WW1 Centenary

Great War Centenary 2014-2018 website by Paul Reed


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Exploring The Western Front From End To End

The Western Front, established following the end of the mobile war in 1914, stretched for more than 450 miles from the Belgian coast in north Flanders to the border of Switzerland in the Vosges, in Eastern France. I have explored it from end to end a few times, the first time in the 1980s, and the last was in 2008. I am about to depart on the journey again as part of a Battlefield Recce for a new Leger Holidays Battlefield Tour I am running in 2014.

The majority of Western Front visitors never go beyond the Somme, except to venture perhaps to Verdun, but beyond Picardy is one of the most fascinating areas of the Old Front Line. In Eastern France there are vast areas of trenches preserved among the trees in the many forests and woods there, along with bunkers, mine craters and many other preserved area of battlefield. Some of the first shots of the war were fired here in the Battles of the Frontier and the first French and German fatalities occurred in this area on 2nd August 1914.

Over the next nine days I will be starting on the beaches of Flanders at Nieuport and working my way down the front, seeing many of these places. You can follow my journey on my Twitter account but I will also be using the trip to launch a new WW1 Centenary website called WW1 Revisited. This goes live properly on the morning of 1st March and will be a new site exploring my love of photography and the First World War battlefields.

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Lives Of The First World War Project

The Imperial War Museum announced a new project yesterday entitled Lives of the First World War which will encourage the public to register with a new website and in time upload details about soldiers who fought in the First World War; importantly it is aimed at all who served, and not just those who died. The new project is in collaboration with genealogy company Brightsolid who, for example, digitised the 1911 Census for The National Archives. The premise behind the project is to create a massive online and interactive database of the generation who fought in the Great War and allow users to upload photographs and other content to share with a wider audience.

The project is very similar to the BBC’s Remembrance Wall, a project I was historical consultant for in 2008. However, while this is still online it was not really designed to be a lasting online database and this new Lives project promises that it will be permanent resource, and that is to be greatly welcomed.

It does, however, beg a few questions. One of the great weaknesses of the Remembrance Wall is that there was not the personnel available to check the details being uploaded. Just glancing at a few entries it is easy to find factual inaccuracies, which of course does question the validity of the whole resource. Lives has partners including Chris Baker’s website and the Great War Forum. If the response is anything like what we had in 2008, and personally I think that it will be much, much greater, then they will certainly have their work cut out in verifying all the material being uploaded.

The main aspect that concerns me, however, is the involvement of a commercial partner like Brightsolid. They did superb work with the 1911 Census but they are out to make money and their participation also begs the question of whether in time to maintain the important resource this is likely to become then it may be necessary to charge. People could find that material they have uploaded in good faith will at some point only be accessible if they pay to see it and a commercial organisation is making money from resources they have donated. I can see this leading to a few heated debates and may put people off from committing to the project, which would be a shame. Really a major venture like this should have been between two public institutions like the IWM and the BBC. Having said that the involvement of a commercial company could ensure its longevity but the implications of its involvement should be made clear from the very start.

The Lives Of The First World War project is a promising venture and I would encourage readers to visit the site and register for updates.

 


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Centenary Website: Pas de Calais Remembrance Tourism

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I will be reviewing some of the new sites coming online getting ready for the WW1 Centenary in 2014 over the next few weeks and months.

This site, entitled Remembrance Tourism : Pas de Calais. is a well constructed portal into information about Remembrance and Battlefield Tourism in the Pas de Calais region. As such it encompasses WW1 coastal cemeteries in locations like Boulogne and Etaples, and front line locations such as Neuve-Chapelle, Arras and VimyRidge. The ‘They Came From Across The Globe‘ section contains some fascinating background and images relating to the different nationalities which fought in the area during the war. Other sections list the museums and battlefield sites in the Pas de Calais and information on the principal cemeteries also offers some great insights. The whole content is also viewable on a Google map enabling readers to see where locations are or help them plan a visit.

Available in several languages, with additional tourist information for those who do intend to visit, it is a model site packed with information and well laid out. Highly recommended.


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Work Progressing On New Fromelles Museum

Work on the new Battle of Fromelles War Museum is progressing well, I noted on a visit to the battlefields last week. There is an existing museum in the village which has been there for more than twenty years, located in the attic of the town hall. The growth in interest in Fromelles and the construction of Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery has led to a substantial increase in visitors to the area. This new museum will help tell the story of the battle. The architects, Serero, who are working of the project are

“… aiming at establishing a link between sky and earth, between visitors and the “burial” of soldiers. This is a building with a low profile, which is half-sunk on its northeast facade. The work on natural topography has helped to improve the natural slope of the site and cover, partially, the technical space of the museum.

Only the volume containing the exhibition spaces emerges from the landscape, indicating the trace of a burial. This emergence is in concrete, which evokes the stacking of successive geological stratifications and different types of soil in the basement. The museum is gradually revealed to people accessing the site, with its low profile, which is respectful of the presence of the adjacent cemetery.

Two visual axes generate the plan of the museum. One axis to the cemetery, that allows to connect the room of the last sequence with the resting place of soldiers. The other visual axis opens the lobby area to the church spire of Fromelles, which immediately identifies the skyline of the city. These axes were used to guide and define the “edges” of the octagonally shaped exhibition space.

The museum is organized around a octagonal core which houses the exhibition hall. This form, in the spirit of the adjacent cemetery, evokes both the rigid geometry of military construction, and the pure geometry of the sacral as the octagonal drum of the Church of Fromelles.”

The Museum is due to open in early 2014.