Great War Archive to digitise World War I memories

16 Dec 2010

The German National Library, Oxford University and Europeana have signed an agreement to digitise family papers and memorabilia from Word War I to create an online archive about those involved in the event.

Oxford University started this process when it asked people in Britain to bring in family letters, photos and keepsakes from the war to be digitised.

It was quite successful, becoming the Great War Archive. This encouraged Europeana, Europe’s digital archive, library and museum, to bring the German National Library into an alliance with the university to roll out the scheme in Germany.

It will bring German soldiers’ stories online alongside British soldiers in this archive of the war.

There will also be a series of roadshows in Germany to invite people to bring in documents from family members involved in World War I to be digitised and to tell the stories that went with them.

The initiative will also have a website, letting people submit material online if they can’t attend the roadshow.

Memories of the war

“We are proud to be part of this alliance. These artifacts and their stories have survived and we must record them while they are still part of family memory,” said German national librarian, Dr Elisabeth Niggemann.

“Little of this material will ever have been on public display, or been made available to historians.

“What the 1914-18 war demonstrates, especially at the personal level, is the futility of war, and the pity of it for the men and their families,” she said.

“The 1914-18 archive will bring (family members) close to those who witnessed it at first hand, showing the souvenirs that they kept throughout their lives and telling the stories that they handed down the generations,” said Oxford University academic and the Great War Archive director Stuart Lee.

“One such story that was submitted to the Great War Archive during the British project concerns RAF man Bernard Darley, who was commended for putting out a fierce fire in a workshop containing petrol tanks.

“At his side throughout was a German prisoner of war, Otto Arndt. The two became friends and Otto made a matchbox from a shell-casing as a memento which he inscribed and presented to his friend.

“This story shows the human side of the war – in this case an unlikely friendship between normal people caught up in a war not of their making,” said Lee.