Cardiff University online project records the World War One heirlooms of Welsh families

By Richard Moss | 24 September 2010
a photo of a small brass lighter decorated with a crown and the words GMGR
A Trench Art lighter decorated by a soldier during the First World War © Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales
From the once-ubiquitous trench art of cigarette lighters and decorated artillery shells to campaign medals and Queen Mary Christmas tins, family mementos of the First World War were once a commonplace in many homes across the UK.

These valuable heirlooms, which often include poignant letters and diaries, are today frequently tucked away in a box in the attic or placed for safe keeping at the back of a drawer or at worst disappeared without context into the collectors market via eBay and other internet auction sites.

a photo of a brass shell case which has been decorated with a flower design
Trench Art 20-pounder shell from the Newport Gwent roadshow© Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales
Now an ongoing project organised by the School of History and Archaeology at Cardiff University, called Welsh Voices of the Great War Online, is recording these items and their stories for posterity.

A website, www.welshvoices.com, has been established to record Welsh family objects of the Great War and a series of First World War artefacts roadshows have been giving members of the public the chance to bring their heirlooms to be assessed and documented.

The next roadshow takes place at the National Slate Museum in Llanberis on October 2 2010. Experts will be on hand to examine and record the memorabilia and the stories behind them.

Two people keen to show their prized items are cousins Tudur Williams of Gwalchmai and Jac Williams of Llanfairpwll.

Tudur will be taking some postcards sent from his Great Great Grandfather, William Williams of Field Street, Llangefni, to his daughter Dorothy (Tudur's Great Grandmother) who was only a small child at the time. He will also be taking pocket sized Holy Gospel books that the soldiers were given to carry with them in the War.

a photo of a page from a notebook featuring a drawing of a nusrse attending to a wounded soldier
From the autograph book of Jessie Hughes – a nurse at Manchester Military Hospital - from the Wrexham roadshow© Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales
Jac will be taking a tin given to the soldiers for Christmas 1914, which was owned by his Great Great Uncle, Philip Williams, one of three brothers from Holyhead who fought in the Battle of the Somme. Philip, a Sapper in the Royal Engineers, fought alongside Griffith and William Williams and miraculously all returned home safely.

a photo of two boys with their artefacts including medals, brass tin and photographs
Cousins Tudur Williams and Jac Williams with their family memorabilia from World War One© Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales
"It's amazing to think that this box has seen so much history," said Jac. "I'm looking forward to learning a bit more about it at the roadshow."

Once gathered, the material will be catalogued and then made available to the public via The People’s Collection website.

The roadshow on October 2 2010 at the National Slate Museum, Llanberis is open between 10am and 4pm but you can also contribute digital images of your items by visiting the Welsh Voices of the Great War Online website at www.welshvoices.com

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