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Lasting tribute to heroes
Families and descendents of soldiers who were killed in the First World War will now have the opportunity to find out where their brave relatives died and were laid to rest.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) has released more than 300,000 additional records of troops who were killed during the Great War to show how Britain came to commemorate its war dead.
The commission, founded in 1917, is releasing some of its original documents online for the first time today as it launches two new resources designed to help the public get a better understanding of those who lost their lives in service during the war.
The 300,000 records join the more than one million the CWGC already have on files – which include the details of 6,000 men from Sussex who lost their lives.
The Argus will be featuring extensive coverage of the centenary of the First World War in our supplement on Monday, August 4.
Andrew Fetherston, CWGC archivist and records manager, said: “For the first time, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is providing public access to the hundreds of thousands of documents in its archive.
“The documents are a window into the commission's past and the incredible work carried out after the First World War to ensure those who died would not be forgotten. They are the very foundation on which our work is built.
“As working documents, it is fascinating to see the typed and handwritten lists, the corrections and notes as they strived for accuracy.
“For the families of those we commemorate, these records give a snapshot into the processes by which their relatives would have been identified and buried, or commemorated on a memorial, and give a direct link back to a time in the immediate aftermath of the war.
“It is this direct link back to a muddy field or a hastily dug grave, in any one of the hundreds of different battlefields and theatres of war that made up the First World War that imbue these records with meaning, authenticity and a sense of history.
“We believe the documents make the experience of searching through our records even more fascinating than before.”
The commission is responsible for marking and caring for the graves and memorials of over 1.7 million Commonwealth war dead from the two world wars.
And in the run-up to the centenary of the First World War in August this year, it has undertaken a five-year project to scan more than 300,000 documents relating to those who died in service to upload them onto its website. The documents are now readily available for anyone to see by visiting the CWGC website and typing in the names of one of your lost relatives.
After finding them you will be able to discover who they were, where they died and where they have been buried.
They contain an entry for each individual, with details of their rank, regiment, unit and date of death, with many also including extra information such as next of kin details.
The archive also includes alternative commemoration documents.
There are collections of grave registration documents for graves and cemeteries that have been lost or abandoned; as well as burial returns lists of people recovered or exhumed from their original burial location and moved to a particular cemetery.
The First World War was the first great effort to categorise every single solider lost in a conflict. Dr Glyn Prysor, CWGC historian, said: “The centenary of the First World War has created an unprecedented level of interest in the history of the conflict and in the work of the commission. But for many people, the centenary will be about discovery as much as remembrance.
“Discover 14-18 will highlight a selection of our cemeteries and memorials, and explain how they relate to battles, campaigns and aspects of the wartime experience in a straightforward and accessible way.
“We want to help people understand where they are, how they were created, and be inspired to find out more. As the site develops over the coming centenary period, we hope to encourage new generations of pilgrims to visit, to learn and to reflect.”
To search for your relatives who served in the First World War go to www.cwgc.org.