Video: How a wartime diary brought the past to life

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Discovering a wartime diary has brought the reality of war home to Jeanette Payne and turning its pages has brought her family’s history to life.

Up until three weeks ago, Mrs Payne, from Leeds, did not realise her great grandfather John Henry Fisher had served during World War One. She discovered he had written a diary telling of his time working as a Labour Boy. The Labour Corps worked to ensure the soldiers had the weapons and equipment they needed in the theatre of war.

Mrs Payne says she did not realise her great grandfather, who was initially sent to Fulford Barracks, in York, but after training at various locations was in Arras, France, two weeks later, had served in the war. But she has now been given his diary to read after a conversation with a family member revealed its existence.

“It has been absolutely fascinating, really,” she said.

“He talks about working in the Ypres area in places that we read about in our history books and suddenly to find out that he was there is just absolutely amazing.”

Mrs Payne attended a press conference at York Castle Museum yesterday to highlight a European project which aims to encourage people to share their family memories of the Great War. Those behind the project say boxes hidden deep in the attic or under the bed in homes across the country often contain postcards, medals, letters, diaries and other items that may seem ordinary to their families but which tell extraordinary stories which should be preserved.

The British Library’s northern site at Boston Spa has joined forces with Europeana - Europe’s digital museum, library and archive. They are working to gather and tell people’s family stories from 1914-1918. These will then be shared via Europeana’s online archive - http://www.europeana1914-1918.eu/en.

A roadshow will be held at the British Library, Thorp Arch Trading Estate, in Boston Spa, Wetherby, on Saturday, August 2, 11am-5pm and historians and experts from the York Museums Trust, Lancaster University and local history societies will be on hand to talk about the significance of finds and staff from the British Library will professionally digitise the objects which will be uploaded to the dedicated Europeana 1914-1918 website.

Those behind the project say it will stop precious memorabilia from being lost or thrown away - and it keeps them safe for future use by schools, genealogists and others. If people aren’t able to get to the event in Boston Spa, the Europeana 1914-1918 website gives advice on how to can scan, photograph and upload material at home.

Others attending yesterday’s press conference included Carol Smith, from Selby, whose grandfather, John Ford, from Duncombe Park, North Yorkshire, was a member of the Royal Cycling Corps. He was injured and sent home but was sent back to the front in 1917 after marrying his sweetheart, Ada.

Her other grandfather, Thomas Burnett from Leeds, had been in the army before the war. He was called up and sent to the Front, where he was taken prisoner. After the war, John and Thomas met in a park in Selby. Their children later married and Mrs Smith is their granddaughter.

Mrs Smith says she only has vague memories of Mr Ford as she was only young when he died. She says she did not talk about the war with her other grandfather but says of her decision to share family Great War items including postcards and medals: “I know my parents would have been proud.”