Share your soldier’s story online.
Lives of the First World War was launched by the Imperial War Museums (IWM) today, and over the next four years it’s going to develop as an enormous collaborative project, where we can all, together, commemorate the lives of our First World War ancestors who served in the British and Commonwealth forces.
So far the names of 4.5 million service personnel have been included, but they are just names, and the IWM has invited us – the general public – to fill in our ancestors’ life stories.
Perhaps you have family photos, letters or anecdotes of your (great-)grandpa’s war years. If so you can upload these. Maybe you’ve researched the family history and found them in the census, BMDs, or Gazette. With official sources such as these, you can provide links to your ancestor’s details. And it’s these official sources that are key to the IWM’s Lives project, which wants to blend the authority of research that is backed-up by official records, with our family memories, so that we can share our ancestors’ life stories and preserve them for the generations to come.
If you’ve researched an ancestor’s war years it’s very likely that you’ll have unearthed details about their experiences that have not been handed down through the generations, so demonstrating the fragility of these life stories, and how quickly they can get lost in the passage of time. The narrow escape of one particular family’s papers from being taken to the dump provided one of the inspirations behind the Lives project: the photos, letters and postcards of soldier Thomas William Stratford of the South Wales Borderers, were rescued from the rubbish following a clear-out when his sister Martha (the family archive keeper) moved to a nursing home.
Not only does IWM’s Lives provide an opportunity to share your family’s war stories online, it also provides the chance for you to learn new things about their lives too. As it’s a collaborative project, other people, such as long-lost cousins or members of your ancestor’s regiment, may well contribute to their story too, enriching your understanding of the past. And there will also be the opportunity to create ‘communities’ of ancestors – perhaps of men who served in the same unit, for instance.
As mentioned, Lives so far includes 4.5 million names, but further names will be added in the coming months, so that in the end the 8 million service personnel from Britain and the Commonwealth will all be included.