The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is a fantastic organisation which maintains cemeteries and memorials commemorating war dead in one hundred and fifty countries around the world. That is important work in itself, but the CWGC also operate a very informative website, which can often prove to be invaluable to genealogists.
The CWGC website offers a free search facility, where users can search either by cemetery or casualty surname. I first made use of this website when I was trying to find information on my great uncle, Robert Frederick Cummings. I didn't know anything about this man, apart from the family story that he had been killed in the Second World War.
The CWGC website was incredibly easy to use. I simply put in my ancestor's surname and initials, and one record was returned. I could immediately confirm that this was the correct Robert Frederick Cummings, as the "Additional Information" section contained details of Robert's parents, my great grandparents.
The rest of the record provided me with details I had no prior knowledge of. Robert was a sapper with the 1010 Docks Operating Company, Royal Engineers. He was twenty-five when he died on the 17th of June 1943. His is one of the names listed on the Brookwood memorial in Surrey.
After discovering this information I knew I wanted to find out more, specifically how Robert died. I was aware that the National Archives would hold information on Robert's company, but first I decided to try a basic Google search. The results were amazing.
From information provided by other genealogists on various family history websites I discovered the following details, amongst much else:
- the 1010 Docks Operating Company were on board the SS Yoma, travelling from Tripoli to Alexandria in June 1943
- on the 17th of June the ship was torpedoed by U-Boat U-81, commanded by Oberleutnant Johann-Otto Krieg
- the ship sank in around six minutes, with the loss of over four hundred and fifty people on board
My great uncle was undoubtedly one of those who lost their lives in this attack. I find it amazing that I was able to find out so much information, all quite quickly, and all for free. I am grateful to my fellow genealogists for sharing the information they had, and I am confident that I can now go on to find out more about Robert's time in the war before that sad day in June 1943.