By Kirsty Nicholson, Roll of Honour Student Editor and student in History at the University of Glasgow
Throughout the course of the First World War centenary, the University of Glasgow is researching and remembering the death of each individual on the Roll of Honour. Creating a biography for each person on the online Roll of Honour is a tremendously important endeavour, and not just for fellow historians. I think the task is important because in doing so, everybody on the memorial becomes a real person, with a personality, instead of just a name recorded forever but barely known. By taking the time to uncover information, even just about their (often) short time at the university, those who died in the terrible conflict become more recognisable, and thus easier to relate to. To me this is so important because as time goes on, the history of the First World War becomes more of a distant memory. It is already passing out of living memory and feels firmly in the past – events to be studied by future generations. As time passes, the world that the individuals on the Roll of Honour lived in will become less and less familiar. By creating online biographies that are easily accessible to anybody, hopefully some of the familiarity can be retained. In years to come, when somebody from the class of 2115 studies the Great War, hopefully they can look upon these biographies, and smile to find out that one particular soldier studied the same subject or perhaps lived on the same street as them. By finding familiarities and common connections with the people that came before us, we find it easier to engage with them. Hopefully, then, that student from 2115 will be impassioned to learn more about the Great War, and the fate of that soldier and his battalion, because of a personal cord that was struck when he realised the soldier would have lived next door to him. Maybe then he will go on to question why that soldier was involved in the war, and why that war even happened in the first place.
By Charles A Mawer, 2nd Year Student in Naval Architecture at the University of Strathclyde
Examples of surviving First World War light gauge railway equipment © Martin O’Keeffe.
This year marks the centenary of the introduction of a forgotten (but arguably the most effective) transport system of the First World War: light railways. Once the opposing sides had dug in on the Western Front, and their continuous artillery bombardments churned up the ground, the task of supplying the front lines became more difficult. The motor lorries, which the British Army had intended to use for all transportation needs, broke up the ground more with their narrow tyres. As the roads became unusable, other methods of getting supplies to the trenches were used. Mules were used, but they had a low carrying capacity, as did soldiers carrying supplies up to the front themselves. In other areas, homemade narrow (60cm) gauge light railways were built using items obtained from local industrial sites, such as collieries and factories. In sectors of the front taken over from the French, soldiers were able to utilise trench railways built by the French. British High Command still believed that the war would be one of movement, and as a result the use of the trench railways was not officially sanctioned until early 1916. It would take until 1916 and the recommendation of Sir Eric Geddes (of the Ministry of Munitions, and formerly of the North Eastern Railway Company) before the War Office accepted that a network of light railways to supply the frontline would be highly beneficial.