Written by Pauline Symons
You can listen to Pauline reading this post on the audio version of our latest Newsletter
Does your family have a First World War story to tell?
A new Heritage Lottery Fund project called ‘The Jews of London in the First World War – We Were There Too’ aims to inspire the community to help find and preserve stories of British Jewish Londoners in the First World War on a brand new interactive website.
Forty to fifty thousand British Jews served in Britain’s armed forces in the First World War, while thousands more were involved in war work and support roles near to the battlefields and on the Home Front. When the call came, the Jewish community stood up to be counted.
Although, a century on, first‐hand knowledge has disappeared, we know that personal recollections of the war years can still be captured through family stories and anecdotes, along with letters, diaries and memorabilia that have survived in attics and old photograph albums.
But time is against us as lofts get cleared and the accuracy of family history fades. With the community’s help, We Were There Too will become the permanent digital archive for this precious material, preserving the surviving evidence for future generations.
Through a series of History Windows, the site will provide a unique insight into the experience of living as a minority group through the conflict while also offering user friendly access to a number of First World War archives, including the newly‐digitised British Jewry Book of Honour, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, local directories of the period, and rare private collections.
The most important element of the project is the capture and
preservation of individual stories in Personal Records. If your ancestor fought in the war, raised a family, kept a business going, served as a nurse or factory worker, cared for a wounded son or husband, or experienced a wartime childhood, you will be able to upload their story and ensure that their contribution to Britain’s war effort is not forgotten. Photographs, letters, diaries and even 3D scans of medals and other items can be added. And if you don’t know much about your ancestor beyond a faded photograph, the site will provide guidance on how to research their story further.
Volunteers are needed to help us, from research and IT to helping older people upload their stories. We hope that Jewish schools, cheders and youth organisations will encourage children to investigate and record their own family stories, or research a Jewish soldier listed in the Book of Honour.
Teenagers will also be able to take part in the project, linked to the Duke of Edinburgh Award and Open College Network accreditation activities organised through JLGB.
The project is designed to engage the community with the period and make them both aware and proud of the contribution British Jews made to British society a hundred years ago and continue to make today.
As Alan Fell, Project Director said: ‘In the aftermath of Brexit and a noticeable rise in racist incidents, there has never been a timelier moment to remind ourselves and our fellow countrymen that we were there too.’
I am delighted to be a volunteer on this amazing project and would be happy to hear from you if you have a story you wish to share about your ancestors in the First World War.