Help us save the stories from World War I

This summer, Oxford University are launching ‘Lest We Forget’, a new community-based initiative to preserve materials held by the public dating from the First World War.

Building on from the success of our ‘Great War Archive’ in 2008, a mass-digitisation project that attracted the direct submission of over 6,500 items (now available online), we want to rescue the many remaining traces of the war in attics, drawers, and cupboards in homes across the UK still waiting to be uncovered.

With the loss of all veterans of 1914-1918, and the rapid fading of those years from living memory, this campaign provides one final effort to ensure that as much material as possible is saved for posterity before it’s too late. These centenary years have provided an important impetus for a renewed interest in the generation that fought the conflict, but we want to ensure that memory lives on beyond 2018.

Training local volunteers in archival recording skills, the Lest We Forget initiative seeks to actively engage communities nationwide in the digital preservation of documents, photographs, and memorabilia. Local schools, care homes, and community groups will be invited to partake in dedicated training events and take a lead in collection days for members of the public to share family collections.

Every item collected will then be published in 2018 on a free-to-use online database for children, scholars, and the wider public alike to promote understanding of the Great War, further historical research, and secure the stories of those who lived through it.

However, we cannot achieve this alone: on 1 June 2017, our crowdfunding site will go live as we aim to raise the £80,000 required for training days, outreach activities, and equipment. Please help us to spread the word by following us on Facebook and Twitter (@WW1Centenary), and sharing our posts with colleagues, friends, and family.

Every donation is another step closer to ensuring that the sacrifices of this war are not forgotten.

Remembering #TheOxfordSomme: 18th November 2016

Throughout the day on Friday 18th November the University will be publishing the names of over 300 students, fellows, alumni and college staff who lost their lives in the largest battle of the First World War on the Western Front – the Battle of the Somme. Names will be posted individually on the University’s World War One Centenary Twitter channel @WW1Centenary and will include the college and the age of each man, some of whom were just 19 years old.

The Battle of the Somme took place between 1 July and 18 November 1916 on both sides of the upper reaches of the River Somme in France. In total, more than one million men were wounded or killed, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history. November 18th 2016 marks the 100 year anniversary of the end of the Battle.

The University’s Registrar kept a record of Oxford staff, students and alumni who were killed. Their obituaries were published in the University Gazette and were later recorded in the 1920 University of Oxford Roll of Service which has been used as the basis for this digital memorial, together with records held by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the University college archives. We have asked for help from the University colleges to identify individuals who were not included on the roll, such as college servants and German students. The high death rate experienced by the University could be attributable to the prevalence of Oxford men the among officer ranks. Today these losses are remembered on college war memorials, and now online.

Amongst those who lost their lives were the Prime Minister’s son Raymond Asquith (All Souls) and the War Poet William Noel Hodgson (Christ Church), who wrote the following poem in the days leading up to the battle:

By all the glories of the day
And the cool evening’s benison
By that last sunset touch that lay
Upon the hills when day was done,
By beauty lavishly outpoured
And blessings carelessly received,
By all the days that I have lived
Make me a soldier, Lord.

By all of all man’s hopes and fears
And all the wonders poets sing,
The laughter of unclouded years,
And every sad and lovely thing;
By the romantic ages stored
With high endeavour that was his,
By all his mad catastrophes
Make me a man, O Lord.

I, that on my familiar hill
Saw with uncomprehending eyes
A hundred of thy sunsets spill
Their fresh and sanguine sacrifice,
Ere the sun swings his noonday sword
Must say good-bye to all of this; –
By all delights that I shall miss,
Help me to die, O Lord.
(Into battle, 1916)

The population of the University changed during the War as college fellows and students left for active service, with the University facilitating military mobilisation largely through its Officer Training Corps (OTC). Before the Long Vacation of 1914 the University housed approximately 3,000 undergraduates and 100 postgraduate students. By 1916 this population had dwindled by 72 per cent to 550, and by 1918 numbers were only 12 per cent of the pre-war total.

Information on individuals from Oxford and their role in World War I can be added to the Oxford at War 1914-1918 online memorial.