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 15 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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‘We’re here because we’re here’ – the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme

'we're here because we'e here' conceived and created by Jeremy Deller in collaboration with Rufus Norris, photo by Eoin Carey

‘We’re here because we’re here’ conceived and created by Jeremy Deller in collaboration with Rufus Norris, photo by Eoin Carey

1 July 2016 saw many ceremonies and events to mark the centenary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme. One of the most striking was the unexpected appearance of thousands of actors dressed as British soldiers, in places such as train stations. Every actor handed out cards to members of the public, featuring information about the soldier he represented.  In this blog post, Catherine Long explains how she used Lives of the First World War to conduct the background research into these men.

 

10 weeks ago I was asked to undertake some research for 14-18 NOW. My task was to identify the ages of as many individuals who died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme as possible. Lives of the First World War provided the perfect resources and tools to realise this objective.

 

  • Researching the stories

I began by identifying the individual’s life story page, either by their service number or name and regiment, then cross referencing a variety of sources. The 1901 and 1911 Census records were the sources of most use. In order to make a positive connection, I drew the birth or enlistment place from the Soldiers Died in the Great War database. The research consisted of hunting around for a snippet of information, which could then lead to another source. I settled into a chain process of source stepping stones – identify life story, find birth place, trace census record and cross reference against birth record.

 

One of the featured men, John William Bulger. Image uploaded by Anne Hudson

One of the featured men, John William Bulger. Image uploaded by Anne Hudson

  • Remembering every individual

As I learnt about these men who died on 1 July 1916, I built up a picture of them in my mind. Were they from a large family? What was their pre-war occupation? Did they have children? My research provided me with a window into what each dead soldier left behind. ‘We’re here’ illuminated the lives of those who served Britain during the First World War, and acts as a tribute to the men they were, the men they became and the men they could have been. On Friday 1st the media and public shared their experience of ‘We Are Here’ across the UK. I am very proud that Lives of the First World War was able to support this commemorative activity, and honour those who died on the first day of the Somme.

Lest we forget.

 

Lives of the First World War is building a legacy of those men remembered by ‘We Are Here’.  Our community titled ‘We Are Here’ is bringing together the names of those represented by actors across the nation on 1st July 2016. Please take a moment to look at the community, and remember their toil and sacrifice.

‘We Are Here’ was a UK-wide event commissioned by 14-18 NOW, conceived and created by Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller in collaboration with Rufus Norris, Director of the National Theatre. For full details please visit: https://becausewearehere.co.uk/

 

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The stories behind the stamps

IWM Collections WWC M15

IWM Collections WWC M15

The Royal Mail has released the third set in a five part landmark series, with six stamps designed to mark the events of 1916. In this blog post, we explore the Lives of the First World War stories behind some of these images.

 

Munitions worker Lottie Meade’s portrait, pictured above, is featured on one of the stamps. This portrait is from IWM Collections, of Lottie in her work uniform. She died of TNT poisoning, on 11 October 1916. She was mourned by her husband, Frederick, and their four young children.

 

Your battle wounds are scars upon my heart

Vera Brittain’s emotive poem ‘To my brother’ lends a quote to one of the commemorative stamps: ‘your battle wounds are scars upon my heart.’ Vera’s brother Edward was hit by a bullet through his thigh on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Soon after, a shell burst close to him and a splinter from it went through his left arm. He survived the engagement, but died whilst serving in Italy on 15 June 1918.

 

Travoys Arriving with Wounded at a Dressing-Station at Smol, Macedonia, September 1916. Art.IWM ART 2268

Travoys Arriving with Wounded at a Dressing-Station at Smol, Macedonia, September 1916. Art.IWM ART 2268

One of Stanley Spencer’s artworks is depicted on a stamp. The piece features wounded soldiers and medical orderlies based in Macedonia, in September 1916. Stanley was a commissioned artist in both world wars, and Imperial War Museum holds this painting and many other examples of his work.

 

The final stamp is of Arthur Green’s Battle of Jutland commemorative medal. The inscription reads ‘31 May 1916 To the glorious memory of those who fell that day’. Arthur was the Director of the Royal Naval School of Music. He died in 1974.

 

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“To my Daughter Betty, The Gift of God” – Father’s Day Remembrance

Statue commemorating Thomas Kettle, St. Stephens Green, Dublin, Ireland. Photograph uploaded to Lives of the First World War by Adrienne Downes.

Statue commemorating Thomas Kettle, St. Stephens Green, Dublin, Ireland. Photograph uploaded to Lives of the First World War by Adrienne Downes.

This Father’s Day we pay tribute to the millions of men whose lives were changed forever by the First World War, and especially those who never returned home to their families. In this blog post by Lives of the First World War Public Engagement Officer Catherine Long, we remember the tragic story of Thomas Michael Kettle.

 

Thomas was born in Dublin in 1880. He was the eldest of six children of Andrew and Margaret Kettle. He married Mary Sheehy in 1910 – they were both graduates of the National University of Ireland, both writers and Thomas was also a Barrister and Professor of National Economics. Four years after marriage, their daughter Elizabeth was born.

Thomas joined the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and took part in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. In September of that year he wrote a poem to his daughter:

You’ll ask why I abandoned you, my own,

And the dear heart that was your baby throne,

To dice with death.

 

To my Daughter Betty, The Gift of God

In wiser days, my darling rosebud, blown

To beauty proud as was your mother’s prime,

In that desired, delayed, incredible time,

You’ll ask why I abandoned you, my own,

And the dear heart that was your baby throne,

To dice with death. And oh! they’ll give you rhyme

And reason: some will call the thing sublime,

And some decry it in a knowing tone.

So here, while the mad guns curse overhead,

And tired men sigh with mud for couch and floor,

Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,

Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,

But for a dream, born in a herdsman’s shed,

And for the secret Scripture of the poor.

Thomas' name on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing. Uploaded to Lives of the First World War by Charlotte Czyzyk

Thomas’ name on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing. Photograph uploaded to Lives of the First World War by Charlotte Czyzyk.

Thomas never did return home. He was killed in action at Guinchy in France on 9 September 1916. He does not have a known grave and is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.

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Our Research: the Men in Kent who said No to War

 

Parliamentary Recruiting Committee Poster. IWM Art.IWM PST 5161

Parliamentary Recruiting Committee Poster. IWM Art.IWM PST 5161

To mark International Conscientious Objector Day on 15 May, we are highlighting the wonderful research carried out at the Kent History and Library Centre, Maidstone. Archive documents held at the Centre include a collection of case files for 153 Conscientious Objectors who appealed to the West Kent Appeal Tribunal for exemption from military service, after the introduction of the first Military Service Act in 1916.

 

In this guest blog post, Rob Illingworth and Julia Booth from The Kent History and Library Centre tell us about some of the fascinating stories that they have uncovered so far.

 

We have discovered many remarkable accounts of resistance, perseverance and courage.

By examining the Tribunal case files, together with the resources available on Lives of the First World War (especially The Pearce Register of British WW1 Conscientious Objectors), we are piecing together stories of Kent men who said no to war.  These individuals came from a range of backgrounds and were guided by a variety of different motives, ranging from political views to religious beliefs.

Here are just three of those stories, and we hope that Lives of the First World War will further strengthen our understanding of their experiences.

 

 

George was a grocer’s assistant employed by the Tunbridge Wells Co-operative Society. As a Christian and an International Socialist, he felt he could take no part in the war.

Following the decision by the Local and Appeal Tribunals to reject his application for Absolute Exemption from military service, George maintained his resistance to all military service throughout the war years. As a result he was sentenced to imprisonment with hard labour, where he contracted tuberculosis. After convalescing at Fairby Grange, Hartley, Kent, George spent two years in France and Poland working for the Friends’ War Victims’ Relief Committee.

A conscientious objector in prison. IWM Q 103094

A conscientious objector in prison. IWM Q 103094

Ernest was a warehouseman from Gravesend, and submitted an appeal for exemption  based on Christian principles. He declared,

“I conscientiously believe War to be contrary to the life and teachings of My Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, & therefore cannot under any circumstances take part in any military duties.”

Ernest’s application for Absolute Exemption was turned down by the Tribunal and he joined the Non-Combatant Corps. He was posted for Garrison Service abroad in April 1916, and was sent out to Mesopotamia as a Driver with the Royal Army Service Corps. Eventually, in May 1920, he was discharged from the Army, suffering from malaria.

 

Harold’s story is particularly tragic. He was a stonemason, living with his wife and young daughter in the village of Chart Sutton, near Maidstone. Harold held deeply engrained views that war was wrong and was resolute that there was no way that he could take part in it, either as a serviceman or as a non-combatant.

His total refusal to comply with military orders resulted in the imposition of four consecutive prison sentences, to be served with hard labour. During the time spent in prison his health deteriorated severely and a military doctor directed that he should be sent to Fort Pitt Military Hospital, Rochester. He remained there, suffering from tuberculosis, until it was clear that he was dangerously ill. After finally being discharged from the Army in May 1918, Harold died at home on 7 September 1918, aged 32.

 

 

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My research: The Mystery Medals

One of the recently-discovered medals. Image courtesy of Swallowfield Parish Council.

One of the recently-discovered medals. Image courtesy of Swallowfield Parish Council.

At the heart of Lives of the First World War are the Life Stories of more than 7.6 million individuals. They were part of the global conflict that shaped the world we live in today. But how can we find out more about their wartime experiences?

In this blog post, we share the remarkable story of how one Lives of the First World War member helped to discover the personal story behind some mysterious First World War medals.

 

  • An unexpected find

On 19 March 2016, Swallowfield Parish Council in Reading, Berkshire organized a clean up of the local area. Amongst the rubbish collected was a locked tin containing several medals. The Parish Council had no idea who they belonged to or how they got there, and appealed for people to get in touch via Facebook if they had any information.

Debbie Cameron, a long-time member of Lives of the First World War, saw the appeal on social media, and decided to see what she could find out. Debbie correctly identified three of the medals as First World War, and using the name and service number engraved on them, was able to research the mystery recipient.

Being a very keen amateur historian and member of Lives of the First World War,  I was able find out the full name and some information the person immediately, including his date of birth

Using the search box on Lives of the First World War, Debbie found the Life Story page for Oliver James Read, J.17997. Oliver’s British Royal Navy Seamen record revealed that he joined the Royal Navy in October 1914, and served throughout the war on many different ships. Notably, this included HMS Noble which took part in the Battle of Jutland on 31 May 1916.

Using details from this seed record, Debbie also discovered more about Oliver’s pre-war life from the 1911 census and found a record of his death in 1965.

 

  • Going a step further
Oliver James Read. Image uploaded to Lives of the First World War by Oliver Dunn.

Oliver James Read. Image uploaded to Lives of the First World War by Oliver Dunn.

Debbie then tried to find out if Oliver had any living relatives. She managed to track down his great-nephew and namesake, Oliver, who was thrilled with all the information that Debbie had found out.

A combination of wonderful online resources such as Lives of the First World War, social media and my experience and knowledge enabled this fantastic result

Oliver has now added a wonderful photograph to Lives of the First World War. In the image, Oliver James Read is wearing the three First World War medals that were found in the river.

 

We hope that this wonderful story will inspire other members of Lives of the First World War to continue adding facts, images and stories to the project.

  • Do you have an amazing story to share? Tell us about it every Friday from 12pm on Facebook and Twitter
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Our Research: Portsdown U3A

HMS NEW ZEALAND, which fought at the Battle of Jutland. IWM Q 21566

HMS NEW ZEALAND, which fought at the Battle of Jutland. IWM Q 21566

Lives of the First World War enables people of all ages from across the globe to explore, research, record and share information in one place. Organisations ranging from to schools to libraries, and local history groups to museums are using Lives of the First World War to both help their research and to create a lasting legacy for their wonderful work.

In this guest blog post, Carole Chapman from Portsdown U3A tells us about the group’s Jutland project.

We are using the Lives of the First World War to help us with our research into the personal details and stories of those men with local connections who died in the battle

Portsdown U3A has a Heritage Lottery funded project: The Impact on the People of Portsmouth of the Battle of Jutland.

The Battle of Jutland (31 May – 1 June 1916) was the largest naval battle of the First World War. It was the only time that the British and German fleets of ‘dreadnought’ battleships actually came to blows.  The British lost 14 ships and over 6,000 men, but were ready for action again the next day. The Germans, who had lost 11 ships and over 2,500 men, avoided complete destruction but never again seriously challenged British control of the North Sea. As a naval city many men from Portsmouth took part in the battle, and we are using the Lives site to help us with our research into the personal details and stories of those men with local connections who died in the battle.

Lives of the First World War workshop, University of Portsmouth. 3 February 2016

Lives of the First World War workshop, University of Portsmouth. 3 February 2016

Charlotte Czyzyk, Project Manager for Lives of the First World War, came down to Portsmouth to lead an excellent introductory workshop for our group and our partners at the University of Portsmouth. We have also just held our first drop-in session for members of the local community to share family history and stories of their relatives who fought in the Battle of Jutland. The results were fascinating and beyond our expectations. More events will take place soon!

Look out for future blog posts as our research progresses.

  • Are you currently undertaking a project to research First World War stories?
  • Share your expertise and contribute to the permanent digital memorial, to save it for future generations
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My Research: The Gladstones of Jersey

The Gladstone family, Jersey, 1912 - from a family album

The Gladstones in Jersey, 1912 – from a family album

Every Friday from 12pm we’re asking you to share the incredible discoveries you’ve made using Lives of the First World War on our Facebook page.

In this guest blog post, novelist and Lives of the First World War Volunteer Kristen den Hartog shares with us the remarkable stories of six women from one family, who contributed to the war effort in various ways.

 

Elsie Mabel Gladstone was the third of five sisters of striking resemblance, all of whom were born into a military family in India, and had settled in St. Helier’s, Jersey, before the First World War. Elsie completed her training as a nurse at London’s Guy’s Hospital in July 1915, and immediately entered the Civil Hospital Reserve. She served on a hospital ship for some time, and then in France and Belgium. In 1919, Elsie was working at the 48th Casualty Clearing Station, treating soldiers suffering from influenza, when she herself contracted the illness, and quickly developed pneumonia.

Elsie in her nursing uniform during the war - from a Gladstone family album

Elsie in her nursing uniform during the war – from a Gladstone family album

On the back of this portrait of Elsie in uniform, her sister Rose wrote, for posterity: “Sister Elsie M. Gladstone. QAIMNS; died nursing influenza stricken troops, Namur, Jan 1919. Served in France from August 1915. Rec. RCC. Anaesthetist for the hospital train.” These last words add a little piece more to Elsie’s story, and the level of responsibility she carried, for in the latter part of the war, due to a shortage of medical officers, some 50 specially selected nurses completed extensive training as “lady anaesthetists .” The decision was controversial, and only reached because the situation had become so dire. Despite months of training, the women were not allowed to keep their certificates, and their new skills would not be recognized after the war. One Australian nurse wrote in her diary that her work as an anaesthetist was “a big mental strain ” because of the risk involved, and kept a running tally of the number of times she’d administered anaesthesia — 49 and then 129 and then 227 — “and no casualties so far.” By January of 1919, for all she’d accomplished, Elsie Mabel Gladstone was patient rather than nurse, and succumbed to her illness at age 32. She was buried with military honours in Belgrade Cemetery, one of only two female casualties of the Great War interred in Belgium. She was awarded the Royal Red Cross 2nd Class for her contribution to the war effort, but she did not live to receive it.

This photograph comes from a Gladstone family album, and is thought to be of Elsie when she was serving as a nurse in France

This photograph comes from a Gladstone family album, and is thought to be of Elsie when she was serving as a nurse in France

 

  •  Elsie’s mother and sisters

Perhaps Elsie’s work treating wounded soldiers inspired her family back home; the Red Cross Register of Overseas Volunteers shows that Elsie’s oldest and youngest sisters, Florence Amy Lorne and Gladys Crommelin, signed up together on the same day. They served as VADs in Malta, where Florence met and married a doctor named James Sackville Martin. A photograph exists of the 1916 Valletta wedding, showing the sisters and uniformed groom alongside military men and a Territorial Force matron. Florence’s VAD career seems to have ended at this point, but Gladys carried on, moving from Malta to Falmouth Military Hospital, to Ashton Court Auxiliary Hospital, and finally to the Royal Herbert Hospital in Woolwich, where she remained until April 1919.

Florence Gladstone, centre woman, was a VAD in Malta when she married James Sackville Martin. Her sister Gladys (known as Betty) was a VAD as well, and stands on the other side of the groom - from a Gladstone family album

Bride Florence Gladstone (centre, with flowers) and her sister Gladys (fourth from left) – from a Gladstone family album

The second youngest Gladstone sister, Margaret, worked as Head Cook at the Fernleigh VAD Hospital in Larkfield, and also volunteered at home in Jersey. There, beginning in 1915, the women’s widowed mother, Florence Eliot Gladstone, and their sister, Rose, both worked in “hospital stores” at the Continental Hotel, which was the wartime headquarters for the Jersey branch of the Red Cross. Local volunteers produced everything from food parcels and knitted socks to pneumonia jackets and padded splints. Rose volunteered for a year before returning to India to marry, but some time after the war, she traveled to Belgium and photographed Elsie’s grave. Mother Florence, in her 60s by war’s end, continued at the Continental Hotel until January 1919, the very month that Elsie died in Belgium.

 

  • What’s your amazing discovery you’ve made on Lives of the First World War? Share them with us every Friday on Facebook from 12pm.
  • Search Lives of the First World War and see if you can piece together personal stories.
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Looking ahead to 2016

Happy New Year to all our Supporters, Members and Friends!

We need your help in 2016 to continue to remember the toil and sacrifice of men and women from across the British Empire and Commonwealth during the First World War. In particular, we will be marking 100 years since key moments and events of 1916, which include the following:

 

January – March

  • Final evacuation of troops from Gallipoli
  • Military Service Act, which introduced the compulsory enlistment of men of military age (including married men from May 1916)
1916 poster Art.IWM PST 5253

1916 poster Art.IWM PST 5253

 

April – June

  • Surrender of Kut, Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq)
  • Battle of Jutland
  • Death of Lord Kitchener on HMS Hampshire
HMS NEW ZEALAND, which fought at the Battle of Jutland. IWM Q 21566

HMS NEW ZEALAND, which fought at the Battle of Jutland. IWM Q 21566

 

July – September

Paper napkin commemorating the destruction of a German Zeppelin SL11 by William Leefe Robinson. IWM EPH 1469

Paper napkin commemorating the destruction of a German Zeppelin SL11 by William Leefe Robinson. IWM EPH 1469

 

October – December

  • End of the Battle of the Somme
  • Explosion at Barnbow munitions factory, Leeds
A ration limber on the Somme, November 1916. IWM Q 1612

A ration limber on the Somme, November 1916. IWM Q 1612

Throughout 2016, we will mark these and many other important anniversaries.

  • What’s your amazing discovery on Lives of the First World War? Share your stories with us every Friday on Facebook and Twitter from 12pm.
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