11 July 2019

Digital archive reveals First World War stories

More than 800 family stories from the First World War have been preserved for future generations to share in a digital archive, created by the Commonwealth War Graves Foundation and the University of Oxford. Following a series of roadshows and community-led events, the free-to-access Lest We Forget online archive will preserve a snapshot what life was like for the wartime generation.

Attendees at a Scottish Lest We Forget event

Nearly 10,000 images have been catalogued of artefacts ranging from emotional personal letters, to hand-carved mementoes from the trenches. The whole collection is now digitally available to browse and will provide a valuable resource for anyone wanting to develop their understanding of life on the battlefields and for the families they left behind.

Lest We Forget was jointly delivered by CWGF and the University of Oxford thanks to support from The National Lottery Heritage Fund. It saw more than 1,300 visitors attend a total of 38 events – from Devon to Dundee. In total more than 520 volunteers helped to photograph objects, interview event attendees and turn everything that was captured into an easy-to-use tool.

John Grain, executive director for CWGF, said: “We would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who attended or volunteered at one of the many Lest We Forget collection days. Thanks to everyone’s efforts we now have an online resource that is teeming with artefacts and the human stories behind them and would encourage anyone with an interest to start exploring these stories.

“The Commonwealth War Graves Foundation is here to keep alive the stories of the war dead and this archive preserves another 800 First World War memories for generations to come. We are grateful to our partners at the University of Oxford and to The National Lottery Heritage Fund for supporting this wonderful project.”

Some of the Lest We Forget submissions

Dr Stuart Lee, from the University of Oxford, said: “The University of Oxford was delighted to work with the CWGC on this project, extending our work on digital projects around the War started some twenty years ago. The level of engagement from schools, pupils, teachers, volunteers, and members of the public was both heartening and humbling, and the number of stories and objects now preserved and made freely available to researchers is extraordinary. All of these will also form part of the Europeana 1914-1918 project which holds over half a million items crowd-sourced from across Europe.”

Teams from CWGF and the University of Oxford helped deliver four national roadshows in Edinburgh, Bradford, Gosport and Plymouth before communities were encouraged to take up the mantle. A further 34 volunteer-led collection days took place throughout the country.

All of the items that were digitised, and the stories from their owners, can be viewed online at the Lest We Forget memorial trail.

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