Written on 08-11-2017 by Craig Owen
‘Digital Act of Remembrance’ links past and future generations’
The Welsh Book of Remembrance from the First World War, a national treasure housed in Wales’ Temple of Peace in Cardiff, has been digitised and is now publicly searchable online at BookofRemembrance.Wales, following a 2 year project involving over 150 volunteers from communities across Wales, working with the Welsh Centre for International Affairs and National Library of Wales and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The Book of Remembrance
The beautiful, leather bound Book of Remembrance contains on velum parchment – illuminated in gold leaf, fine ink and calligraphy – the names of over 40,000 “men and women of Welsh birth and parentage, and of all those belonging to the regiments of Wales, who gave their lives in the war 1914-1918.”
Researched and compiled by hand through the 1920s by a women working with renowned calligrapher Graily Hewitt of Lincoln’s Inn and the Gregynog Press, the book is the Roll of Honour to accompany the WW1 War Memorial in Cathays Park, opened by King Edward VII in 1928. Opposite Wales’ War Memorial, the Temple of Peace – opened in 1938 – was built to house the book, and in memory of those who had lost their lives, to ‘become a symbol of Wales’ determination to strive for justice and peace for future generations’. These words were spoken in 1938 by Minnie James, a mother from Merthyr Tydfil who had lost 3 sons in WW1, and who was asked to open the Temple of Peace on behalf of the war-bereaved mothers and widows of the world.
Finding Individuals in the Book of Remembrance
For Remembrance Day 2017, WCIA and the National Library are delighted to launch the digitised Book of Remembrance online, at:
Functionality enabling users and the public for the first time to search and view the inscriptions honouring individual soldiers, nurses, relatives and community members who died in WW1, by typing names of individuals, home towns or regiments in to the ‘search’ box at the bottom. Users can then view the inscriptions individually.
Sir Emyr Jones Parry, WCIA President, said: “It is right that we remember the sacrifices made by so many Welsh men and women during the First World War. The echo is constant and now the Welsh National Book of Remembrance is available online so that descendants, historians and those interested can access details of those who died for a peaceful future.”
The Regimental Collections of names can also be viewed on People’s Collection Wales.
The Story of Transcription: A Volunteer Effort
Transcription of the 40,000 names was undertaken over the course of 2 years by volunteers in Aberystwyth, Cardiff, Caernarfon and Bangor, along with young people from a number of schools, colleges and community groups, as a ‘digital act of remembrance’. WCIA and NLW would like to pay tribute to volunteers whose efforts have enabled this national treasure to be accessible online for future generations.
The Book at Bodelwyddan Castle, Denbighshire; volunteer Mared transcribes at the Eisteddfod in Anglesey; school children in Wrexham participate in a ‘transcribathon’
“My grandfather was an engineer in the Merchant Navy and his ship, the S.S. Memnon was torpedoed. As a family we always mentioned him as having died in the war, but nothing more. Looking through old boxes, I found some of his medals, and taking part in the transcription prompted me to do some more research into his story”.
Gwenno Watkin, Aberystwyth – whose grandfather’s story was featured in WCIA’s exhibition in the National Library of Wales:
Open Source Data
The records are also being made available as an open source data set with the invitation – and challenge – for organisations, students and programmers to develop web-based resources that enable people to find out more about those who lost their lives. The data set will be accessible within coming weeks from the National Library’s online Research tools (NLW data):
One organisation picking up the data challenge is the UK’s Imperial War Museum, who will be integrating the WCIA project into their IWM War Memorials Register, which seeks to record every war memorial, both extant and lost, in the United Kingdom, with the names of the men and women that are commemorated on them. The completion of the Welsh Book of Remembrance enables IWM to reach their long-held target of a million memorials, which they have been working towards since 1989.
Remembering for Peace: The Exhibition Tour
To mark the WW1 centenary period, the Book has been touring Wales as the centrepiece of WCIA’s ‘Remembering for Peace’ exhibition, complementing the Poppies: Weeping Window sculptures in Caernarfon Castle through Autumn 2016, and Cardiff Bay in Autumn 2017 as well as appearances at Bodelwyddan Castle, Denbighshire, Narberth Museum, Pembrokeshire, and Oriel Ynys Mon, Anglesey.
The tour was launched at the Senedd on Remembrance Day 2015, as part of the “National Assembly Remembers” events programme. The Remembering for Peace exhibition can now be viewed online, and on week days in the entrance lobby of Cardiff’s Temple of Peace; and the original Book of Remembrance itself can be viewed by booking on one of WCIA’s regular ‘Temple Tours’, advertised via the WCIA website.
HLF Cymru, 2015
Accurate Record or Symbolic Gesture?
Throughout the 1920s – with an absence of dependable and centralised records – a nationwide drive was launched across Wales, with significant support of women’s movements, to try to capture the names of all those who perished. However, some families held mixed and raw emotions on the nature of remembrance. Many felt their loved ones had been ‘cannon fodder’ for governments in a needless and wasteful war – and refused for their names to be used on institutional memorials that they perceived to glorify war, or justify further military recruitment. Out of such debates emerged the powerful symbols of the red and white poppies (see below), favoured by the military and peace movements for remembrance respectively. The symbolic significance of the book is often seen to be as important as its role as a record of the fallen:
“The collection of the names.. was a work of considerable magnitude… and although the list can scarcely be claimed to be absolutely accurate and complete, the greatest care has been taken to make it so.” Excerpt from the Programme of the Unveiling Ceremony for the Welsh National Memorial.
Sharing Soldiers Stories
For relatives seeking to remember a loved one, or schools seeking to undertake projects that connect with the people behind the names in the book, WCIA and NLW continue to appeal for stories that can be contributed to soldiers records on Wales at War.
Soldiers Stories can take the form of short pieces of research, blogs or multimedia projects, and are a deeply moving way to remember those who lost their lives 100m years ago.
- Alfred Howell, Aberystwyth – Research entry on Wales at War
- Welsh among the ANZACs of Palestine – Blog project
- Private Allen Price, Herefordshire – Multimedia project
Video Shorts produced with the Wales for Peace Project
Llandrillo College, 2016
Ysgol Cym Rhymni, 2017
Women, War & Peace, 2017
Media Enquiries about the Wales for Peace project / Book of Remembrance
For further information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, contact the Welsh Centre for International Affairs on 02920228549, or Head of Wales for Peace Craig Owen 07876638846.