Researching details of relatives who served in the British Army during World War I can be difficult, as up to two thirds of the service records of non-commissioned officers and other ranks were destroyed by incendiary bombing during World War II and many of the remaining records were damaged. Ironically, it is easier to find details of those who were killed (via war memorials, obituaries, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, etc) than those who survived. The remaining service records have been digitised, but damage to the original documents sometimes means that indexing is unreliable and details incomplete.
For my MSc thesis I looked at ways in which other types of military records and contemporary newspaper articles could be exploited to fill in at least part of the missing information, and I tested my theories by constructing a database of servicemen from the area where I grew up: the Heatons in Stockport. Due to time constraints I was initially forced to limit it to Heaton Chapel, Heaton Mersey and Heaton Moor, with the aim of adding Heaton Norris at a later date. Although I looked primarily at ordinary soldiers, I included any records I found of naval and air personnel as well as Army officers: officers' full records have not been digitised and can only be consulted at the National Archives at Kew.
Having finished my degree, I wanted to make the information available to anyone with an interest in the area, leading to the creation of this website. After uploading the original database in December 2019 I began to add details for Heaton Norris, but soon realised that there was a significant overlap with the neighbouring districts, particularly Norris Bank and South Reddish, so I finally decided to extend the project to cover the whole of the former Heaton Norris and Reddish townships - roughly speaking, the part of present-day Stockport situated north of the Mersey and west of the Tame.
As of 16 July 2021, the database contains just over 5,000 individuals, 837 of whom lost their lives.
Who is included in the database?
I decided that in order to be included, a man should fit into at least one of the following categories:
Recorded on a civic, church or other war memorial within the district.
Recorded on another type of roll of honour, eg. lists of servicemen provided to local newspapers.
Resident in the district at the time of enlistment.
Resident in the district on the 1918 absent voters list.
Recent long-term residence in the district (eg. as shown on census returns).
Inevitably some men in my database have a stronger local connection than others. The two Roman Catholic churches and some of the non-conformist churches in the district (such as St Andrew's Presbyterian Church) drew their congregations from a wider area and logically included these men on their memorials and rolls of honour. Some local war-time residents belonged to families which had lived there for generations, while others were recent arrivals or transients. There is no perfect solution for a predominantly urban area in the early twentieth century, but at the very least I believe that the above criteria provide a valid "snapshot" of the district in 1914-1918.
Heaton Norris and Reddish townships
Until the end of the nineteenth century large parishes in England were sub-divided into townships for administrative purposes: the Heaton Norris and Reddish townships were originally part of the enormous parish of what is now Manchester Cathedral. Heaton Norris finally became a parish in its own right in 1765 when St Thomas’ Church was dedicated, and in the process gave its name to the district of Heaton Chapel.
A short overview of local history
1918 absent voters list
For the General Election of 1918, postal or proxy votes were granted to those serving in the armed forces, the women's auxiliary forces, the merchant navy, and overseas nursing and ambulance services who would have been eligible to vote if they had not been away from home on war service. This applied to men aged 19 or over (as opposed to 21 for ordinary civilians) and - for the first time in Britain - to women aged 30 or over. They were recorded at their normal home address on a special electoral roll known as the absent voters list which gave their name, rank, service number and regiment, and sometimes also their unit. This roll was initially compiled rather hastily from information supplied by their next of kin and details are occasionally slightly inaccurate or incomplete.
If you know of anyone who you feel should be included in the database, please let me know, and I will happily add them to this tribute.