PROJECT IDEAS Researching a War Memorial Author: John Branston

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1 PROJECT IDEAS Researching a War Memorial Author: John Branston 1. Researching a War Memorial There are many thousand memorials across the UK that commemorate those who died in World War 1 or The Great War, which was fought between As we are currently marking the centenary (100 year anniversary) of that War, it is a good time to try to learn more about what happened and how people from all over our country went away to fight, sometimes in horrendous conditions, to stand up for values that are still important to us today. One of the best ways to learn about World War 1 is to research a war memorial. Finding out as much as you can about those who fought and died really brings to life what life was like in your area at the time, the way in which people left their families and their daily lives to go to many places around the world (but mainly France and Belgium) The current centenary of The Great War means that there is lots of awareness of the War, many new resources and a lot of support for your research project. But your project will be uniquely interesting to you because it will take you to stories and histories that are specific to where you are. Types of War Memorial There are many kinds of memorials. The largest commemorate all the men from a town or city who died fighting in the war. Village memorials are smaller, but do the same job. Places of work, such as companies, factories, gas works, tram and bus companies, banks, etc. very often erected memorials to lost workers. Then there are all the clubs, churches and societies to which people belonged; a hundred years ago, people were very engaged in social groups, perhaps even more than they are today, as there was no TV or even radio entertainment. An important thing to remember is that we now have quite a clear idea of what a war memorial might look like. But in the wake of WW1, this was something that everyone was trying to work out; there were a lot of different opinions and even some quite big arguments. Some people thought it would be fitting to put up something useful to remember the dead; you might find that your village or school includes a Memorial Hall, or there may be a Memorial Sports Ground in your area. Other people, however, thought it more appropriate just to have a simple memorial, usually with a list of names, by which the dead might be remembered. Another area that people argued about was the role of church memorials. A lot of memorials ended up in churches, but not everyone in an area went to the same church and there were big disagreements and separation between people attending, say, their local Church of England parish church and those who preferred to be a Baptist, or Methodist, or Presbyterian, or Catholic. Others wanted nothing to do with church at all. All these issues had to be discussed and agreed, with different decisions being taken on a place-by-place basis.

2 Our pictures show Tavistock War Memorial Then there came the question about what type of memorial should be put up. When you mention war memorials, most people think of a stone cross, usually in a prominent public place. But there are also plaques of wood or stone, and these can be found inside or outside different types of building. In fact, memorials come in all shapes and sizes and it is an interesting part of the story of every memorial to understand how it was decided what sort of memorial to choose and where it should be put. Questions to answer about your memorial Who is included, and how was the list generated? Are you dealing with a memorial or a roll of honour? Sometimes a roll of honour was generated during WW1 to honour everyone who went off to fight, whereas a memorial only commemorates those who died. When was it erected? Sometimes it took several years to agree and commission a memorial. Who made it? Maybe it was the local monumental mason, but there are also stories of e.g. school memorials being made by the pupils of the school. Who paid for the memorial? Was it through public subscription, or municipal funds, or a beneficent donation? Can you find any history of the ceremony at which the memorial was dedicated? Things to find out about the people named Sometimes, names are only listed with initials, e.g. J. ROBINSON. You will need to find out the person s first name. What family did they have? Where did they live? o How long had their family lived in the area and where did they come from? What work did their father and mother do? When were they born? Had they started work themselves before they went to war? Had they married, or did they have a fiancée or sweetheart? When did they join the armed forces? What part of the armed forces did they join? Did they enlist voluntarily, or were they conscripted? Can you find any clues to a timeline of what they did during the War? What rank did they reach? What do the different ranks mean, in terms of responsibilities and also within the hierarchy of the armed force in which they served? Where did they serve? Can you find out anything about what was happening in and around the places in which they served (countries / towns / villages) at around the time they were there? Where and when did they die? Where are they buried or (if never buried) commemorated?

3 What awards or medals did they receive, or were they awarded after they died? Can you trace any living relatives of the men named on the memorial? Are the same people also commemorated on any other memorials? If you are researching a school memorial, those same people might be listed locally at the church, or on the town memorial, or with employers, sports clubs or other societies. Think also of the military connection and whether there is a regimental memorial. 2. Sources of Information Ancestry.co.uk [ ] This is a great central resource that can provide information from censuses, legal events (births, marriages, deaths) and military records as well as other people s family history research. The censuses from 1901 and 1911 are particularly useful in tracking down people in a certain area to an individual house in the run-up to WW1, which will in turn instantly give you members of the family, their ages, place of birth and what work they did. Many servicemen s WW1 military records are also available through Ancestry, although many were lost in the bombing of Britain in WW2. Some of the surviving records appear with singed edges, showing how close they came to being lost! The original purpose of Ancestry was as a genealogy (family history) research site, which is perfect for the task of researching individual servicemen. Many other users have made their own family research public, making it possible to hit upon the family of the serviceman you are researching. This not only gives you a lot of additional information, but can potentially put you in contact with living relatives of the men themselves. Ancestry.co.uk is a really good starting point and should give you lots of leads. Take some time to fully explore the different types of material available, taking care to ensure that you are looking at the correct individual among what may be many people with the same name. The more information you find, the more you should be able to verify that anything you find relates to the correct person. British Newspaper Archive [ ] A hugely useful source of information. This is a huge project that is digitising old newspapers from across the UK so that they can be searched and read online. It is amazing what can be found out from old newspapers, as the news in those days was reported in great detail. Take time to get to know how to use the search function, selecting specific periods of time, specific areas of the country and even specific newspapers, to get to the details that may be out there. Bear in mind: some of the text that the system searches has not been accurately read by the computer scanner, so be creative with your searches and try variants of names and search for as many relevant words and terms as you can think of to get to the correct information. Public Appeal for information Your local newspaper will probably be more than happy to publish a story about your search for information. This can lead to help being offered by all sorts of people. If you mention the names you are researching, you might even find that family members still live locally and are prompted to get in touch. On our WW1 project website you will find lots more links and information to help your project

4 A stained glass window in Bradford Cathedral, Yorkshire is dedicated to those who served in WW1 Military Museums Depending on which unit your serviceman served with, there may be a museum you can contact or visit to learn more. Individual Army regiments often have their own museum. As well as being interesting places to visit to see artefacts and learn more about the regiment s WW1 history, they will often have historians who have researched operations in WW1 in detail and will be able to help find the details of what your serviceman s regiment was doing on and around the time of their death. They may be able to provide copies of unit diaries which amazingly were completed by officers at the time, even when at the fighting front. These can be extremely detailed and may mention individual soldiers by name. The Navy and other specialist services also have museums and dedicated historians. Someone may have written a book about the unit you are interested in. Once you have found out which unit your serviceman was with, do some searching online. Local Studies Centre Your Local Studies Centre will be provided by your local authority, usually together with either the records office or the library. Someone there will be very knowledgeable about other local sources; both those held by the Local Studies Collection itself, or by other record centres. They will have documents about local life, employers etc. and may also be able to give you access to contemporary local newspapers (including those that may not yet be digitised on British Newspaper Archives). The servicemen you are researching lived at a time when meticulous written records of many aspects of society were kept. Schools, employers etc. kept records, as did councils. Local studies experts will be able to point you to specific resources, where these are known to exist. Maps Try to find old maps of your area, as these can help you understand what your area was like. Old maps may show the importance of large local employers, such as factories and mills. Long-forgotten railways and canals might have been an important part of the local scene in the days before the motor car became popular. You may be surprised how much of today s housing did not exist in the early years of the twentieth century and that some of it is built over the site of something interesting that was there before. Also, the meaning of street names in your area can sometimes be explained by a map that shows the area in times gone by. Directories Even in the days before telephones, directories were available from the Post Office, or from private companies such as Kelly s, listing everyone who lived in a certain area. Often these were annual publications, listing residents and companies by street and by surname. This can provide address data for the years between censuses. Where residents jobs and professions are listed, you can get a good sense of the social class of a street or district at the time. Living Relatives Bear in mind that many of the men killed in WW1 did not have the chance to have children before they died, so will not have direct descendants. But many of them came from large families, with many brothers and sisters, so there is

5 a good chance that you might trace living descendants of those. Ancestry.co.uk is one way of potentially doing so, as mentioned above. Alternatively, your local records office should have records of births, marriages and deaths, meaning that, if people haven t moved too far, then they should be traceable, even where women have married and taken different surnames. In this way, you can build at least part of a family tree down to the modern day. If you are lucky enough to be working with quite unusual names, simple Google searches can locate people, no matter where they are. It can still be a challenge, however, to make contact, even if you know people s name and location. Fortunately, social media or further Googling can make even this possible, to the point of being able to make contact by or social media messenger. It can be very exciting to make contact with living relatives of people you have researched in connection with a war memorial. They may have artefacts and photographs that they will share with you and that will really help you understand much more about the names on your memorial. They will certainly be pleased to hear that their relative is still being remembered today. Other memorials Have a think about where there are other memorials locally, especially in churches, town halls, or in other public places. Try to go to see them, to see whether they include any of the same names that you are researching. Your research (e.g. old newspaper articles) may make you aware of a memorial that was put up nearly a hundred years ago, but has since disappeared. This can happen if a building closes, or changes use. Can you do some detective work to find out what happened to the memorial? Local historians Why not try to find out whether there is a historian who lives near you who has specialist knowledge about your area, or about your local military regiment or about WW1. Check your local history societies etc. Or perhaps someone connected with your school (e.g. a parent) is willing to support you by helping to co-ordinate what you are doing. Organisations dedicated to commemorating WW1 There are so many excellent resources available from key organisations and charities; it is worth exploring the following sites: The Imperial War Museum [ ] The Royal British Legion [ ] The War Memorials Trust[ ] The Commonwealth War Graves Commission [ ] Internet Searches It is possible that information on servicemen you are researching is out there somewhere on the Internet and that this can be found by searching using regular search engines (e.g. Google), but it is best to find out as much as possible from the above sources before doing this, as there may be many men with the same name across the UK. 3. How to commemorate your research One of the most important things about doing research is making the information you have found available to other people to find. Once you have compiled your research, or even as you are going along, there are a number of things you might think about doing to share your findings: PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOUR School WW1 project

6 Website A website is a good idea for sharing information because you can keep updating it and it can be found by anyone all over the world. This is important as many families from the UK moved to other countries around the world during the twentieth century. Is someone you know good at website design, or can you get to grips with a template site, or a blog style page to share information. On our WW1 website there is a page specifically listing many organisations that would also be able to offer supporting information for any school research on War Memorials. 4. Bringing the research to life at your school Re-enactment Could you re-enact a specific part of the WW1 history that your research has taught you about? For example: the enlistment process. Imagine the teachers are recruitment officers and the pupils are enlisting for service. What sort of questions are asked? Find the contemporary Attestation Papers online (Google WW1 attestation blank ) for each recruit to fill in. Or, with older pupils, think about the process of conscription, why it became necessary, and talk about the issues that surrounded whether people were conscripted or not (protected industry, dependents, medical issues, tribunals). Can you find reports of such tribunals in the newspapers of the time? Art All forms of art lend themselves to exploring and commemorating WW1 themes. Pictorial art can explore life at the Front, as can model-making. Some WW1 memorials took the form of stained glass windows in churches: there is good scope here for free expression of ideas. Written work and literature Diaries from the Front and letters written home are two ready examples of how WW1 research can inspire written work. The study of war poetry can itself lead to the creation of poetry that is specific to your research and the individuals you are researching. Music Can you learn to play or sing some contemporary songs that soldiers would have sung as they tried to maintain their spirits while in billets, or as they marched along the roads to the Front? What other pieces of music are from that time, or have become associated with the commemoration of the dead of WW1? Do you know the hymns that were played at the dedication ceremony of memorials you have researched? Or can you put new lyrics to a popular WW1 tune that tell the WW1 story of your school, church or village? There are WW1 Song choices for your school to perform see:

7 Reaching out Once you have traced the houses in which your WW1 serviceman lived, you could make contact with the current occupants of that house and tell them about the history of someone who lived in the house before them. You could arrange to walk to school from that house one morning, to re-trace the steps that the subject of your research would have taken. You could design and print postcards that the current occupants of the house could display in their window, to tell the world that someone went from that house to fight in WW1. Exhibition Put on an exhibition of your artwork, poetry and photographs of other learning and activities that you have conducted as part of your WW1. Try to source some WW1 artefacts such as medals, etc. Invite the local community, parents and any living relatives that you have traced. Assembly: November 2018 and beyond What about dedicating a school assembly perhaps close to Remembrance Day on November 11th to the commemoration of the people you have been researching? Perhaps you can recreate elements of traditional services of remembrance, or read poetry you have created, as well as using appropriate music. You could put together a commemorative film or Power Point (to music) that succinctly tells your WW1 story and that can be used in the assembly or updated in future years to be shown every November as a reminder. Don t forget to tell us all about Your Primary School WW1 project

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