undertake such a huge project? Original research into
local history at Portsmouth, revealed many names, few of which
featured in the Dictionary
of National Biography
or other standard references. Whilst any individual can make a
significant contribution to contemporary events, the importance of
their standing amongst their peers, whether social or otherwise, is
essential if such a contribution is to be judged against the evidence
and events of the day.
need to determine who was doing what and when was obvious. Not
quite so obvious, perhaps, was the requirement to determine the
actual dates in office - the significance of a letter from, say, the
First Sea Lord written the day after he left office would be very
different from one written two days earlier. Thus a collection
of succession lists was started; a collection which was by no means
restricted to the Navy.
work was given a new urgency when reports were received, from within
naval circles, that some Honours Boards' - probably more
correctly called Succession Lists' - were being burned, thrown
away or painted over, and a start was made to record those available
locally, supplemented by written sources. There should be no
great surprise in this apparent vandalism - as the Navy has reduced
from 750,000 in uniform at the end of WWII, down to the present
40,000 or so, there is a practical limit to the staff effort which
can be directed towards preserving our historical record.
of the Boards do relate to what today we refer to as Naval
Officers' and a number survived of the more senior post-holders.
But, to take Portsmouth as an example, whilst no Board has been
located for the Commander-in-Chief, Boards do exist for the Dockyard
Commissioners, Superintendents, Master Attendants, Master Riggers,
Storekeepers and Police - and others are known to exist.
amount and quality' of information contained on these Boards
varied enormously but every board seen to date has contained at least
one unique piece of information. This has been found to be
particularly true of the more recent data which are generally
accurate and often give three key pieces of information; the actual
date of succession, the date on which the title of the post-holder
changed, and the new title. Additionally, when a particular
office was only held for a short period of time, there has been
difficulty in tracing the information in any other way.
case in point is a beautifully illuminated list which hangs in a
corridor in the new Victory building at Portsmouth. It is
grossly inaccurate, providing an interesting reflection on the ego of
later post-holders. However one entry refers to a man who spent a
single day in office. This has subsequently been verified but
without this list as a starting point, the appointment would have
been difficult to recover in any other way. And even the Navy
Lists, although not themselves notoriously accurate, have provided a
progressive reduction in detail.
indexing began on a small pilot scheme, it became apparent that a
large scale data gathering exercise was required. Although the
data from the Boards could be invaluable, it was only a starting
point of variable accuracy, and most of the information required
checking from primary sources. It therefore seemed possible and
logical to provide a research tool of much broader significance,
given that there was no comprehensive listing of our people. So
the project began.