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By Astrid Purton, Graduate Trainee, University of Glasgow Archive Services
In the midst of the Centenary of the First World War it has become clear that on a local, regional and national level there is a drive to remember those who served and passed away in the chilling global conflict. In Archive Services for example, we have seen individuals, groups and communities visit our search-room for a wide variety of First World War related enquiries (including projects to rebuild WWI locomotives and boats, to piece together family histories and to update or create memorials).
The University of Glasgow itself is also hosting a number of commemorative events and projects to remember its students and staff who took part in the war. One such project is the development of the on-line Roll of Honour which currently features 441 images, 639 biographies and 4549 records of those who served.
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.
With the global significance of the Great War, the input of a small community like that of the University of Glasgow could very easily be marginalized. Glasgow University’s Roll of Honour, however, refuses to let this happen in its efforts to commemorate the life of every student and staff member who fell in the years between 1914 and 1918, as well as those who served and survived. It is this restoration of the human element to the Great War that inspired my involvement in writing Roll of Honour biographies. With the passing of the last of the WWI veterans, the lives of these servicemen may seem, more so than ever, very distant from our own. Yet many of them studied the same subjects as I study, had the same aims as I have and even lived on the same road as I live on now. Glasgow University’s Roll of Honour reminds us of these similarities and allows us to glimpse the people and life behind the action of the War.
On Monday, 4 August the UK commemorated the centenary of its entry into the First World War. With the close of the Commonwealth Games just a day before, Glasgow became the locus of Commonwealth centenary commemoration. Following a memorial service in Glasgow Cathedral, officials, members of the armed forces, and dignitaries from around the Commonwealth attended a wreath-laying ceremony at the city’s cenotaph in George Square and a reception in City Chambers.
My work as a battlefield archaeologist has brought me as close to the realities of the Great War as it is possible to get, one hundred years after the fact. I have excavated trenches at various locations on the Western Front, as well as mass graves at Fromelles, in French Flanders. In 2008 I was also privileged to accompany Harry Patch, the last man alive to have fought on the Western Front, as he made his final visit to Flanders, to unveil a monument at the place where he went over the top at Passchendaele in 1917.
This project is primarily about sharing the stories of those who walked, or even marched, on the beautiful Gilmorehill campus before us. It is about remembering our own community in the “war to end all wars”. We want to tell of the individual staff and students, the soldiers, nurses, engineers and even the diplomats and spies who made Gilmorehill what it is today.
Our University has long embraced diversity. Those who have been displaced from the collective wartime memory – the women doctors, the conscientious objectors and our alumni who fought for Germany and her Allies – will be remembered as part of this Project.