EARLIER this year Bradford folk were invited to take their keepsakes from the First World War to a roadshow at City Hall.

Organised by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, in partnership with the University of Oxford, it was part of a project called Lest We Forget: Keep Their Stories Alive; preserving items and memories of the 1914-18 conflict for a national digital archive. The idea was to record the stories, objects and memories that survive, not in museum collections or history books, but in the homes of families - from medals in the attic to keepsakes in kitchen drawers.

The Bradford roadshow was a success; attracting more than 300 items passed down in families. Among them was a periscope used in the trenches by William Whitfield. His granddaughter, Liz Hall, played with it as a child.

Liz also took along other items passed down by William, including a splatter mask, worn by soldiers in tanks to protect their eyes in combat, ‘trench art’ ornaments made from bullet cases, and a 1918/19 diary kept by William in France.

“The roadshow was amazing,” said Liz. “We learned so much about William’s time in the war, as well as historical context around his medals and splatter mask. It’s important for us to honour and remember our grandad’s service to our country. This archive ensures that his story is never lost.”

Other objects taken to the roadshow included a 1920s cast iron sign from Lonsdale Cemetery on the Somme, an officer’s compass, and miniature versions of medals. Almost 2,500 digital images were made from the City Hall roadshow, one of four held across the UK. A further 34 volunteer-led collection days took place.

Now the Lest We Forget digital archive is up and running, containing over 800 stories from the Great War, including contributions from the Bradford event. Created with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, it offers a snapshot of life for the wartime generation on the Front and at home.

Nearly 10,000 images have been catalogued of artefacts, from letters to hand-carved mementoes from the trenches. The whole collection is now digitally available to browse, providing a valuable resource to understanding life on the battlefields and for the families left behind.

John Grain, CWGC executive director, said: “We’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who attended or volunteered at the Lest We Forget collection days. “We now have an online resource teeming with artefacts and human stories. The CWGF is here to keep alive stories of the war dead and this archive preserves another 800 war memories for generations to come.”

Dr Stuart Lee, from the University of Oxford, said: “The engagement from schools, volunteers and the public was heartening, and the number of stories and objects preserved is extraordinary. All of these will also form part of the Europeana 1914-1918 project which holds over half a million items crowd-sourced from across Europe.”

* To view the items, now digitised, and stories behind them go to lwf.it.ox.ac.uk/s/lest-we-forget

Emma Clayton