MORE than 300,000 First World War records are being released by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) 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.
It hopes that the unveiling of its recently-completed online archives, as well as a new Discover 14-18 microsite, will make finding and visiting memorial sites of relatives and loved ones killed in the war easier than ever before.
The commission is responsible for marking and caring for the graves and memorials of 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.
It has undertaken a five-year project to scan more than 300,000 documents relating to those who died in service and upload them to its website, www.cwgc.org. They will be available for the public to view for the first time from today.
The documents will give an insight into the process of commemoration undertaken by the Army and the CWGC after the First World War and include details of personal headstone inscriptions, date of death, rank, regiment and even some documents which show the journey of the dead to their final resting place.
The online documents include registers of the people the commission is responsible for commemorating.
Registers were produced by the commission on a cemetery-by-cemetery or memorial-by-memorial basis, and eventually ran to 1,500 volumes. 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 – 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.
CWGC archivist and records manager Andrew Fetherston said: “For the first time, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is providing public access to the hundreds of thousands of documents in its archive.”
CWGC historian Dr Glyn Prysor 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.”