2014 marks the centenary of the First World War and over the next four years there will be hundreds if not thousands of events commemorating the occasion. Many will take place at memorials in towns and cities around the world, however many other commemorations will take place online.
One of the most ambitious projects and the one I’m most looking forward to is Lives of the First World War. The Imperial War Museum has partnered with organizations in Britain and throughout the Commonwealth, including Library and Archives Canada, to create a permanent digital memorial to more than 8 million men and women. On February 20th they will unveil their website, developed in partnership with brightsolid, and invite people from around the world to “discover, build and share the life stories of those who served in uniform and worked on the home front”. As someone who spends my days helping to build information systems and my evenings researching soldiers of the First World War I find this pretty exciting, and for many different reasons.
Firstly, it’s great to see an institution invite private citizens to take an active role in building a collection, and reaching out is something the Imperial War Museum does have experience with. In 1918, a year after it was founded, the museum printed an appeal in war ration booklets asking citizens to send them photos, letters and diaries of their loved ones. This material formed the foundation of the museums collection in 1918 and will help seed Lives of the First World War in 2014.
Secondly, I believe an online memorial must have a permanent home. There are hundreds of websites and blogs, including my own, that house information on these individuals, and those are in addition to the thousands of soldiers scattered on family trees across half a dozen genealogy platforms. Creating a focal point for all this activity will help build the synergy needed to unearth the photos and mementos buried in attics and basements around the world.
The scale of Lives of the First World War also impresses me. This initiative wouldn’t have been possible even 10 years ago. Although the technology may have existed the wherewithal to use it was not commonplace. That’s no longer the case as large segments of the population are increasingly comfortable using social media, digital cameras and scanners, and those that aren’t might now have a compelling new reason to get stuck in.
On a personal level I’m looking forward to connecting with others and discovering more about my family’s experience during WW1. Will I wake up one morning and discover that someone has posted a photo of my great-grandfather in uniform?! I’ve researched dozens of soldiers who I’m not related to and so perhaps the photos, letters and research that I contribute will lead to exciting discoveries for others.
And on a final note, a hundred years ago cutting edge technology was deployed with devastating effect. Today we have the opportunity to put our energy and know-how to far better use. I will certainly contribute time and my research to Lives of the First World War and I encourage you to do so too. It’s a wonderful opportunity to ensure your family’s First World War experience is remembered forever.
Seven things you can do to get ready for Lives of the First World War:
- View the introduction video on the Lives of the First World War homepage
- Read their extensive Frequently Asked Questions list
- Listen to Luke Smith’s interview on Radio New Zealand
- Follow @LivesOfWW1 on Twitter (and @jake_a_loo too!)
- Sign up to their mailing list to stay up to date
- Get ready by scanning your photos, letters and mementos
- Carry on and keep calm until February 20, 2014
Note: the photo accompanying this post is a French real photo postcard showing five soldiers from the 1/6th Battalion Kings (Liverpool) Regiment – The Liverpool Rifles, circa 1916.