War II) negates any chance of checking them all individually for “sensitive” material but a number of checks are proposed. These include the “sampling” of records to see the nature of the data they are dealing with; the scanning of the records for availability on-line whilst at the same time removing all identifiable medical forms and the insistence that no record would be opened until 100 years after the serviceman’s birth unless proof of death can be provided. These of course are not fool proof — after all, records may contain information about third parties whose birth date is not 100+ years ago but the MoD and TNA say they are prepared to take this risk.
The first thing that struck me about these “checks” was the upper age limit — more and more people are living to be over 100 these days and I wonder if actually 100 is old enough, especially as this will set a precedent going into a future that may well see many more
Centenarians (Centurions?). However, that wasn’t what really filled me with foreboding — that was reserved for the idea of getting a third party to scan the documents for on-line viewing whilst at the same time allowing them to destroy the medical and more “sensitive” files. For those of you who aren’t aware, when TNA fi rst arranged to have the Medal Index Cards scanned for posterity and ease of use only the information on the front of the cards was scanned — when in fact the rear of the card contained a great deal of information too! To make matters worse TNA then proposed destroying the cards, meaning that valuable information would have been lost forever. Thankfully the Western Front Association intervened and saved the MICs which are now available in their entirety on Ancestry.co.uk. Is history about to repeat itself? What does that word “removed” actually mean? Are valuable records about to be destroyed forever? Are we to lose part of our history just because a third party deems it sensitive? As I said, my first reaction was one of deep foreboding and I was ready to fire off a letter to the MoD explaining why I and most historians want to look at records that are complete and not tampered with in any way. After all, once these records are gone, they are gone. However, after a while I got to thinking about things — yes, we want to research the recipients of the medals we now hold as fully as possible and we want to know everything about them. But now and again it does us good to remember that the people we are researching are, or were, real live human beings with thoughts, feelings, hopes and dreams just like we all have — and they had the same human failings and frailties that we have. So is it, I wonder, right of us to probe every aspect of their lives? Yes, a full record would paint a