospitalised on 9th February 1916 with Dengue Fever, rejoins the Battalion on the 14th, and returns to hospital with symptoms of malaria days later. Robert rejoins the 1st Battalion on the 26th – and luckily avoids further hospital trips! On 3rd January 1918 he is posted to the 12th Battalion.

Why did Robert receive an MM?

Moving to my main research question, a check of our list of WW1 bravery medal recipients reveals Robert was awarded the Military Medal whilst serving with the 12th Battalion. We have in our archive a handwritten notebook of 12th Battalion medal citations, and there we have Robert.

The entry states, “During the operations on the TONGUE on 19/9/18 this N.C.O. found scattered parties of the 11thScottish Rifles and 8th R.S.F. on the left flank of the captured position. He immediately took them under his Command with the remnants of his own platoon
 and was able to repel continued counter attacks made on the left flank of enemy bombing squads who came up under cover of the smoke.”

An entry in the Battalion War Diary gives hint to the severity of fighting in which Robert was involved. 17 Officers and 504 Other Ranks set off in assaulting waves at 4.45am to attack the enemy positions on Sugar Loaf. Proceeded by a barrage, the companies pushed forward. Machine gun fire from two concrete emplacements and an enemy trench mortar barrage severely depleted the attacking ranks. The waves rallied and went forward the “moppers up” dealing with the enemy dugouts and machine guns. They were halted again by heavy fire and three times the companies attempted to reach their final objective but were repulsed. 0550 other units came up and helped assist against the Bulgar counter attacks. The supporting Greek and French troops flank attacks were unsuccessful and the remnants of the Battalion were ordered to withdraw. 0900, enemy heavily shelled area. Battalion withdrew trying to take its wounded and equipment with them. A strong enemy force led by Germans endeavoured to cut off the withdrawal and the men had to fight their way back with many being captured.  12 were killed, 152 recorded as missing and 145 were wounded.

An officer’s memoir gives a vivid description of the fighting that day: “The 12th attack in waves, I jump over the Bulgar trench, dead lying in it, disposed of by the first wave. All goes black, is this death? Then I see upturned earth burying men. I pass men shooting from a shell hole. We’re in the objective alright. I raise my rifle, there’s a fellow taking aim at me, I fire, down he goes. The smoke clears then the machine guns begin to comb the trenches. Then the trench mortars. Casualties are numerous.”

Often local newspapers report on bravery awards, medals, death or wounding, but sadly I had no luck in finding Robert’s amongst our WW1 newspaper cuttings. Robert’s service continued until his discharged in 1926, but I couldn’t find a record of his involvement in significant activity following the war thus here ending my search. There are other online sources which could be investigated but I had exhausted every avenue within the Museum archive. Searches can be frustrating or rewarding in equal measure, but every small piece we uncover honours someone’s memory. Every soldier’s service has an important place in the Regiment’s history – every soldier has a story to tell.

Rod Mackenzie works closely with the Museum’s extensive archive collection in his role as Museum Curator. If you have a relative who served with The Argylls, or perhaps your own medal group to research, take a look at our Research Guidance or submit your own Research Enquiry.