Family WWI Heirlooms Preserved Forever In Digital Archive

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) is creating a digital archive of family artefacts from the First World War.

The project, run jointly between the CWGC and Oxford University, aims to ensure that the stories behind these heirlooms will be recorded for future generations.

Roadshows have been organised for the public to bring their artefacts to for archiving and the one at Gosport Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Portsmouth was packed out.  

The artefacts brought in ranged from black and white photos, letters, medals and books - and each came with a personal story.

“‘My darling little Flora, news came in at 7am today the Armistice was signed and hostilities were to cease at 11 today. It certainly was good news!’” read one telegram dated 11 November 1918 and owned by local resident, Celia Oxley.

Ms Oxley only found the telegram last October when she pulled it out of its envelope.

Letter written on Armistice Day 1918 140219 CREDIT BFBS_0.jpg
Ms Oxley only recently found the telegram, written on Armistice Day, when she pulled it out of an envelope.

“I suddenly realised this was actually a major historical document,” she said.

Ms Oxley also owns a copy of the telegram signal that was sent out to all units at 7am on Armistice Day.  

“It was sent to my great-uncle Brigadier General Charles Armstrong who was with the Canadian Expeditionary Force.”

For some, however, the event was an excuse to ask experts about long-deceased relatives and their possessions. 

Adam Hoard always enjoyed playing with a model tank owned by his family when he was growing up, but it was only as an adult that he realised its historical significance.

WWI Roadshow 140219 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
Each item is carefully photographed and then digitally archived.

“What kid doesn’t like model tanks and things like that!” Mr Hoard said.

“But I had no idea the link to World War One until more recently I got interested in history. When I was clearing it out, I looked at it again and thought that’s definitely a World War One tank.”

Mr Hoard also owns a photograph of his grandfather in a group of uniformed men from the period and was pleased to be told there was a strong family resemblance between the two of them:

“It’s nice to know that, even though I didn’t know him, there’s that continuity through the generations.”

Adam Hoard's grandfather during the First World War 140219 CREDIT BFBS_0.jpg
Adam Hoard's grandfather during the First World War.

The new digital archive will be free for members of the public to look through and experts hope it will capture what the Great War was like for ordinary people across the country.

“Preserving those [ordinary] stories is incredibly important,” Dr Stuart Lee of Oxford University told Forces News.

“We can all go museums and they have wonderful collections but it’s usually a rare individual illustrative object.

"But what we’re trying to capture here is the impact on everyday people across the country what the war did to them and their families.”

The CWGC and Oxford University have one final roadshow planned for Plymouth University on 6 March.

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