What’s different about Lives of the First World War?

richard-grayson

Richard Grayson’s Book ‘Belfast Boys’, on the First World War battalions of Belfast, began with research into his own family. Image © Goldsmiths, University of London

Professor Richard Grayson, head of IWM’s Academic Advisory Group, shares 4 ways Lives of the First World War will change the way we approach the First World War.

Lives of the First World War is a memorial, but it is also a living project which will help academics and the public connect to write history.

1. Connecting citizen historians and their work

Lives of the First World War is a memorial, but it is also a living project which will help academics and the public connect to write history.

Operation War Diary is an example of ‘citizen historians’ and academic historians pulling together First World War data from their many research projects. Lives of the First World War will attempt to achieve this on a wider scale.

2. Generating new data and statistics

Lives of the First World War will, I think, enable us to gather together a lot of new statistics, answer crucial academic questions about the war, and test popular narratives.

For example, we can use the site to measure:

  • The nature of service in local areas
  • The changing nature of military units – for example, we can chart how the composition of battalions changed as the war progressed
  • The physical condition of individuals, analysing trends in the health, height and weight of different groups.

3. Rescuing lost stories

I think we will also be able to rescue, bring to light, and maybe help verify a host of war stories.

One story in my family history involves my grandfather Edward Grayson, who was in the RAF. Occasionally in the RAF in 1918 they used to take all sorts of things up in the planes to drop on German lines. They would take up all sorts of rubbish as well as bombs.

One day, the story goes, Edward noticed a rusty old sewing machine in a corner of the airfield, and decided to drop it on the enemy. Unfortunately it was too heavy, and as the plane took off, the sewing machine fell through the floor, leaving a hole in the bottom of the plane.

That was just a story we were told, passed through the family. We have no evidence for that, but that’s the kind of thing I’ll be able to add to Edward Grayson’s Life Story page as ‘personal knowledge’.

Perhaps someone else whose relative served with Edward also has this story in their family, too. Maybe someone has a diary documenting how his sewing machine fell out of the aircraft.

richard-grayson2

Professor Richard Grayson’s family photographs and mementoes tell part of the story of his Northern Irish relatives and their First World War experience. Image © Goldsmiths, University of London

4. Discovering new sources

The Imperial War Museum was originally set up to be a memorial to those who lost their lives in the First World War. Lives of the First World War will continue that vision, but on a much larger scale.

The project will enable people to see documents that have previously only been in boxes at the Imperial War Museum, but it will also enable you to put your own mementoes online, and for these objects and their stories to become part of a community.

  • Professor Richard Grayson is Chair of IWM’s Academic Advisory Group on Lives of the First World War, Head of History at Goldsmiths, University of London, and the author of Belfast Boys: How Unionists and Nationalists Fought and Died Together in the First World War.
This entry was posted in My Research and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What’s different about Lives of the First World War?

  1. Tony Clevett says:

    Remembering my grandfather Herbert George Clevett,2nd Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment.Killed in 1st battle of Ypres,November 1914.

  2. Ian R Lawson says:

    Ah, that brass box that Professor Grayson is holding: similar if not the same as the Christmas box given by HRH Princess Louise to the BEF in 1914. My father came with the 6th. Inniskillings from India, in December, just in time for his box! Throughout my briefer service in the RAC and the Third Hussars, I used it as my sewing box.
    My father’s brother, Ernest, had already been called back from Canada and the Reserves, to serve in the 1st. LifeGuards and die with many of those aristocrats: October 26, 1914. My father survived by joining the Machine Gun Corps.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *