Was your ancestor absent without leave during the First World War? The Police Gazette published regular lists of deserters and absentees during the war years. These lists can tell you a lot about your ancestor including birth year, occupation, last known address and any distinguishing physical characteristics. While desertion was a capital offence during World War 1, some deserters were never caught and went on to live their lives under an assumed name.
Each record has both a transcript and an image of the original page of the Police Gazette. You can use a keyword search to narrow your search to a place. The amount of information varies but you can find out the following about your ancestor:
Year of record
The image can provide extra information not included in the transcript. Information only found in the image includes:
Physical description (including height, hair and eye colour, complexion, and distinguishing marks like birthmarks or tattoos)
Last known address
Date and place of desertion
The Police Gazette was primarily distributed to police forces around the British Isles and contained lists of persons wanted by police, missing or stolen objects, missing people and habitual criminals. It also provided lists of deserters and absentees from Britain’s armed forces. During the First Wold War these lists were produced as a supplement every fortnight. Unsurprisingly, many deserters went missing after a visit home so each deserter’s last known address is included. Listings also included a full physical description. However, distinguishing features were often abbreviated for space: “sc” appears for “scar”, “ttd” for “tattoo,”etc. Parts of the body were also contracted, such as “frhead” (forehead), “frm” (forearm) or nck (neck). You will also find “bk” for back, “frt” for front and “rt” for right.
Most deserters and absentees were picked up and sent back to the army for court martial. Punishments could be severe but although execution was used in some cases it was not the norm. Some deserters evaded capture altogether, changed their name and went on to live a completely new life.