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.
- 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/