15 February 2019

Rare First World War artefacts added to Digital Archive

Scores of Hampshire residents rifled through their attics to bring along family heirlooms that reveal the stories of those who fought and died in the First World War.

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The Commonwealth War Graves Foundation, in partnership with the University of Oxford, welcomed visitors to the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport for the latest Lest We Forget roadshow.

Among the items brought along were an original telegram announcing the 1918 Armistice, a soldier’s cigarettes from 1914 and trench art.

The project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, gives people a chance to learn more about the artefacts they have at home and by digitising them create a unique and free to access online archive that will preserve the stories for posterity.

Celia Oxley, from Portsmouth, came along with her son Mark with a fascinating artefact from her great-uncle, Charles Armstrong. She said: “My great-uncle was a Brigadier General and was in charge of maintaining the canals and bridges in France and Belgium. At 7am on 11 November 1918 he received this telegram to say that fighting was to cease at 11am. Straight away he wrote a letter to his wife in Canada and put the telegram inside.

“Many years later when I was going through my aunt’s belongings I found the letter and the telegram dropped out. In the letter my great-uncle said ‘keep it, dear’ and so the family always has.”

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One of the project volunteers, Richard Rattle of Horndean, brought along an original packet of cigarettes and tobacco from 1914. Preserved in their brass tin, they were among those given to troops in the early stages of the First World War as a gift from the Princess Mary fund. Many of the tins are still owned by descendants of soldiers, but those still with the tobacco in are incredibly rare.

Andrew Fetherston, Chief Archivist at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, said: “It was great to see so many people come join us in Gosport and share their fascinating stories.

“Being able to speak to visitors and take a digital record of the artefacts they have at home means we can preserve these stories for future generations and build on our collective understanding of what the First World War meant to those who served, but also their families.

“The Lest We Forget archive will remain available for people to browse at their leisure and we have more collection days coming up in Plymouth, Aberdeen and Stonehaven for anyone else wanting to get involved.”

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Shirley Churcher, of Gosport, brought along a piece of trench art – a model tank which had been made by a soldier during their spare time in the trenches – that had been handed down by her grandfather. She said: “My grandad was only young when he left home for the First World War and ended up going off on a ship to the Dardanelles in Turkey. He didn’t like to talk about the war but we knew he travelled about the world and he saw a lot of places.

“I don’t know where he picked up this piece of trench art but it’s just been one of those things we had at home. I saw about the Lest We Forget event and thought I’d bring it along to learn a bit more about it. I didn’t imagine it would be of so much interest to people.”

For more information about the project and to view the online archive see: www.cwgc.org/lest-we-forget

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