Belfast Telegraph

Friday 31 October 2014

Digital archive of WWI stories

A British soldier pays his respects at the grave of a colleague after the Gallipoli landings in 1915

The life stories of millions of people who served during the First World War are to be preserved in a permanent digital memorial.

Lives of the First World War will use information from the public over the next five years to piece together the stories of more than eight million people from across Britain and the Commonwealth who served abroad and on the home front.

The project, run by Imperial War Museums (IWM) with DC Thomson Family History, whose other sites include findmypast and Genes Reunited, is launched today with the records of more than 4.5 million men and 40,000 women who served with the British Army overseas.

They include Sister Martha Aitken, who served in the Territorial Force Nursing Service in casualty clearing stations and military hospitals in France and Flanders; Private Michael Lennon, who fought with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers at Gallipoli; Albert Tatersall, from the North West, who lined up for the attack on the first day of the Battle of the Somme; and Thomas William Stratford, who served in China and Gallipoli before being wounded in France and discharged.

While many details are known about their lives, the IWM is still looking for various extra details, and many people in the project are still just names, leaving organisers appealing to the public to help piece together their life stories.

Luke Smith, IWM's digital lead for the war's centenary, said: "The launch of Lives of the First World War is just the beginning. We need the public to help us piece together over eight million life stories, so that we can remember these people now and in the future.

"Everybody can contribute to Lives of the First World War, whether they choose to simply remember someone online, upload a picture from their family album, share a story passed down through generations, or connect official records to build a full and factual picture of what happened to that person throughout the war.

"This is the start of a journey and we urge everyone to get involved."

Over the coming months, millions of new records will be added to the site, including from the Royal Flying Corp/Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy, the Canadian Expeditionary Force and the Australian and New Zealand Imperial Forces, as well as records of almost 17,000 conscientious objectors.

Organisers are also hoping to include the Indian Army, home front workers, and others who made a contribution from across the empire.

Dan Snow said: "Lives of the First World War will become an extraordinary online memorial - one of the most extraordinary war memorials ever.

"IWM has created Llives of the First World War and is now handing it over to us, the public.

"We need to make it happen by uploading information about our First World War ancestors, piecing together their stories, remembering them and saving this knowledge for future generations."

Over the centenary period - from this year, 100 years since the First World War started, until 2018 - it is hoped the site will grow to become a permanent digital memorial, and will be maintained by the IWM beyond the centenary as a research tool for future generations.

The site is free, including uploading pictures and adding family stories, and IWM is not looking for original copies or letters, photographs or diaries, but is encouraging people to keep them in family collections for future generations, instead uploading and sharing images on the site.

Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Sajid Javid said: "This is a brilliant and very important project. One of the most potent ways of bringing that time alive in people's minds is to tell the story in terms of the individual people who contributed.

"Lives of the First World War uses the internet to do just that, creating a collection of images, stories and memories that will fascinate, educate and enlighten people for generations to come."

The site can be found at www.livesofthefirstworldwar.org

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