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Finding ancestors awarded the Meritorious Service Medal

Nick Thorne researches a Flight Sergeant in the RFC awarded the MSM for keeping the planes flying...


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Many of our ancestors served in the military of this country and in the process they may have been recognised by being awarded a medal. Some may have campaign medals in recognition of their service, while others may also have been given a medal for going beyond the call of duty, being granted a medal for gallantry or heroism.

MSM from public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Those of our predecessors who dedicated many years to the armed forces may have been rewarded with a long service medal and if you find an ancestor who had been given the Meritorious Service Medal (MSM) then they are likely to have been a long serving Warrant officer or non-commissioned officer above the rank of corporal, or equivalent. The MSM was first awarded in 1845 and between 1916 and 1928 other ranks could also be in line for a Meritorious Service Medal when, during the First World War, non-commissioned officers below the rank of Sergeant and lower ranks also became eligible - though without being paid the annuity that normally accompanied it. At this time it was often awarded for acts of gallantry in the performance of military duty, though not necessarily while on active service, or to those who saved or attempted to save the life of an officer or a soldier.

The roll of names of those who were awarded this honour up to 1919 are now held by The National Archives in series WO 101. Now TheGenealogist has made these available so that researchers can look for holders online. As an example we can look for Flight Sergeant Frederick J Hellyer who won his various awards while in the Royal Flying Corps. On its formation he would become one of the first NCO members of the RAF transfering to the new branch of the armed services on the 1st April 1918, when the RAF became the world's first independent air force on the amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service.

Born in 1891 we are able to find a record of his baptism in the parish records on TheGenealogist. This reveals that Frederick James Hellyer was baptised in Woolbeding, Sussex on 22nd November 1891. His father was William James Hellyer, a plumber and his mother was Ellen Gertrude.

Baptism in the parish of Woolbeding in 1891

Before he joined the military Hellyer had been an apprentice grocer and in the 1911 census. On TheGenealogist we can find the young man recorded as a 19 year old shop assistant in Odiham, Hants. At this time he was now living with his mother Ellen and stepfather, Alfred Clarke who was earning his living as a carter. Two years later and Hellyer had joined the Royal Flying Corps as a recruit who went directly into the regiment on 29 May 1913. Hellyer would serve throughout the war to become one of the men who would transfer to the new branch of the armed services on the 1st April 1918 when the RAF was formed with the amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service.

Frederick Hellyer, Grocer's shop assistant in the 1911 Odiham, Hampshire.

As the First World War conflict began he had become an Air Mechanic Second Class with the RFC's No. 4 Squadron in France from 12 August 1914. In 1915 Hellyer then transferred to No.17 Squadron where he was part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. From a search of the Meritorious Service Medal records, now released on TheGenealogist, we are now able to see that he was one of the few recipients of the award. In fact he was one of only 134 men in the RFC to be awarded an Army Meritorious Service Medal, receiving his while serving in Macedonia. This points to him receiving the MSM for military services rather than for long service.

Flight Sergeant F J Hellyer MSM medal card on TheGenealogist

By then searching in the occupational records on TheGenealogist we are able to find Flight Sergeant 718 F.J. Hellyer listed in the Military Honours page of The Flying Book 1918, a Who's Who of Aviation. This list charts his holding of a DCM and a MSM by this date.

The Flying Book 1918, a Who's Who of Aviation in Occupational records on TheGenealogist

Turning to look in TheGenealogist's military collection we can not only find his award of the MSM but also see the medal cards for his WWI campaign medals that includes the 1914 Star.

WWI Campaign Medals on TheGenealogist

Further research into this RFC non-commissioned officer has shown that he was also mentioned in despatches while serving with the Egyptian Expeditionary Force in Salonika. The Military records on TheGenealogist reveals Hellyer's Distinguished Conduct Medal card in addition to the MSM and his campaign medals.

Flight Sergeant Hellyer's DCM medal card on TheGenealogist

In an auction that took place in July 2011, Frederick Hellyer's medals were sold for a respectable price of £3800 at Mayfair auctioneers Dix Noonan Webb Ltd. Their website reveals that Fl. Sgt. Hellyer received his MSM 'For valuable services with the Armies in the Field (Salonika)'. The recommendation, they note, states he was honoured 'For exceptionally good work at El Hammam 1916. He worked night and day to keep the aeroplanes at El Hammam in working order. The skill he displayed and the example he set enabled this detachment to carry out its duties with success.'

The auctioneers on their website www.dnw.co.uk described the medal set they sold as 'A rare DCM, MSM group of five awarded to Flight Sergeant Mechanic F. J. Hellyer, 17 Squadron Royal Flying Corps, who won both awards and a mention in despatches for services with the Egyptian Expeditionary Force.'

Frederick Hellyer, it would seem, received pilot training and on the 29 April 1917 he reverted back to Sergeant (1st Class Pilot) from Flight Sergeant. When the Royal Air Force was formed in 1918 he was given the RAF rank of Sergeant Mechanic (Pilot).

For researchers that are looking for ancestors that may have served in the forces at this time TheGenealogist's substantial military records collection is a great place to start. In this case study we have been able to trace a man from his baptism in 1891, to his enumeration in the 1911 census as a shop assistant in a grocer's shop before he signed up for the military. After he joined the RFC we have gone on to see in the military collections on TheGenealogist that this NCO was a rare holder of both a D.C.M and an MSM and with that information some further research then revealed the 2011 sale of his medal set.

Sources:
Research and record images from TheGenealogist.co.uk
Dix Noonan Webb Ltd auctioneers website (www.dnw.co.uk)


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