From the office: The secret ingredient of WW1 project success

By Jon Bauckham, 1 May 2014 - 3:55pm

With over 120 pins on our First World War projects map, staff writer Jon Bauckham caught up with the team behind one of the entries and discovered the key reasons behind its success

Thursday 1 May 2014

Jon Bauckham, staff writer
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The volunteers at Long Melford Heritage Centre hosted a special press day to promote their new First World War exhibition. Local engineer Simon Webb even brought along his 1913 army lorry to add to the atmosphere!

Although we only launched our Britain Remembers map in February, more than 120 First World War research projects have already been listed.

Every time an email has come in to say that a new project has been ‘pinned’ to the map, I have been quick to jump on to Twitter and make sure that our followers know about it. I have also been waxing lyrical about a few of them on Facebook too.

If you’ve picked up a copy of our May issue then you may have also had a chance to read my feature on the First World War centenary and the variety of approaches that the projects are taking. So far, I’ve come across projects being presented as websites, books and even short films!

While it would have been impossible for me discuss every single project on the map, there were some that have since come to my attention I wish I had been able to include.

I have been particularly impressed by the work at Long Melford Heritage Centre in West Suffolk, which was set up a couple of years ago by Rob Simpson and local councillor John Nunn. Through the efforts of volunteers, the centre is currently hosting a fascinating exhibition on local men and women from Long Melford who went off to the Front.

While this type of project is not uncommon, what I like is that there has been just as much emphasis on finding out about those who did not perish and came back to Long Melford, and whose lives would have no doubt been changed forever by the conflict.

As anyone who has attempted to research their First World War ancestors will have discovered, it can often be more difficult to find these people. However, speaking to project volunteer Anne Grimshaw gave me some food for thought and ideas that I thought were worth sharing.

Firstly, to get the project off the ground, researcher David Gevaux compiled a database of local men and boys based on the 1901 census. Then, using standard First World War documents such as the Medal Index Cards and the 'burnt' service records held at, he was able to expand each entry in the database and get a concrete idea of the role they played when war had broken out.

But to provide an overall picture of what life was like for their families back at home in Blighty, David and Anne paid visits to the Bury St Edmunds branch of Suffolk Record Office, where copies of the Suffolk Free Press are held on microfilm. Sitting in the search room, the pair scoured the papers for articles between the outbreak of the war in 1914 and October 1920, when the village memorial was unveiled. 

Tribunal records were also handy, as these gave names of those who sought exemption from military service after conscription was introduced in 1916. They also provided a wonderful amount of detail about each man's reasons for applying, including the local teacher who needed some extra time to take exams!

Finally, the group's 'roving reporter' John Broughton conducted interviews with relatives of the soldiers, discovering snippets of information that simply would not have been found elsewhere.

However... speaking to Anne and hearing about the sheer amount of effort that has gone into preparing the exhibition, it seems that above all, the key ingredient you need is passion. I’ve said this over and over again to my colleagues, but really – it is true.

It is thanks to these volunteers that the remarkable stories of locals such as Dorothy Younger – who served with the Women’s Auxiliary Corps and was awarded the Croix de Guerre – can finally be told. A research project may have all the funding in the world, but without innate drive and enthusiasm for the subject matter (the sort that makes you able to churn through six years of newspapers!) it will just not measure up.

At a special press day at the end of March, relatives of several of the people featured in the exhibition were in attendance, and no doubt delighted to see their ancestors commemorated in such a way. Although the display is only temporary, I am confident that the research and the stories of these people will live on for decades to come. Let's hope that I am right!

Feeling inspired? Let us know about your own First World War project by adding it to the Britain Remembers map today. It’s free!

Find out more about Long Melford Heritage Centre's First World War exhibition here.


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