Millions of soldiers listed on first national war memorials database

By Rosemary Collins, 22 March 2018 - 10:07am

Imperial War Museums launched the War Memorials Register to mark the 100th anniversary of the 1918 Spring Offensive

The register includes the names of women, like those commemorated on the Surrey Voluntary Aid Detachment Memorial in Guildford. Credit: Imperial War Museums

Over a million names of those killed in the First World War can now be located in a new database of war memorials.

The new War Memorials Register, published on the Imperial War Museums (IWM) website, contains around 1,025,000 names from the UK's War Memorials and Rolls of Honour and over 23,000 images of the memorials.

Around two-thirds of the records relate to casualties of the First World War.

The database can be searched by an individual's surname or first name.

As well as showing the location of the memorial, gravestone or Roll of Service where they are commemorated, it allows researchers to see what further biographical information is available about their military service and date of death.

"Because it's 30 years of many, many hundreds of people's collection of war memorial names, there are many excellent war memorial sites the length of the land but this is the only one that is going to get you a universal search," Ian Hook, project and public engagement manager at IWM, told Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine.

He added that researchers would be able to "drill drown further" with the help of other resources such as IWM's 'digital memorial' Lives of the First World War, which shares details about the men who served in the war.

The database includes the names of civilians killed in the war as well as combatants.

Among them are victims of Zeppelin air raids, munitions workers killed in factory explosions, and victims of the sinking of the Lusitania.

There are 3197 names of women recorded on the register.

The idea of a national War Memorials Register was established in 1989 by IWM director general Dr Alan Borg with the aim of recording war memorials that were in danger of being lost.

It was originally focused on the art history value of the war memorials, but expanded to include family history after volunteers began collecting lists of the names recorded on the memorials.

There are over 75,000 war memorials in the United Kingdom, while an estimated 3000 have been lost.

The new Register launched at an event at IWM North in Manchester on 21 March, the 100th anniversary of the start of the Spring Offensive, when the German army began a series of attacks against the British on the Western Front in a bid to defeat them before America fully deployed its army and resources in the war.

IWM chose this date because so many families were left searching for their missing loved ones after the Offensive, with similarities to the families searching for their First World War ancestors now.

The first day of the Offensive is the second-worst day in British military history, surpassed only by the first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916, with 38,500 casualties, including 21,000 soldiers captured.

The Germany system for handling prisoners, and the Red Cross system for informing their families, broke down because of the numbers, leaving many families desperate for news of the men.

"The day figured in my family folklore and if families scratched the surface of their own folklore they may find 21 March 1918 to be a significant date - as were the succeeding weeks," Ian explained.



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