Ian Hislop launched the website and the forthcoming Channel 4 First World War documentary season at an event at the IWM London on November 3. © 24 Hour Museum/Richard Moss.
The Imperial War Museum (IWM) and the UK National Inventory of War Memorials (UKNIWM) have partnered with Channel 4 to launch an online database of First World War memorials across the UK.
Accessible online for the first time the new facility will make details of the memorials and the names recorded on them accessible via a fully searchable database.
Announced at the IWM, London on November 3 2005, the new online record will be turned into a ‘living war memorial’ with a facility for viewers to upload pictures and text, documents and images of personal effects linked to names that resonate for them.
This war memorial, made of snow, was built by returned servicemen in Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire. The men were impatient with the Local Authority for delaying the erection of a war memorial in 1921. © UKNIWM.
Alan Borg is a former director general of the IWM, an author of a book about War Memorials and a driving force behind the UKNIWM. He explained how Channel 4 approached the Inventory, which is a charitable organisation supported by volunteers and based at the IWM, with an offer to help make their 16 years of hard work accessible to all.
“It was a very big task that required a lot of resources and Channel 4 came riding over the hill like the proverbial white knight to our aid,” he explained. “The result has been what I think is one of the best combinations I have come across between a project such as the War Memorials Inventory and a TV company.”
As well as upwards of 2 million names of men and women (and animals) who made the ultimate sacrifice for king and country the inventory uncovers everything from community crosses to gardens, hospitals and other memorials - such as stuffed regimental mascots and stone monuments for animals.
“It’s a win-win situation for all,” added Mr Borg, “and we are providing for the nation as a whole, the most marvellous tool to investigate and research their own histories and to add things on to that.”
Sammy, the regimental dog of the 4th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers. Killed in 1916 he now resides in the Fuslier's Museum. © Fusliers Museum of Northumberland.
The database, which has been launched in time for the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, will ultimately sit on the UKNIWM’s site and allow people to put faces and personalities to the names carved in stone on the monuments. It will also allow them to discover the 'where and when' of the names of family members.
Details of over 53,000 memorials recorded so far will also be made available online from November 14 through a Channel 4 First World War website called Lost Generation. This site will feature the searchable database of First World War names on memorials together with a rich mix of editorial content that includes guidelines for researching family history, interactive timelines, blogs and a 3D interactive tour of British and German trenches.
The Channel 4 site backs up the TV company’s forthcoming documentary season, which focuses on the Battle of the Somme and the effects of the First World War on the social fabric of modern Britain.
Central to the season is a four-part documentary series fronted by Ian Hislop that takes war memorials as the starting point for an investigation of the impact of the First World War on British Society.
This 'floral' temporary cenotaph was erected in Bowling Park, Bradford. © UKNIWM.
He explained how the expertise of the UKNIWM was used to investigate the stone-carved names on memorials, which in turn were used to tease out stories and to remember some long forgotten lives.
“The idea is very, very simple – you have heard about the website, it’s sort of reverse genealogy – essentially there is a passion for going back and finding who your ancestors were, in our series they come back and find you,” he explained.
“It’s not a coincidence that Kipling chose the phrase ‘their name liveth forever.’ We’ve picked names, told stories and shown that these people are not just names, they were people who had lives which were cut off.”
He also praised the work of the UKNIWM, emphasising the important role the database played in the continuing the process of remembrance.
“There is a sense that every year we say ‘at the going down of the sun in the morning, we will remember them…’ But will we? Do we?
"Sometimes I feel it needs a bit of a kick, which is why it’s incredibly good that the inventory has been set up of what are essentially just lists and lists and lists (someone once described them, using a tautology, as an ‘anonymous list of names’) the scale of them defeats the memory.”
The Channel 4 First World War series starts with 'The Somme' on November 14. You can visit the UKNIWM database now at www.ukniwm.org.uk