Of all the ongoing commemorations of those who served and fell in the First World War, it is the largest in scope and will perhaps prove to be the most enduring. A memorial built not from Portland stone but millions of memories. The Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War project is to be the first ever digital memorial to the eight million men and women who served Britain.
The site will become the largest permanent collection of First World War biographies, remembering everyone from those who endured the horror of the trenches to the railwaymen, munitions workers and nursing staff who served on the Home Front.
The Imperial War Museum has uploaded the records of all those who served with the British Army overseas between 1914 and 1918 – more than 4.5 million men and 40,000 women.
It is now possible to log on and instantly discover if, and in which regiment, a relative served, and to access personal records such as birth and marriage certificates.
But members of the public are also being encouraged to flesh out these profiles with photographs, letters, diaries and recollections of their own. The idea is to create a Facebook for the lost generation.
Among the forgotten life stories that archivists have already pieced together, using the site’s access to 150 million military and genealogy records, is that of Beatrice Campbell from Fife, killed aged 20 when the camp at Abbeville where she worked as a domestic for Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps was bombed on May 30, 1918.
The first names to be put up are those who endured active Army service, people like Albert Tattersall who joined the 20th Battalion, Manchester Regiment, with his two brothers John and Norman, and was killed, aged 23, less than a year after arriving in France.
Over the coming months, millions of new records will be added, including those who served with the Royal Navy and the Royal Flying Corps, the Canadian Expeditionary Force, the Australian and New Zealand Imperial Forces and some 900,000 names from 40,000 First World War Memorials across the UK.