Mystery soldier was not in Medical Corps

William Robert Ridley's name on the roll of honour
William Robert Ridley's name on the roll of honour

The search for information on a soldier from the First World War led a historian to Rothbury, which helped to finally solve his case.

Keith Gregson, an archivist from Sunderland, wanted to find out information about William Robert Ridley, one of 56 names on the First World War roll of honour at Sunderland’s Ashbrooke Sports’ Club, home in 1914 to Sunderland Cricket and (Rugby) Football Club.

William Robert Ridley's name in the membership book at Sunderland.

William Robert Ridley's name in the membership book at Sunderland.

But finding Robert and the reason for his appearance on the roll and in the club membership book required sleuthing of the Sherlock Holmes’ variety.

Keith said: “According to the membership book, he was a doctor working at Sunderland Infirmary in 1912 but I could find only one significant person of that name on The Genealogist website – the son of a bank manager at Rothbury, born 1881, qualified in medicine in Edinburgh and with his parents in 1911.”

In addition there was no sign of a William Robert Ridley in the Royal Army Medical Corps among the mass of online First World War records causing Keith to turn to a general online engine search.

“I was really lucky here as I managed half a dozen valuable hits,” he said.

“The Bailiffgate Museum site records the death of local William Robert Ridley, noting only that he ‘served with the Serbian Red Cross’. Other websites showed that his name turns up in Rothbury in a memorial book and on a number of war memorials. The memorial book also records his service with ‘the Serbian Red Cross’.”

Reflecting on previous work he had done on other wartime serving medics, Keith decided to try historic online copies of the British Medical Journal – and came up trumps.

Keith added: “The BMJ for December 5, 1914 contained an obituary for William Robert Ridley of Rothbury who died of dysentry on November 3, at Kragujevatz in Serv(b)ia.

“He had gone out from England in early September to take charge of a field hospital and was said to have been a genial and friendly sort.

“The Serbian authorities had sent a letter of regret to his parents. The obituary also stated that he had worked for some time at Sunderland Infirmary which cements his link with Ashbrooke where he must have played one of the sports - rugby, cricket, tennis or hockey.”

Two other online sites helped Keith to complete the story. The University of Edinburgh First World War Roll of Honour noted that he had studied at Charles Stewart College from 1900 to 1910 and had joined the Serbian Medical Service, serving as a major and receiving the Serbian Red Cross Diploma and Decoration.

And a Great War discussion site records that in 1914 many medics over 30 were recommended to the Red Cross and service in Serbia (where the war had started). The Royal Army Medical Corps at the time was looking only for men under 30. The medics would have gone to Serbia as civilians.