Imperial War Museum launches "extraordinary" Lives of the First World War memorial

By Richard Moss | 12 May 2014

The Imperial War Museum has launched its digital response to the Centenary of the First World War with a bold plan to tell the life stories of millions of people from across Britain and the Commonwealth


a composite picture of people who served during the First World War
Lives of the First World War: Imperial War Museums needs you to help piece together the Life Stories of more than eight million men and women© IWM
With little more than two months to go before they reveal the new First World War galleries at IWM London, the Imperial War Museum has launched its online response to the First World War centenary with a national call to action.

Lives of the First World War
has been developed with DC Thomson Family History. It is designed to be permanent digital memorial to more than eight million men and women from across Britain and the Commonwealth who served in uniform and worked on the home front. And the general public are being called upon to realise it.

The website, which has launched today with the basic records of more than 4.5 million men and 40,000 women who served with the British Army overseas, invites members of the public to add their own stories of relatives and upload photographs, reminiscences and links to service records.

The idea is to eventually create a massive digital memorial to more than eight million British and Commonwealth people.

Luke Smith, the museum's Digital Lead for the First World War Centenary, described the launch of the site as "just the beginning”, adding that the museum needed the public to help "remember these people now and in the future”.

“Everybody can contribute to Lives of the First World War,” added Smith.

“Whether they choose to simply remember someone online, upload a picture from their family album, share a story passed down through generations or connect official records to build a full and factual picture of what happened to that person throughout the war. This is the start of a journey and we urge everyone to get involved.”

The ambitious project, which echoes the Imperial War Museum’s founding ethos of acting as a record of the “toil and sacrifice” of every person who had served, is the 21st century digital response to the idea that there should be an easily referenced record of everybody’s contribution.

a photo of a group of women behind a barbed wire fence
Female ambulance drivers of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry © IWM
“Now that the First World War is outside living memory, it is more important than ever that we encourage today’s generation to learn more about those men and women and their experiences from 1914-18,” said Diane Lees, IWM’s Director General .

“Lives of the First World War will be a fantastic platform for that throughout the centenary and will become a significant resource for future generations too.”

A person wanting to find a relative can search by name and refine by first name and initial, full surname, corps or regiment and rank. For the more common names that might crop up several times in the same regiment (a search for “Albert Smith” returned 2,389 results), a service number is required to identify the correct person.

The site will be enhanced with new functionality in the coming months so that people can easily share and discuss who they are remembering online and millions of additional new records will also be added - from the Royal Flying Corp/Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy, the Canadian Expeditionary Force, the Australian and New Zealand Imperial Forces.

The IWM also intends to upload the records of almost 17,000 conscientious objectors.

With plans to turn the focus onto the Indian Army, Home Front workers and others who made a contribution from across the British Empire, the site may just live up to the Dan Snow's prediction that it will be become “one of the most extraordinary war memorials ever”.

An ambassador for the project, the TV historian added: “IWM has created Lives of the First World War and is now handing it over to us, the public.

"We need to make it happen by uploading information about our First World War ancestors, piecing together their stories, remembering them and saving this knowledge for future generations.”

Visit livesofthefirstworldwar.org.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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Why are there no references made to the Troops whom fought and died in Africa? Especially the Kings African Rifles and the Rhodesian Native Regiment?
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