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Bring the First World War to life by searching for fallen ancestors

A century after the First World War started, the generation that lived through it has all but gone. First-person testimony is no longer among us, so new ways to record, explain and explore that catastrophic conflict are becoming ever-more crucial for young people.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which is responsible for the graves and memorials of over 1.7 million casualties from the two world wars, has launched two new online resources to help understand those who lost their lives between 1914 and 1918.

The first presents a mind-boggling figure: 300,000 historical military records have been scanned, in a painstaking five-year process, so that they can be opened up to the public for the first time. They include details of headstone inscriptions, date of death, rank, regiment and even some documents that show the journey of the deceased to a final resting place.

“As working documents, it is fascinating to see the typed and handwritten lists, the corrections and notes as they strived for accuracy,” said Andrew Fetherstone, the commission’s archivist and records manager. “We believe the documents make the experience of searching through our records even more fascinating than before.”

The second resource, the Discover 14-18 microsite, makes finding and visiting memorial sites of relatives killed in the First World War easier than it has ever been. It includes an events calendar for the war, exploring major battles and the different roles of the army, navy and air force, all linking back to memorial sites and the new online archives.

The resources have been launched to coincide with the centenary of the start of the war, which falls on 28 July, and to add to existing teaching materials for primary and secondary schools.

Related resources

Teaching the First World War
Find a wealth of free lesson plans, activities and teaching ideas in our dedicated First World War collection. 

Commonwealth War Graves Commission teaching resources
Free teaching resources from the CWGC available to download from TES Resources.

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