The Imperial War Museum‘s ambitious project to create a permanent digital memorial to 8 million Lives of the First World War was launched on May 12th. As of today the website contains a Life Story page for over 4.5 million individuals who served at home or overseas during the First World War. These life stories are “seeded” using information obtained from the British Medal Rolls index which provides basic information (name, rank, unit and serial number) for those who served in the British Army. Missing in action are the names of over 650,000 Canadians who served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force – however I have it on good authority that they will be added to Lives of the First World War in a matter of weeks rather than months.
While we await their arrival it’s worth remembering that not all Canadian-born soldiers and nurses served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Many enlisted with British or other Commonwealth Forces while others transferred to Imperial Forces, in particular the Royal Flying Corps, after serving in the CEF. Those Canadians who served in the British Army should appear in the British Medal Rolls index and therefore already appear on Lives of the First World War. So far I’ve found Life Story pages for 3 of the 71 Canadians I’m researching, including Frank Mewborne Dunn.
When the 650,000 Canadians are added to Lives of the First World War they will be seeded using their attestation papers which includes far more information than available from the British Medal Rolls index. I expect it will provide date and place of birth, date and place of enlistment, occupation, next-of-kin details, previous military experience and a range of physical characteristics. The news gets better still when, as reported in a previous post, Library and Archives Canada digitizes your soldier’s service file. This process has begun and there are already 51,000 available for viewing using LAC’s Soldiers of the First World War database search. With access to detailed service files you’ll be able to add a remarkable amount of evidential information to Canadian soldiers you are remembering on Lives of the First World War.
I’m currently remembering eight soldiers on Lives of the First World War, three of whom were Canadian-born:
- Second Lieutenant Frank Mewborne Dunn
- Second Lieutenant Benjamin James George MacBeth
- Temporary Second Lieutenant John Wellington Cummer
Two relatives, both British-born, who I am also remembering are:
- Private Herbert Clifford (my great-grandfather)
- Private Edward Henry Dobson (my great-great half Uncle)
The Imperial War Museum and Library and Archives Canada are doing their bit to provide us with access to data on those who served in the First World War. It’s now up to us, the descendants of these individuals, to bring them back to life by linking together information from a variety of online sources and most importantly by sharing photos and stories handed down by our families.