7 Replies Latest reply on Jan 17, 2022 5:47 PM by Jo Shipley

    Seeking branch and possibly rank of UK soldier

    Kate Oates Wayfarer

      Can someone assist me in determining branch and possibly rank of UK soldier who served during World War II?  These are photos of my son's grandfather, Arnold Oates. We know he served in the UK Military during World War II and 1944 is written on the back of the single portrait of Arnold but I know nothing about the British Military, where he served (possibly Africa??)    The majority of the photos I have were taken in the UK.  He was from the county of Yorkshire and born and raised in Sheffield, England. He died 20 years before I married his son, who is gone now also.    My youngest is now serving in the US Army and would like to know more about his grandfather's service.   As a gift, I'd  like to restore the attached photos for my son but don't know what color the uniforms and or hats were if I decide to have the photos colorized. I would appreciate any help offered as to branch of service and if there is anything on hat or uniform that might indicate rank.  Thank you very much.


      Arnold Oates w_Military Trucks

      Arnold Oates 1944 UKArnold Oates_Train Station_NottinghamArnold Oates_Sheffield

        • Re: Seeking branch and possibly rank of UK soldier
          Jo Shipley Adventurer

          I believe he was a member of the Pioneer Corps based upon the indistinct image of his cap badge.  The Pioneer Corps performed "light engineering work" road building, bomb disposal, logistical operations, etc., as noted by the pick and shovel on the cap badge while the "heavier" engineering work was left to the Royal Engineers.  In the last photo, it appears that Mr. Oates has a lance corporal stripe on his left sleeve but it is very indistinct and may just be a shadow or crease.

          The Pioneers was a very large organization with almost 600,000 soldiers serving in the Corps.  From the Royal Pioneers website:  "In addition to UK troops, Pioneers were enlisted from the Commonwealth and included Swazis, Basutos, Buchuanas, East and West Africans, Mauritians, Rodriguais and Seychellois, Sinhalese, Indians of all classes, Cypriots and Maltese. Syrians, Palestines and Arabs also joined the Corps. In addition, in NW Europe, Free French, Dutch and Belgian Companies of Pioneers were formed."


          Pioneer Corps cap badge

            • Re: Seeking branch and possibly rank of UK soldier
              Kate Oates Wayfarer


              Thank you for your response. That's a great start in our journey to find out more about Arnold's service.  We were clueless about his service and no one still alive in the family to ask.   I realize the photos are in rough shape. In terms of uniform, would the pioneer corps uniforms differ significantly from others?  I'm going to have the photos restored and I want to be sure that the uniform and hat colors are as correct as possible as they will be restoring and colorizing the photos.

              Thank you so much.


                • Re: Seeking branch and possibly rank of UK soldier
                  Jo Shipley Adventurer

                  The British Army had a standard uniform referred to as the 1937 Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) and later the 1940 BDU with a few minor alterations from the 1937 uniform.   The British army uniform was described as dull or drab ranging in color from khaki to light brown.  There's probably not much colorization you can do other than the red and green Pioneer Corps arm of service stripe on the sleeve. 


                  I zoomed in on the photo and what looked like stripes appear to be wrinkles/folds in the sleeve.  There appears to be a formation insignia on the upper right sleeve above the red and green Pioneer Corps arm of service stripe, but I cannot determine what unit it represents. Nor can I tell if there is a Pioneers Corps shoulder title on the upper most part of the left sleeve or the color of the ribbon he is wearing above his left chest pocket.   One thing of interest is the Eldon Street sign in the last photo.  There are at least 3-4 Eldon Streets in England including Eldon Street in London, but none could be matched up with the Oates photo.  Sorry I cannot be more help, but you are fortunate to have the photos.


                  If you want to find out more about Arnold Oates' WW II military service, you can request his service record from the British Ministry of Defense/Army Personnel Center.  Army service number or birth date is required along with a death certificate unless the birth date is more than 116 years ago.  I checked birth records, death records, and the 1939 British Registry and found two "Arnold Oates" resided in Sheffield, one born in 1908 and the other born in 1910.  The Arnold Oates born in 1908 had a son, Graham if that helps identify which on is your Arnold Oates. 


                  Oates on Eldon Street


                  Pioneer Corps Shoulder Sleeve insignia

                    • Re: Seeking branch and possibly rank of UK soldier
                      Sylvia W Scout



                      There is also an Arnold OATES born 6 Sep 1918 (district Sheffield, son of Charles A OATES and Bertha SOMERFIELD) who died  in 1972 (district West Glamorgan, Wales).


                      In the Sep 1939 Register this guy is living in Bakery Lane, Wantage, Berkshire. The interesting thing is that he is a “General Labourer Raoc Depot”. Could this guy have continued with the RAOC during WW2?

                        • Re: Seeking branch and possibly rank of UK soldier
                          Kate Oates Wayfarer

                          Yes. That's Arnold's birthday - September 6, 1918 . His mother was Bertha Somerfield and his father, Charles A. Oates.  He married in Wales and died in 1972 in West Glamorgan.  The info from the 1939 Register is completely new to me.  But if the if the RAOC served in North Africa, that would make sense because so many folks have referenced that Arnold served in North Africa for a time but I couldn't reconcile that with the Pioneer Corps.  So perhaps he moved from the Pioneer Corps to the RAOC.

                          Thank you Sylvia. How do I find the information in the 1939 Register?

                          Best regards,


                            • Re: Seeking branch and possibly rank of UK soldier
                              Jo Shipley Adventurer

                              This is the link to the UK government site where you can apply for Mr. Oates records:



                              As Mr. Oates served in the British Army, the military records application must be submitted by mail.  There is no online option.  The death certificate can be ordered online from the General Register Office (GRO).   Fees are paid via credit card.  You can reference the following if this seems to be your Arnold Oates (the death registry reference will save a couple of pounds and perhaps speed things up).  The Ministry of Defense fee is 30 pounds payable by international money order or international bank draft.  That seems a rather dated way of payment, but I guess they are not set up for credit cards.


                              Deaths Mar 1972
                              SurnameGiven NameDoBDistrictVolumePage
                              OATESArnold6 Se 1918W.Glamorgan   8b4845




                              GRO Death Index Arnold Oates

                              The 1939 Register is available on either Ancestry.com or a British website, Find My Past.  I also checked for Arnold Oates military records on Find My Past but could find nothing.  Mr. Oates appears below the third black line.


                              1939 Registry for Arnold Oates

                    • Re: Seeking branch and possibly rank of UK soldier
                      Kate Oates Wayfarer

                      You are amazing. Thank you so much. I'm US based but I'll see if I can make a request regarding Arnold's records. I don't have a death certificate and it's not quite 116 years.  Arnold was born on September 6, 1918.  His nickname was Yorkie, I believe because he was from Sheffield in South Yorkshire. I too noticed the reference to Eldon Street and searched the map of Yorkshire to see if those houses still existed. It appears as if they were long since razed and built over. 


                      Arnold's father's name was Charles and he married Margaret in West Glamorgan, Wales. Maggie (Margaret) was my mother-in-law and grandmother to my boys but passed away 30 years ago.

                      Everyone I spoke to while I was in Wales said that Arnold had served in North Africa but none of them really knew for sure. as most of them did not know him while he was alive.

                      Thank you for your help.  I so appreciate your assistance.


                      Best regards


                      Kate Oates