First World War: archive sources at Bristol Archives

Posted on by Fay Curtis.

Allie Dillon, Senior Archivist (Public Services)

Photograph of the Black Watch leaving Bristol on Park Street in 1915 during the First World WarBristol Archives holds numerous sources related to the First World War. Selected collections and papers are described here, although this is not a comprehensive list.

Thank you to all of the volunteers who helped to identify and catalogue this material.

Anyone is welcome to consult the material described below by visiting Bristol Archives. If you can’t visit Bristol but would like more information about these records, please contact us.

Service records

We do not hold any military service records. Key sources for information about Bristol servicemen are:

The Bristol 2014 website contains a guide to researching Bristolian ancestors in the First World War.


  • Minutes of the Bristol Citizens’ Recruiting Committee, 1914-1920 (RefNos. 44937 and 11927).
  • Sheet music for the recruiting song ‘Bravo Bristol,’ by Fred Weatherly and Ivor Novello, 1914 (RefNo. 12631/16).
  • Souvenir history of ‘Bristol’s Own’ volunteers (the 12th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment), July 1915. This names all the regiment’s companies and soldiers (RefNo. 42302/1).

Municipal records

  • Records of the Prince of Wales War Relief Fund, 1914-1940, which assisted military families in financial difficulty (RefNos. M/BCC/RPW, 09069 and BCC/A/LM/C/LM12).
  • Papers kept by the Lord Mayor’s office, which include brief files of news cuttings, correspondence and other material on various wartime activities, particularly fundraising and entertainments for wounded soldiers (RefNo. BCC/A/LM/C, especially BCC/A/LM/C/LM1).
  • Papers of individual Lord Mayors, including photographs, news cuttings, event programmes and other items: Barclay Baron (RefNo. 36819), Frank Sheppard (RefNos. 11173 and 11176) and Henry W Twiggs (RefNo. 32759).

Political papers

  • Bristol Trades Council speeches, leaflets and anti-conscription literature, 1914-1919 (RefNo. 32080).

Munitions factories

  • Plans showing Number 23 National Filling Factory at Chittening, no date (RefNo. 35749/95/a-b).
  • Plans of the Ministry of Munitions West of England Instructional Factory at Gloucester Road, 1917 (RefNos. 42054.G.Drawer 4/16919-16934).

Records of W D & H O Wills, tobacco manufacturers

Relevant material includes army supply contracts and wartime cigarette cards, plus material gathered for a 50th anniversary publication, including employees’ reminiscences and original photographs taken in France (RefNo. 38169).

Personal papers

We hold a number of personal collections donated by individuals or families, often containing service papers, identity cards, ration books, photos and correspondence. Some key collections are:

  • Scrapbooks of Maude Boucher, 1914-1921 (RefNo. 44859): 21 volumes giving a personal perspective on the war in Bristol through photos, news cuttings and handwritten notes.
  • Letters from Roy Palmer to his cousin in Bristol, 1913-1916 (RefNo. 42737/1/2): early letters describe his eagerness to join up and complaints about women entering the workplace; later letters record service in France and Belgium before he was killed in 1917.
  • Letters between Florence and Grantley Cottle, 1916-1918 (RefNo. 44775): Grantley Cottle was in the Royal West Kent Regiment and his fiancée Florence lived in Easton. Most letters were written by Florence, giving insight into a woman’s experience of the Home Front.
  • Papers of Stanley Booker, c1907-c1924 (RefNo. 40715/Pers/SCB): photographs, military badges and letters to his family, written during service in England and at the Front. He died trying to rescue a fellow soldier.
  • Papers of the Watson-Williams family, 1905-2000s (RefNo. 41987): the papers of army officer Guthrie Watson-Williams include his letters and reminiscences about duty at the Front and in Bristol. His sisters were Margaret, who worked with Belgian refugees, and Marjorie, better known as the artist Paule Vézelay, who illustrated ‘A Diary of the Great War’ by Samuel Pepys Jr. The catalogue for this collection is not yet available online.

The Vaughan postcard collection (RefNo. 43207)

This collection includes around 200 First World War postcards from Bristol, showing troops, hospitals, Belgian refugees, peace celebrations and war memorials.

The catalogue is arranged by theme. Wartime postcards can mainly be found at RefNos. 43207/7, 43207/8, 43207/26 and 43207/27 but it also helps to search the collection by keyword.

Photos of the 1914 International Exhibition, which became soldiers’ barracks, can be found at RefNo. 43207/22/3.

Honour and remembrance

  • Roll of Honour of Bristol officers, NCOs and men awarded decorations during the Great War, 1919 (RefNo. 39769/1)
  • Rolls of honour were also created by other organisations, such as Bristol Corporation, local employers, schools and churches – these can be found by searching our online catalogue.

Post-war developments

  • Bristol City Council housing estates terrier, 1919-1925 (RefNo. 42098), with details of council housing developed in accordance with the Housing Acts of 1919-1925.
  • Minutes of the council’s Relief Committee, 1920-1933 (RefNo. M/BCC/REL), established in 1920 to relieve distress caused by post-war unemployment.
  • Report of a Bristol conference on the position of women in industry after the war, 1918 (RefNo. 40458).
  • Report of the Committee on the Employment of Women on Police Duties, established following the appointment of women police during the war (RefNo. Pol/PM/4/1).

Online catalogue

Further First World War material is listed on our online catalogue, often amongst the papers of various organisations, businesses, schools and churches.

To search thoroughly, try different search terms, such as ‘First World War’, ‘Great War’, ‘World War One’, ‘World War 1’ and ‘WWI’. Searching for material dated 1914-1918 is also useful.

Other sources

Local newspapers and the First World War magazine ‘Bristol at War’ are available at Bristol Central Library.

Images shown:
Bristol’s Own: fatigue party, 1915 (RefNo. 43207/8/47)
The Black Watch leaving Bristol, 1915 (RefNo. 43207/7/57)

3 comments on “First World War: archive sources at Bristol Archives

  1. Andy Bradley


    I’m not sure that this is the right place for a request for help.

    I would like to find out more about Joseph Arthur Hill, born 6 July 1889 in Bedminster. Was a good boxer. Worked in some capacity in the coal industry. Served as a gunner in WWI but I don’t know which regiment for sure. Rose to rank of sergeant. At some point was stripped of his stripes for knocking out a man who insulted his mother. Later was severely wounded, pelvis badly damaged, lost an eye, shrapnel over his skull.

    I’ve been to the National Archives but it seems his records were lost in the WWII fire.

    Local newspapers of the time might be able to help. Which one would be most appropriate, please? Is it digitised, please? I’d want to look out for his disciplinary action, and being wounded.

    He was a wonderful man. Never complained about his terrible injuries.

    I’d be happy to pay for a researcher to take this further if that was necessary.

    If this has come to the wrong place, could I trouble you to forward it or cut and paste it to someone in the local area who might be able to help.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    With thanks in anticipation,

    Andy Bradley
    Dr A K Bradley


    1. Hazel

      The Glosters Regiment papers were lost in WW2 most Bristolians joined them, Regiment


  2. Brendan Clifford

    Please contact me at [email protected]

    Would like to tell your townspeople of my father’s 1916 encounter with German Submarine U-19 (it’s deck gun presently in Bristol’s Ward Park).

    Please confirm you have received this email.

    Dr. Brendan Clifford

    Harvard School of Public Health

    [email protected]


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