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Forgotten Army Dogtag Project
The Forgotten Army Dogtag Project
Sometimes relic hunting has some very strange days, what we thought was going to be a search at an old anti-aircraft site, turned into lugging home over 12,000 British Army dog-tags! These ranged from pre WW2, Ww2 and post WW2. They also contained almost every regiment the British Army had ever had. So, I cleaned my third share from the weekend. Compiled it all into a giant Excel spreadsheet which contained names, religions, serial numbers, regiments... but what the hell do I do with them all now. I wanted to return as many as possible to surviving soldiers, or failing that to family members. So my logically approach was the Royal British Legion. A couple of emails went backwards and forwards but resulted in a pretty much "no thanks were not interested in helping". Which personally I thought was disgusting, as there was a good chance that some of these guys would be there own members! OK, next! I wrote to every single newspaper. Everyone wrote back saying not interested. Fine! I went down the magazine route, Armourer, Britain at War, Gun Mart and every other magazine that I could think of that may run an article to help. Not one, not even one would help. I wrote to all the TV historians, Tony 'bloody' Robinson, Dan Snow etc. No reply from Tony's people, I guess he's too busy with his nose stuck in some Roman pot. Dan Snow's people were interested, but said that they had no time to spare and wished me luck.
So where did I stand? Pretty much nowhere. All my friends now had on there keys a nice dog-tag bearing their families surname. It was pretty much a case of give me your surname and I would have a tag somewhere in my piles for you. I really did have that many. I kept one of each regiment for myself. I picked out all the Mackay's, Mckay's and other names I liked. Squirrel being a personal favourite. What do I do with the rest? They sat in boxes for months, then I gave up pretty much all hope for returning any. I could at least get them to people like my friends who would appreciate them for what they were. I started individually listing them on Ebay. Most selling for a couple of pounds and the odd one or two making it to double figures! I certainly wasn't going to get rich from these. However, sure enough almost every one I sold went to someone of the same surname. So it was almost a good dead paying for itself.
One fateful day I received a message on EBay from a gentleman saying that he was sure his friends Dad was the name on one of my dog-tags. I told him to confirm it and I would post it to him no charge. I de-listed it from EBay straight away, just in case! Sure enough. he confirmed it was his Father's tag. So I popped it in the post. One, one solitary tag made if home to the family after 70 years. After I had given up all hope. I still have boxes of these tags, rattling around, they are sort of organised by serial number groups. Alphabetical would probably have been more useful thinking about it retrospectively.
Over 3 years has passed since we dug those, I have written to every regiment of the Army that I have tags for, not one, yes, not a single one is interested in returning any of these to former members. How embarrassing for them. Thanks for serving your country, but we no longer really care about you! Nice huh. I have spent hundreds of hours of research over the internet finding odd snippets of information on some of the dog-tags. There are Military Medal winners, PoWs, Foreign medal winners and loads and loads of mentioned in dispatches and hundreds listed as wounded. From this I gained a few leads into returning a couple of other dog-tags, although the tags are still here and it doesn't look as if they are going anywhere soon.
I was recently handed another quantity of these, a third of what we dug over those two days to catalogue and list from one of the other members of Extreme Relic Hunters. There were three of us that day, so far I am the only one to list them all and start researching them. I volunteered to list another 4000+, I wonder at times if I am mad. One such tag marked FH BILLS 14245294. Although a unique name and number just like all the others, it stood out no more than any other tag. I got a hit on War Forces Records website and when I pressed save record. It notified me that someone else had also saved this! With my fingers crossed, I bashed out a quick message explaining who I was and that I had this dog-tag and would love to be able to return it. I got a reply back the very next day which said that FH Bills was still alive and I was speaking to his son. He also often still talks of his time in the Army. Amazed I couldn't reply fast enough, are there any photos of him in uniform, where did he serve, what did he do etc etc. I had an email back saying that he had made notes of his time in service and had written them up for his family to keep and refer back to. I was emailed these and have seen two photographs of Fredrick Henry Bills.
So that is another dog-tag going home, although there are thousands and thousands more to get through. The records at War Forces Records are always being added to and I still have thousands to put through the system, I do wonder how many of these we can return. Fingers crossed!
If anyone wishes to help with this product then they are most welcome. Being located near to the Herts and Essex border would be a big advantage. Email myself for details.
We made a flying visit back to where we dug all these dog-tags to see if they site was still there and hadn't been turned into a housing estate. We were only there about 4 hours, in that short time, 4 of us recovered another 2000 dog-tags. So more cleaning, listing, researching and hopefully some more of these dog-tags will get to go home. This job, its beginning to feel more like a full time job is not going to end for quite a long time. Not that I really mind, I just wish it could be made a little easier. I must thank Neil White at War Forces Records for all his help in this matter. For certain the FR Bills dog-tag would still be sitting in a box without his wonderful website and help he has given me. I know I have said it a few times, but thanks again Neil.
I did think about posting up the complete dog-tag list, but became a bit fearful that people may just claim dog-tags that they had no right to have and could result in dog-tags then not being able to go to the correct homes.
Above :- Our book that compliments the Forgotten Army dog-tag story, reveals hidden individual history's from WW1 & WW2. All profits from its sale goes towards the project of returning as many of these as we can. While stocks last
Although we return all these dog-tags for free, the costs included in cleaning them, recovering them, sorting them, listing them, researching them and mailing them is slowly building up. Even the website costs money! There is no obligation, but if you can spare anything towards this cause then every penny is gratefully received. We have thousands of dog-tags and just to mail one costs £1.75, now times that by the amount of dog-tags! I set up a quick link to Paypal that will go direct to me. If you don't have Paypal and wish to donate using any other means then drop me a message. Many thanks for all the support and help given. Or if you want to get something for your money, why not consider buying my book Men Behind the Militaria, it's full of stories like the dog-tags and the men behind items like them and I will donate all the profit to the project. Unsure what to donate? Most people however have donated £10 and we are so thankful.
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