BRITAIN REMEMBERS WW1... REVISITED
It’s now a year since the First World War Centenary, Jon Bauckham looks at how projects across the UK have been paying tribute to the fallen
We look at how people have been paying tribute to the Great War fallen
Over the past 15 months, people across Britain have been gathering to mark the centenary of the First World War. Between August and November 2014 alone, more than five million of us visited the capital to catch a glimpse of the art installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of
Red,d which featured 888,246 ceramic poppies filling the moat of the Tower of London – each representing a fallen British or Commonwealth serviceman.
While this may well come to be the enduring image of the First World War centenary, it is important to draw attention to the diverse array of research projects that have been taking place nationwide. From classes of schoolchildren, to museum curators, people in nearly every city, town or village in Britain have been devoting their time to unearthing incredible stories from the past.
Many of the projects have received help from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), which has been supplying grants of between £ 3,000 and £10,000 through its ‘First World War: Then and Now’ programme since 2013. In July this year, it was announced that the scheme was to receive an additional boost, with UK Culture Secretary John Whittingdale confirming that the HLF would be setting aside a further £ 4 million for new applications in 2015-16 alone.
Whether in receipt of HLF funding or not, a large number of First World War
research projects have been recorded on
Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine’s Britain Remembers map.
Launched online in February 2014, this interactive resource, which can be accessed for free by visiting whodoyouthinkyou aremagazine.com/britain- remembers, has enabled volunteers to ‘pin’ their project onto a virtual map of the British Isles, with space to include a description, along with photographs and contact information.
At the time of going to press, more than 170 pins have been added to our Britain Remembers map, with different-coloured markers representing projects undertaken by groups, archives and individuals. New pins are being added every week, but how have the first projects to be shared on the map fared over the past year?
One of the first pins to be added to the Britain Remembers map represents a project entitled Tell Them of Us, which is the work of Lincoln-based community film-making group WAG Screen ( wagscreen.co.uk). Although most of the pins on the map represent websites, events or exhibitions, this ambitious First World War Centenary project has seen the creation of a feature-length drama telling the true story of how people in the Lincolnshire village of Thimbleby were affected byb the conflict.
The film was still in production when it was reccorded on Britain Remembers. However,owever Tell
Them of Us has since been screened in Lincoln, and is now available to purchase on DVD. On Christmas Eve, residents of north and north-east Lincolnshire will also get a chance to see the film when it is broadcast on regional television channel Estuary TV – available in approximately 140,000 homes.
Pauline Loven, producer, costumier and a founding member of WAG Screen, says
Tell Them of Us has received “consistently
lov vely reviews” since it wasw unveiled.
“We have heard of individualsi who were profoundlyp affected when viewingv the film,” she tells Who Do You Think You Are?A Magazine.
“It happened once wwhen I was at a screening – a woman was weeping and shakking after viewing the film aas it actually triggered her own mmemories of the Second World Waar and how her family had reacted after thet death of a loved one.” WAG Screen has also just wrapped filming on a documentary that tells the story of William Crowder, one of the main characters featured in Tell Them of Us.
While the film mainly focused on the story of his brother Robert, who was killed at Passchendaele, the group felt that William’s wartime experiences deserved to be shared in more detail – especially the circumstances that led to him receiving a Distinguished Service Order. Made possible through DVD sales of
Tell Them of Us, private donations including from the family and money raised through the crowdfunding website Kickstarter, around 150 dedicated volunteers have been involved in the new project, which is simply entitled William’s Story.
“The Crowders were keen for us to continue and so the extended family have come together to part-finance the follow-up drama documentary on William based on his memoirs, interviews and other material,” Pauline adds. “We are too late for oral histories and the war is now beyond our reach, but its echoes are with us and we should take the time to listen.”
Another ‘pin’ that has made significant progress since the start of the First World War Centenary is the Summerdown Camp Project in Eastbourne ( bit.ly/1FO7rm4), which featured in a Who Do You Think You
Are? Magazine article about the launch of Britain Remembers in 2014.
At the time, the project intended to uncover the history of the military convalescent camp, including both soldiers and members of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps ( WAAC) who worked there.
Eastbourne Borough Council Heritage Officer Katherine Buckland is pleased to report that the project had already been a “huge success” thanks to its volunteers. “We opened an exhibition based on our findings in March and now more than 20,000 visitors have explored the stories of the camp and
discovered the tragic tales of soldiers recovering from the horrific realities of war,” explains Katherine. “We now also have an almost-complete set of the Summerdown
Camp Journals, a weekly newspaper that was published at the camp.
“Our heroic volunteers have catalogued and indexed each of these documents, so we now have – for the first time – a comprehensive list of soldiers who were either recovering or working at the camp, as well as a better idea of how the presence of 150,000 soldiers affected Eastbourne.”
Looking ahead to the future
With three years of the First World War Centenary still to come, many project participants are looking to the future and embarking upon new initiatives altogether. The next 12 months are particularly important due to the fact that 2016 marks several key anniversaries that fall within the wider centenary – perhaps the most significant being 100 years since the devastating Battle of the Somme.
At an international level, the Somme commemorations will begin with a service at France’s Thiepval Memorial on 1 July 2016, which is expected to be attended by 10,000 people. Although the event will be screened across the UK, members of the public can enter a ballot for free tickets by registering their details online at somme2016.com before 18 November 2015.
The anniversary will also be marked by the Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum at Caernarfon Castle ( rwfmuseum.org.uk), which initially added a pin to the Britain Remembers map to promote its World War
One Facess campaign – a project that has involved tracking down pictures of the 10,400 men from the Royal Welch Fusiliers who lost their lives during the conflict as a whole. Although this is ongoing (around 2,000 photographs have been found so far), the museum is now also thinking of ways it can commemorate the Battle of Mametz Wood, a deadly episode of the Somme that accounted for an alarming number of the regiment’s total casualties.
“We are working in partnership with the National Museum of Wales, which will be holding an exhibition in Cardiff about Mametz and will be loaning artefacts from us to put on show there,” Museum Development Officer Shirley Williams tells us. “Although dates are not yet confirmed, we are also planning a two-day event here in Caernarfon with re-enactors from the Great War Society to commemorate the occasion.”
However, the fact that the First World War Centenary is far from over means that there is also plenty of time to add your own project to the Britain Remembers map, which will be open to new submissions until 2018. Whether you represent a local archive or family history society, each project is equally deserving of wider recognition.
But the map is also intended to be a research tool itself – finding out what others are getting up to near you or in the town your ancestors hailed from may pave the way for future family history discoveries.
As demonstrated by these fascinating projects, the power of collaboration is not to be underestimated.
Start exploring and adding to the map now at whodoyouthinkyouaremagazine. com/britain- remembers.
The war is now beyond our reach, but its echoes are with us and we should listen
Who Do You Think You Are?
WAAC cook Nellie Amor’s story features in the Summerdown
The cast and crew of William’s Story, follow-up documentary to Tell Them of Us