Oxford academics are leading a nationwide fundraising campaign to help preserve personal memories and objects of the First World War.

One last effort to save the stories of the Great WarGodley’s Own Oxford Volunteers marching past Sheldonian during the First World War

As we approach the last leg of the centenary commemorations of the First World War, Oxford academics are launching an attempt to ensure vital scattered records of the experience are not lost forever.

Lest We Forget is an initiative which aims to train local communities across the UK to run digital collection days.

At a collection day, experts take digital copies of objects and stories of the generation who lived through the First World War.

‘Almost everyone was impacted by the First World War,’ said project leader Dr Stuart Lee of Oxford University’s English Faculty.

One last effort to save the stories of the Great War‘We must not forget the sacrifice that generation made. Every day the stories and memories of that generation are being lost.

‘We want to make sure that those boxes of memories and memorabilia that kept in our attics, passed down through the generations, are not thrown away.’

The project builds on the pioneering work the University did in 2008 to get members of the public to submit items online that they held related to World War One. In just three months the earlier campaign collected more than 6,000 items — which can be viewed online for free.

The methods the University developed were then used across mainland Europe where 200,000 items were collected from 15 countries as part of the Europeana 1914-1918 project.

Lest We Forget aims to bring this back home. It will capture the stories of the Great War before they are lost forever, preserving them for future generations. The team plans to do this through mass-digitisation of objects and memories.

The programme will help local communities organise and run digitisation days to capture memories of the First World War that have been passed down through families, as well as photographs, diaries, letters and mementos that tell the story of a generation at war.

Once the stories have been collected, they will be made available to the public through a large, free-to-use online database, which will be launched on 11 November 2018 to complement projects and events nationwide commemorating one hundred years since the end of the war.

One last effort to save the stories of the Great WarLand girls mounted on working horses at Kelmscott

The database and its contents will be free to reuse, enabling the stories and experiences of the past to move into research and education today.

In order to support local communities and to train local digital champions who can capture memories and objects, Lest We Forget aims to raise at least £80,000 through a campaign hosted on OxReach, the University’s crowdfunding platform.

‘This website will be one of the most important resources for people teaching, studying or with an interest in the First World War,’ said Dr Lee, who is also the University's Deputy Chief Information Officer.

The crowdfunding page is here and the project also has a Facebook page here.

Help us save the stories from World War I

Archive photographs (including Sister Grundy outside the nurses quarters at Merton College, converted into the Oxford section of the military 3rd Southern General Hospital) reproduced courtesy of Oxford University Images / Oxfordshire History Centre.


By Alison Richards

key may be collaboration eg with the IWM Lives of the First world war- perhaps this also needs funds?

By Nigel Jeremy Mu...

Have you gathered all the available material on home defence during WW1, especially the searchlight and anti-aircraft side of things? My father, G.A.M.Brown, graduated from Glasgow University in 1914. He had joined Glasgow University's Officer Training Corps when he was seventeen and on August 2 1914 he applied for a commission. He was gazetted on September 1st a Second Lieutenant in a territorial regiment of the Royal Engineers. He was posted to the Tees "Fortress Garrison" based on South Gare, where he witnessed the German bombardment of the Hartlepool area. He spent the entire war on anti-aircraft defence, ending as a Major in a staff position. He appears in the Allan Ferrie collection of letters at the Imperial War Museum. Of course theirs was a very different war from the men in the trenches.

By John Borgars

My big sister has compiled a record of letters home from our two great-uncles who fought in the trenches until they both ended up in hospital whereafter one joined the Royal Flying Corps and the other, who took longer to recover, joined Ironside in Russia [FYI, both grandfathers had very small children and at least one was asthmatic].
Do you want this information?

By Arthur Stockwin

I published a collection of letters from WWI, titled Thirty-odd feet below Belgium: An affair of letters in the Great War 1915-1916, second revised edition, London, Bagshawe Books 2016, and can supply a free copy if required. I still keep the original letters, but have promised them eventually to the Royal Engineers museum in Kent. But I am happy to provide them - as well as a few extra photos, for digitisation.

By John Ford

I have a stack of photographs from my grandfather's days as a conscript in the machine gun corp (training at Clipstone Manor.) He missed action on the front but also served as a PoW orderly at Cannock Chase. Have also some photos of his uncle who was a professional soldier.Killed at Ypres May 1915. Have some ID cards etc as well. Live in Great Missenden. Work in Oxford. Where should I take them?

By chris erwin

My story for your records
My Aunt married a son of a Viscount, but on the wrong side of the blanket
He inherited the manners of the upper class
At that time the life expectancy of first lieutenants in the front line averaged four weeks.
But this is an average
On his first day as a newly commissioned lieutenant, he had joined his regiment in the front line for less than three minutes
The whistle blew for an advance.
He was first up the ladder towards the Germans. At the top of the ladder, he was shot in the head by the German sniper who was waiting for the first officer over the top.

By Stuart Lee

Dear All,

Many thanks for all the suggestions here for material - these all sound ideal and exactly the sort of thing we are looking for. At present though we are trying to raise sufficient funds to launch the project so we would ask anyone who is able to donate by sending a cheque to me (payable to 'Oxford University Development Trust', c/o 13 Banbury Rd, Oxford OX2 6NN; or pay online at the crowd-funding link above (or go to: https://oxreach.hubbub.net/p/lestweforget/).

In answer to the suggestion about linking up with the Imperial War Museum - this is something we already do and in the past some of the material we have unearthed has been used by the IWM. The ir Lives of Soldiers is an excellent project but focuses on an individual who served. Our focus here is on the objects and stories retained by families over the generations - many of which do not relate to an individual, but might be an event, or relate to people who did no serve in the armed forces (including children). To note we have collected over 200,000 objects across mainland Europe now and the aim is to bring this back to the UK and train local volunteers in the skills needed to collect this material which is being lost every day.

Thanks you once again for all your support and questions. Please do contact me directly if you wish (details on the crowd-funding platform).

Dr Stuart Lee
University of Oxford

By Carolyn Jones

My Maternal Grandfather was billeted, together with other members of the Ox and Bucks Regiment, overnight in Balliol on their way to the Front. My Aunt has a photograph of the contingent taken on the College steps as well as a portrait of my Grandfather taken in a studio in Oxford at the same time. She is keen for these to become a matter of record. Are you interested and if so what should we do?

By Catherine Belsey

I have transcribed the letters of my great-uncle, written over exactly one year (1916-17) to his new wife. They are surprisingly affectionate and confiding. The transcription, with some photos, is available electronically, with my commentary, mainly on the people he mentions and their social context. Is it of any interest?

By Stuart Lee

Catherine/Carolyn (if I may!),

Yes these are all very interesting. However, as pointed out in my comment above, we are trying to raise the funds to get this off the ground for now. If we do then we would really like to save the items you mention at a local collection day. Again please note details of the crowd-funding platform (in my earlier note and in the article) or pay by cheque. Again feel free to contact me directly via email (details on the crowd-funding platform).

Thanks again,