Call to Help with Virtual Archive of the Great War Ninety Years On

Submitted by edg on Thu, 29 May '08 11.51pm

It was "the war to end all wars." The "Great War." A time when a generation of men died and were maimed in the nightmare of trench warfare characterised by gas attacks and suicidal rushes on machine guns. However, with the ninetieth anniversary of Armistice Day fast approaching this 11th November, scholars form Oxford University are urging the public to help them them document this horrific episode in our history lest it be forgotten.

A public appeal has been launched to track down important memorabilia passed down from soldiers who fought in the First World War to create a virtual Great War Archive. The final, completed archive will be freely accessible on 11 November, with thousands of items of precious memoirs from the 1914-1918 period available for viewing. Researchers are looking for items such as photographs, letters, poems, recordings and artefacts.

"As time passes many
of the souvenirs, letters, diaries, and stories are in danger of being
lost or thrown away, and the memories of what these people endured will
be lost forever," said Stuart Lee, Project Manager of the Archive. "By taking part in this project members of the public
can preserve their family's experience of the war and have it

Edinburgh Central Library will be the only mainland place in Scotland where the public will be able to contribute memories which detail the "true experience" of the First World War. The search is also on for items or stories which have been passed down from generation to generation about what life was like during the war at home in Scotland.

Similar submission days in England and Wales have led to fantastic discoveries and have even resulted in the names of "forgotten" soldiers who died in action being immortalised on memorials for the first time.

Staff will be on hand to collate all of the information using computers and to answer any questions at the Edinburgh submission day at Central Library on George IV Bridge on Wednesday June 4th. All items will be returned to contributors on the day.

What did grand-dad do in the war?

Expert advice will be available at the event from Yvonne McEwen, Honorary Fellow at the University of Edinburgh's Centre for the Study of Two World Wars. Ms McEwen will be on hand to give people advice about finding out about their relative's involvement in the First World War.

"The Great War Archive is giving the people of Scotland a rare chance to really bring history alive," said Councillor Deidre Brock, Culture and Leisure Committee Convener for the City of Edinburgh Council. "It is also an ideal opportunity to get expert help in finding out more about any family members who were involved in the war."

Edinburgh man brought heavy death toll

Edinburgh has more than its fair share of historical statues - some are the great thinkers and pioneers of the Edinburgh Enlightenment such as the philosopher David Hume and poet Allan Ramsay. Other monuments are dedicated to the commanders of the British Empire - Admiral Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Prime minister Pitt the Younger.

One statue that anybody who has visited Edinburgh Castle will have seen is that of Field Marshall Douglas Haig on horseback (see photo), Edinburgh's most famous and controversial First World War soldier.

Haig was born in Edinburgh (a plaque on his birthplace at Charlotte Square marks the spot) and rose through the ranks to command Britain's forces against the German invaders in France in the War years. He has come in for heavy criticism, notably by then prime-minister Lloyd George, for adopting tactics that led to huge loss of life for very little territorial or strategic gain, in particular at the Somme and Passchendaele. Lloyd George, uttering a view that has echoed through history, said that Haig showed a callous disregard for the lives of his men and an ineptitude as a leader that was aggravated by the fact that he drew up his bloody plans far from the Western front where the carnage was taking place. He helped bring about the defeat of Germany in 1918. But at a heavy price.

It will be interesting to see how the archive remembers him.