Remembering Arras and Vimy Ridge

British infantry supports going up from freshly-dug assembly trenches, 9 April 1917. IWM Collections Q 5120

April 2017 marks 100 years since the start of the Battle of Arras, where British and Commonwealth troops successfully seized German-held ground in northern France – including the famous capture of Vimy Ridge by Canadians. Fighting continued until mid-May, with heavy casualties.

In this blog post, we share the Life Stories of just three of the thousands of people who took part in the battle.


Tribute to Fred Swaine in The Barnsley Chronicle, 26 May 1917. Courtesy of Barnsley Archives

The British and French planned a spring offensive to begin with a British attack near Arras in early April.  The Allies made solid preparations – including subjecting the German defences to a lengthy bombardment – before the attack began on Easter Monday, 9 April 1917.

One of the British soldiers who took part in the battle was Fred Swaine. Before joining the Northumberland Fusiliers, Fred worked at a glassworks in Barnsley, Yorkshire. He joined the army in February 1915, leaving behind his wife Clara and two young children, Annie and Leonard. He last wrote home to Clara on Good Friday – 6 April 1917 – just before the Battle of Arras began.

Fred was killed on the opening day of the offensive, aged 28. He is buried in Roclincourt Valley Cemetery in northern France.


Jay Batiste Moyer. Image from The Canadian Letters and Images Project

The four Canadian divisions fought together for the first time at Vimy Ridge, a German stronghold. The successful capture of this objective became a defining moment in Canada’s history.

One of the Canadian troops who took part in this attack was Jacob Batiste Moyer, known as Jay. He was born in Toronto in 1897 and enlisted into the army on 26 October 1915. He served overseas with the Western Ontario Regiment.

The Canadian Letters and Images Project holds over seventy letters written to and from Jay during his service.

I am certainly a very lucky boy to have such a lovely mother to send me all the nice things from home.

The final letter in the collection was written to him on 1 May 1917, but tragically he had been killed weeks earlier. Jay died on 9 April 1917 during the attack on Vimy Ridge, and is remembered on the Canadian Memorial on the ridge. The memorial commemorates all the Canadians who took part in the war including the 60,000 people who died in France, and Jay is named as one of the 11,000 men who have no known grave.


William Avery Bishop VC. IWM Collections Q 68089

During the Battle of Arras, men of the Royal Flying Corps fought for control of the skies. The heavy losses that they sustained led to this period becoming known as ‘Bloody April’.

One of the brave pilots was William Avery Bishop, known as Billy. Born in Ontario, Canada he enlisted in March 1915 with Canadian cavalry regiments. After a month in the trenches on the Western Front, Billy transferred to the Royal Flying Corps as an observer. He was accepted for pilot training the following year and in March 1917 joined No 60 Squadron RFC on the Western Front, where his success in shooting down enemy aircraft soon gained recognition.

He earned the Victoria Cross in June 1917 after displaying courage and skill during a solo mission behind enemy lines. Billy lived through the war, and was highly decorated for his achievements. He died in 1956.


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100 years of Imperial War Museums

The staff of the Imperial War Museum at the Crystal Palace, 1920s. IWM Q 55178

IWM was founded on 5 March 1917 while the First World War was still being fought. The museum was formed not as a monument to military glory, but as a record of the toil and sacrifice of those who had served in uniform or worked on the home front. A group of dedicated individuals worked hard to acquire material and to ensure that a wide range of people and experiences were represented in the collections.

This blog post shares the stories of some of the men and women who helped to shape the content and remit of the museum.


Sir Alfred Mond, Chairman of the Committee of the Imperial War Museum. IWM Q 23486

Alfred Mond was born near Prescot, Lancashire in 1868 to Dr. Ludwig and Freda Mond. His father set up the chemical company Brunner, Mond and Co., which Alfred took over in 1895.  He also served as a Member of Parliament from 1906.

Every individual, man or woman, soldier, sailor, airman or civilian…may be able to find in these galleries an example or an illustration of the sacrifice he made or the work he did – Sir Alfred Mond

In 1917, Alfred submitted a proposal to the War Cabinet for a museum to be founded to record the events of the war. For the first time in Britain, a national museum would be dedicated to a specific conflict and would set out to record the contribution made by all sections of society. Alfred was a driving force for the creation of IWM, becoming the first Chairman in 1920. He also played a role in commissioning Edwin Lutyens to design a national war memorial – the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London.

Alfred Mond died in Chelsea in 1930, aged 62.


William Martin Conway, the first Director General of the Imperial War Museum. IWM Q 31293

Baron Sir William Martin Conway (known as Sir Martin) was born in Kent in 1856 to Elizabeth Martin and Reverend William Conway. He studied mathematics and history at Trinity College, University of Cambridge. After his studies he travelled widely and was a keen climber and explorer, for which he was knighted.

Sir Martin was chosen to become the first director general of the newly-formed National War Museum in 1917 – he remained in this post until his death. His ambition was that anyone who had taken part in the war effort could visit the museum, point to an exhibit and say, ‘This thing I did’. Sir Martin travelled to France to collect exhibits, even whilst the fighting was still going on.

He was also a Member of Parliament and represented the Combined English Universities from 1918 until 1931, when he became Baron Conway of Allington.

Sir Martin died in 1937, aged 81.


Honorary Secretary Agnes Ethel Conway MBE, Imperial War Museum. IWM WWC Z-30

Agnes was the daughter of Sir William Martin Conway and his wife Katrina, born on 2 May 1885 in London. She studied history at Newnham College, University of Cambridge but after hearing a lecture by Jane Ellen Harrison became fascinated by archaeology. After leaving university, Agnes studied at the British School in Athens and travelled in Greece and the Balkans.

On 4 April 1917, Agnes invited by Alfred Mond to join the newly-formed Women’s Work Subcommittee of the National War Museum and, as its honorary secretary, by 15 April she had drafted a suitable collection policy for the section. The Women’s Work Subcommittee’s first meeting took place on 26 April 1917. Over the following years, Agnes helped to collect thousands of items which would be displayed in the museum after it opened in 1920. She was awarded an MBE for her services.

In the late 1920s, Agnes pursued her love of archaeology and became involved in digs in Jordan. She met fellow explorer George Horsfield, who she married in 1932.

Agnes died in 1950, aged 65.


Charles John ffoulkes, first Curator and Secretary of IWM. IWM HU122543

Charles was born on 26 June 1869 to Anne and Edmund Salisbury ffoulkes. In August 1914 he was the Duty Officer in the Gresham Sub-Control, Anti-Aircraft Gun Station, Gresham College, London. On 8 September 1915, the Gresham unit fired the first shot in the defence of London when a Zeppelin airship was spotted over Holborn at 10.37pm. The gun opened fire at 10.44pm and fired a total of 11 rounds, and was ordered to “Cease Fire” at 10.56pm.

Anti-aircraft gun fired by Charles ffoulkes on 8 September 1915, now in IWM Collections. IWM ORD 98

After the creation of the museum, Charles became its first Curator and Secretary and served until his retirement in 1933. He continued to be involved with IWM as a trustee.

He died in 1947, aged 78.

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“The only boy I love” – a poignant story for Valentine’s Day

William James Martin and Emily Chitticks. From IWM Documents.2554

William James Martin and Emily Chitticks. From IWM Documents.2554

During the First World War, letter writing was the main form of communication between soldiers and their loved ones, helping to ease the pain of separation. The British Army Postal Service delivered around 2 billion letters during the war. In this blog post we share the moving story of William James Martin and Emily Ellen Chitticks, two sweethearts brought together and then separated by war.


  • William and Emily

William (known as Will) was born in 1897 in Cornwall, and worked as a farm hand. He joined the Royal Devon Yeomanry soon after the outbreak of war in 1914, and embarked on military training in Essex.

It was here that he met Emily Chitticks, who was the same age and was working as a servant in Suffolk House, Herongate. According to Emily’s carefully written notes, the couple met on 9 August 1916.

Father says he will be only too pleased to welcome you as his future son-in-law

After Will was moved on to a training camp in Norfolk, they began to write letters to each other. They enjoyed a whirlwind romance and became engaged just weeks later on 27 October.

Despite initially hoping to spend Christmas together in Cornwall, Will volunteered to go to Devonport and left for France on 5 December 1916 with 8 Battalion Devonshire Regiment.


  •  Off to the front

If only this war was over, dear, and we were together again

Will arrived on the Western Front in the winter of 1916-17 and he and Emily continued their correspondence. Their letters beautifully illustrate their growing love and affection, and their desire to be reunited.

Will wrote his last letter to Emily on 24 March 1917. Three days later, he was killed by a sniper. Unaware of his death, Emily wrote to him the following day – her letter was returned, with the envelope marked ‘Killed in action’.

Envelope and letter returned to Emily after Will's death. From IWM Documents.2554

Envelope and letter returned to Emily after Will’s death. From IWM Documents.2554


  • Remembrance

Emily never married, declaring ‘my heart and love are buried in his grave in France’.

Sacred to the memory of my darling sweetheart Will, the only boy I love

She died in 1974 and her treasured letters were donated to Imperial War Museums.



  • Remember William James Martin on his Life Story page
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The Forgotten Disaster – The Greatest Explosion in London

The Venesta factory lies in ruins following the detonation of 83 tonnes of TNT at the Brunner Mond explosives factory in Silvertown. IWM Q 15364A

The Venesta factory lies in ruins following the detonation of 83 tonnes of TNT at the Brunner Mond explosives factory in Silvertown. IWM Q 15364A

On 19 January 1917 at precisely 6:52pm, the horrors of war were abruptly inflicted upon an unsuspecting East London neighbourhood. In a matter of moments, the previously tranquil area was transformed into a mirror of the Western Front, featuring chaotic scenes of panic and death. The sky was lit up with fire, people ran for their lives amidst falling debris, some were praying in the streets, while others stood as paralyzed, breathlessly beholding the disaster that was taking place in front of them.

In this guest blog post, journalism student Torbjørn Jørstad shares his research into the disastrous event that took place at the Brunner Mond chemical works in Silvertown, 100 years ago.


  • The Silvertown Factory

Following the Shell Crisis of 1915, the newly established Ministry of Munitions sought out Brunner Mond & Co to assist in the time of need. Their Silvertown factory had produced caustic soda up until 1912, and needed few tweaks to become suitable for its new purpose as an explosives factory.  Silvertown was a densely populated area, with around 3,000 residents living within a quarter of a mile of the factory, but the potential dangers to the local population were deemed “worth the risk” by the Ministry.


Damage caused by the explosion. IWM Q 15364

Damage caused by the explosion. IWM Q 15364


  • The explosion

19 January 1917 began as any other day in the factory – indeed, “nothing unusual was noted”. Later that day the youngest worker on shift, 16 year old James Arnell, was sweeping spilt TNT by centrifuges when he noticed “red drops” dripping from the floor above. Quickly realizing the top floor was on fire, the boy ran through the works shouting a warning.

Some hundred yards away, outside the local fire station, fireman Tom Betts noticed “a huge red glow in the sky coming from the munitions plant”. He swiftly warned the seven others on duty, and the crew immediately despatched the fire engine and heroically charged across the road towards the site.

A huge red glow in the sky … from the munitions plant

Tom’s uncle James, also a fireman, knew of the hazardous contents of what was known as the ‘Danger Building’, and warned his wife and 12 year old son to flee. Upon entering the site, the firemen were met by people fleeing, among them assistant chemist Frederick Blevins who warned them of the imminent explosion.

The effects of the explosion hindered the rescue work in the immediate aftermath. The fire station itself was totally decimated, water pipes had been destroyed, telephone wires were cut, and the second nearest fire station in Canning Town had its main door jammed shut by debris.

When the catastrophe ensued on that cold winter evening in January, the effects were disastrous: 73 people were killed and more than 400 injured. An estimated 60-70,000 buildings were damaged, and thousands of people were left homeless.


Mourning Card for victims of the Silvertown Explosion. IWM Documents.10686

Mourning Card for victims of the Silvertown Explosion. IWM Documents.10686

  • Legacy

The Silvertown Explosion stands as a testimony of how “a self-inflicted wound on the home front” brought the horrors of war to the London streets. The nature of war had been for ever changed by rapid technological advancements, and the two giant craters left at the site of the explosion would for years serve as a painful reminder to residents in that area.

However, the “biggest disaster since the Great Fire of London” was largely forgotten by those outside the West Ham area – perhaps suppressed by the longer lasting imprints of the Blitz some 20 years later. Now, using Lives of the First World War, we can pay tribute to all those affected by this tragic episode – this Community reunites them 100 years on.


  • Explore the Silvertown Community here
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Looking ahead to 2017

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all our Supporters, Members and Friends! Thank you for all your wonderful contributions to Lives of the First World War over the past year, and for helping us to remember the toil and sacrifice of men and women from across the British Empire and Commonwealth.


We need your help in 2017 to build the permanent digital memorial even further, so please continue to share your stories and images with us. Next year is the UK-India Year of Culture and we are keen to highlight First World War stories of Indian servicemen and women and civilians. In addition we will be marking 100 years since key moments and events of 1917, which include the following:


January – March

Women's Land Army poster. Art.IWM PST 5996

Women’s Land Army poster.
Art.IWM PST 5996

April – June

Mourning card for those who died in a bombing raid on 13 June 1917.  IWM EPH 1280

Mourning card for those who died in a bombing raid on 13 June 1917.
IWM EPH 1280

July – September

Third Battle of Ypres.  IWM Q 5938

Third Battle of Ypres.
IWM Q 5938

October – December

  • End of the Third Battle of Ypres
  • Battle of Cambrai
  • Women’s Royal Naval Service created
Training for the Battle of Cambrai, October 1917. IWM Q 6297

Training for the Battle of Cambrai, October 1917.
IWM Q 6297

What’s your amazing discovery on Lives of the First World War? Share your stories with us on Facebook and Twitter.


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Remembering the Barnbow Lasses

Art.IWM PST 0402

Art.IWM PST 0402

On 5 December 1916, an explosion at Barnbow Shell Factory in Leeds killed 35 female workers and injured many more. Today, the site of the factory is protected as a scheduled monument by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, but at the time the accident was hushed up. In this guest blog post, Lives of the First World War Volunteer Ann Green shares her research to mark the centenary of this tragic event.


  • The Barnbow Munitions Factory

Following the declaration of war in August 1914, there was an urgent need to mass-produce bullets, shells and other types of ammunition. Existing factories around the UK increased their production but could not meet the demand, and so the government commissioned new purpose-built factories to be built from scratch.

One of these was the 200 acre National Filling Station No 1 at Barnbow near Leeds, which was operational by December 1915. It was a huge site, with its massive buildings, its own power lines and water supply. New train tracks and longer platforms were built at the local railway station to bring in workers from Leeds, Harrogate, York, Wakefield and smaller nearby villages. It also had its own farm, producing 300 gallons of milk a day.


  • Munitions work

Munitions work was dangerous but essential. To meet its production targets, Barnbow ran 3 shifts a day. It was hard manual work involving the use of heavy machinery. The chemicals used were unstable, and the huge volumes of raw materials on site meant that management enforced strict dress and conduct rules to reduce the risk of explosions.

Most of the workforce were women and girls, attracted by the high wages on offer. Conditions at the factory were hot; the shifts were long; and the raw materials were toxic, turning workers’ skin and hair yellow in a short time, and earning them the name ‘The Barnbow Canaries’.  The uniforms provided were inadequate to protect against the dust, which was particularly deadly if it settled in the lungs. Workers were provided with free milk and protective masks, which helped mitigate some of these risks but the dangers were ever-present.


Extract from Ackrill's Harrogate War Souvenir, published in 1918

Extract from Ackrill’s Harrogate War Souvenir, published in 1918

  • Olive Yeates

One of the employees that I have researched is Olive Yeates. Olive was born in Harrogate in 1899. The 1901 census shows Olive’s parents, George and Miriam, living in Skipton Road, Harrogate, while Olive was staying the night with her maternal grandparents, the Walkers, 4 miles away in Nidd Vale Terrace in Harrogate. On the night of the 1911 census, Olive was at home with her parents and baby brother, George (aged 1) in Unity Street, Harrogate.

We know that Olive Yeates applied for a job at Barnbow and that she was one of about 170 workers in Room 42 on the evening shift on Tuesday 5 December 1916. This room was where the fully loaded shells were brought to have a fuse added by hand and the shell cap tightened by machine.


  • The explosion

At 10.27pm, shortly after the evening shift began, a violent explosion occurred in Room 42. Thirty five women and girls were killed outright, one of whom was Olive Yeates. Many of those who survived were injured or maimed. Other workers rushed to help, despite the risk of further explosions and the cap-screwing machine was completely destroyed.

Despite the carnage, production was only stopped for a short time. The dead and wounded were removed and other workers volunteered to take on their work in Room 42.


  • Censorship

Due to censorship rules at the time, the Yorkshire Evening Post’s report on 7 December 1916 simply noted that 26 workers had been killed and about 30 injured in an explosion in a national shell factory in the North of England.  Damage to the building was reported to be slight. Death notices posted by the workers’ families in local newspapers including one for 17 year old Olive Yeates, gave their cause of death as ‘killed by accident’, without stating when, where or how they died.

Detail image of part of the "Women of the Empire" memorial panels in York Minster. Image courtesy of Michael Newbury.

Detail image of part of the “Women of the Empire” memorial panels in York Minster. Image courtesy of Michael Newbury.

Details of the explosion were not published until 1925, when the press named the women and reported that their relatives were invited to apply for tickets for the unveiling of the Five Sisters Window in York Minster in June as a memorial to all women of the Commonwealth who lost their lives in the Great War.

One hundred years after the tragic accident, I have created a Lives of the First World War Community to remember those women, including Olive, who lost their lives at Barnbow. They all served their country well and will never be forgotten.


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Remembering a local nurse


Portrait photograph of Kate Elizabeth Ogg © IWM WWC H2-164

Portrait photograph of Kate Elizabeth Ogg © IWM WWC H2-164

On 21 April  1919, Newcastle’s John Ogg replied to a request from the Imperial War Museum for a photograph of his daughter Kate. It was the day before what would have been her 32nd birthday. She had died just eight weeks earlier.

In this guest blog post, Arthur Andrews and Chris Jackson from the Heaton History Group share the research that they have carried out to piece together Kate’s life story.


  •  Before the war

Kate Elizabeth Ogg was born in Newcastle upon Tyne on 22 April 1887. By the time she was four, the Ogg family had moved to Bolingbroke Street in the suburb of Heaton. Bolingbroke Street is one of a number of streets in the area named after Shakespearean characters and it was a project to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the bard’s death that led Heaton History Group to look at the lives of some of the streets’ former residents – including Kate.

We discovered that, after leaving school, Kate was employed as a teaching assistant. By 1912, she was teaching needlework at Wingrove Council School.


© Art.IWM PST 3268

© Art.IWM PST 3268

  • Nursing

At the outbreak of war, Kate started training with St John Ambulance and, two years later, she made a momentous decision. On 16 April 1916, it was noted in the school log book: ‘Miss Kate E Ogg ceases duty today (pro tem) to take Military (Hospital) Duty on May 1st’.

Red Cross records show that she was engaged as a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse, serving firstly in Fulham Military Hospital, London; then Liverpool Military Hospital before returning to Newcastle in March 1917 to serve at the 1st Northern General Military Hospital.


  • Pandemic

The war officially ended, of course, on 11 November 1918 but there were still casualties to care for and the need for nurses was greater than ever when troops travelling home from theatres of war brought with them a deadly strain of influenza,  in which 25 to 40 million people are estimated to have died worldwide. The virus spread quickly in cities like Newcastle and young adults such as returning soldiers and nurses like Kate, who looked after them, were worst affected.

On 23 February 1919, Kate died from pneumonia whilst on active service. She is buried in St John’s Cemetery, Newcastle in a simple grave, where her parents were eventually laid to rest with her.


  • Remembrance

We found Kate’s name on a number of war memorials. She is recorded on Wingrove School War Memorial as well as in The National Union of Teachers War Record: a short account of duty and work accomplished during the war. Her name appears on the St John Ambulance Brigade Number VI Northern District war memorial, currently stored at Trimdon Station Community Centre, County Durham as well as the St John Ambulance Roll of Honour.

Wingrove School War Memorial, courtesy of Chris Jackson

Wingrove School War Memorial, courtesy of Chris Jackson

Kate’s name can also be seen in York Minster where the Five Sisters window and oak panels commemorate 1,400 women across the British Empire known to have died as a result of service in the First World War.


  • Imperial War Museum

It is thanks to the work of the IWM’s Women’s Work Subcommittee, during and immediately after the war, that 100 years later we know what Kate looked like and can read her father’s letters. Over the past two years many thousands of women, including Kate, have been researched further as part of the Lives of the First World War project.

Kate Elizabeth Ogg will never be forgotten.


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National Poetry Day – the story behind a poem



Thursday 6 October is National Poetry Day, which encourages everyone to enjoy, discover and share poetry – this year’s theme is Messages: say it with a poem. Lives of the First World War member Michael Glover recently contacted us to share the moving story that inspired war poet Wilfred Owen to write his piece Miners. In this guest blog post, Michael describes the tragic accident in which two members of his own family lost their lives in 1918.


  •  Tracing family history

I have been researching my family history since 2009, starting with my maternal grandfather, Thomas Edward Wright, and then the wider family. I was interested in the lives of these people, many now mostly forgotten but from an area I was born into in Staffordshire. I had little idea of where this interest would lead. Since 2014, I have been a member of Lives of the First World War, and have researched my great grandfather George Burgess and his son, Jabez. George and Jabez were miners who died in an explosion at Podmore Hall Colliery in Halmerend, known as the Minnie Pit – they were aged 42 and 21.


George and Jabez Burgess (top row, centre and right). Image courtesy of Michael Glover

George and Jabez Burgess (top row, centre and right). Image courtesy of Michael Glover

  • Minnie Pit

Coal mines were an essential part of the war effort, fuelling factories, transport and homes. On 12 January 1918 there was an explosion underground at the Minnie Pit, in which 155 workers were killed. Teams tried to save those who were trapped, and one of the rescue party died in the process. The bodies of George and Jabez were only retrieved from the pit 18 months later – they were found in an embrace, perhaps waiting for rescue but succumbed to poisonous gas. The tragic deaths added to the losses of people fighting in the war, and had a devastating impact on such a small area.  This event is etched locally into the lives of Halmerend folk and the anniversary is commemorated every year to this very day, alongside Armistice Day in November.

Podmore Hall Colliery in Halmerend, known as the Minnie Pit. Image in the public domain

Podmore Hall Colliery in Halmerend, known as the Minnie Pit. Image in the public domain


  • Wilfred Owen’s poem

They will not dream of us poor lads

Lost in the ground

Wilfred Owen, who later became one of the most well-known war poets, wrote a poem called Miners: How the future will forget the dead in war after hearing about the explosion. This extract reflects his sorrow at the events that unfolded:


I thought of all that worked dark pits

Of war, and died

Digging the rock where Death reputes

Peace lies indeed


The final lines express his fear that in the future, the Minnie Pit miners would be forgotten:


They will not dream of us poor lads

Lost in the ground


But using Lives of the First World War, we can ensure that we will remember and share the story of the coal miners who made a contribution and sacrifice during the war.


  • Lives of the First World War Community

I created a Community page on Lives of the First World War to remember the 156 men and boys who died. I was contacted by Lives Volunteer Yvonne Fenter, who offered help and expertise by creating Life Story pages from the list that I had compiled. You can browse the stories in the Community here.


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Stories from The Somme: A Visual History

To mark the centenary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme in July 2016, IWM published The Somme: A Visual History, a new book which tells the story of the famous battle.  In this guest blog by author Anthony Richards, IWM Head of Documents and Sound, we find out more about some of the remarkable personal stories that are included.


  • Researching the book

As the author, it was a privilege for me to select the most interesting material to be featured in the book, and I was keen for the story to be told primarily through the words of those who were actually there and who experienced what was to be the key battle of the First World War. What distinguishes this book from the many others on a similar theme is that it is based upon IWM’s own collections, with a narrative which concentrates heavily on the original letters, diaries and memoirs written by participants in the battle; photographs taken during the campaign; stills from the famous Battle of the Somme film; and images of exhibits and artwork from the museum’s extensive archives. IWM’s great strength as a national museum is that we base much of our exhibitions and projects around the personal stories of ordinary people, which allow our audiences to engage with individual experiences of war and empathise with those who lived through such earth-shattering events.


  • Personal stories

This reliance on personal testimony means that we are able to create a strong link to the Lives of the First World War project, where you will now find a Community of  stories of those who feature prominently in The Somme: A Visual History.

Childhood photograph of William Cyril Jose - IWM Documents.019925

Childhood photograph of William Cyril Jose – IWM Documents.019925

Among these you will find William Cyril Jose who, as a 17-year old under-age volunteer, went into action with the 2nd Devonshires during the initial infantry assault on 1 July 1916.  He received a bullet wound to his shoulder and fell in no man’s land, where he lay in fear of death until the next day, eventually crawling back to the safety of the British lines.


You can also discover further information about George Ellenberger, an officer of the 9th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, who led his men into action towards Fricourt on 1 July.  While shocked at how intact the German front line defences were, despite the heavy artillery bombardment which had been directed on them for the previous week, he describes in a letter home how his unit took a stream of prisoners in one of the few success stories of that fatal First Day of the battle.


All the Allies are advancing and behind the dark clouds there is just a little ray of sunshine which we trust will mean peace…

Perhaps one of the most poignant accounts featured in the book is that of Lieutenant Russell-Jones, commander of the 30th Division Trench Mortar Battery, who recorded the extensive casualties sustained during the battle and reflects on the ‘perfect hell’ that he and his men had experienced.  Yet despite this, his tone remained optimistic for the future: “Let us hope we are in sight of the finish.  All the Allies are advancing and behind the dark clouds there is just a little ray of sunshine which we trust will mean peace…”


The Battle of the Somme would last until 18 November 1916, yet the development of new technology and fighting techniques, when combined with the attritional warfare which saw the German Army fall back to the Hindenburg Line at the beginning of the following year, would ensure that the path for victory was set. It would, however, take until November 1918 for the larger battle to be won.

  • Discover more of the featured stories in this Lives of the First World War Community
  • The Somme: A Visual History can be purchased through the IWM Shop
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Volunteering for Lives of the First World War

Lives of the First World War volunteers, sharing their Jutland research with volunteers at the National Museum of the Royal Navy.

Lives of the First World War volunteers, sharing their Jutland research with volunteers at the National Museum of the Royal Navy.

With over 100,000 members and more than 7.6 million Life Stories, Lives of the First World War continues to thrive during the centenary period. To support the IWM team, a group of 16 dedicated Volunteers offer both their time and expertise to help shape the project. In this guest blog post, Michael Newbury writes on behalf of the Lives Remote Volunteer Group to explain more.


  • Who we are

Before we get on to what we do let’s talk briefly about who we are. We’re from all over the world, from all walks of life and backgrounds. Most of us have never physically met, as we make contributions from our own homes. But that’s not at all important. What unites us all is a belief in the potential of Lives of the First World War to be the essential first port of call for anyone interested in the conflict, and those whose lives it touched.

The Lives Volunteers provide invaluable assistance in inspiring people of all ages to explore, reveal and share Life Stories. Their help is greatly appreciated.

Charlotte Czyzyk, Project Manager

Within the group we have folks who have years of experience behind them in the fields of family, military and social history. Our interests are reflected in the various Communities that we curate; from every British ship involved in the Battle of Jutland, to those involved in accidents in munitions factories. Alongside our belief in the site is a two-fold commitment: the first is to ensure that information in Lives is accurate and evidence-based;  the second is to help other members to get the very best out of it.



  • What we do

Alongside our own research, the Volunteer Group picks up and deals with queries that are posted on the Suggestions Forum of the Lives of the First World War site. The Volunteers have dealt with almost 600 requests on the Suggestions Forum so far this year. We have also collaborated with other Lives of the First World War members on particular projects, such as the loss of HMS Bulwark in 1914. Sometimes it’s simply a case of knowing where to look and you’re able to quickly point to the correct Life Story profile. In other cases it can be trickier, particularly if facts provided in good faith prove to be inaccurate.

We love to receive feedback when we have helped someone:

“I’d like to say my thank-you to the IWM volunteers who are working so hard … The Great War – and I use that term deliberately – was the first to involve and affect nearly everyone in the country – and the Empire of the time – and the ability to put a face to a name is incredibly moving”

Lives of the First World War Member


  • Can we help you?

On any day – including Christmas Day – a Volunteer is almost always busy doing something on Lives of the First World War.

If you have information about an individual who doesn’t currently have a Life Story page, please post details here with as much evidence as possible. Before submitting a request, please search for the Life Story page on Lives of the First World War.

If you believe that a person has more than one Life Story page that requires merging, please provide details, including the URLs, here.

IWM Staff and Volunteers aim to deal with your request as soon as possible.


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