Model project to remember every First World War serviceman from East Belfast

Posted on centenarynews.com on 07 July 2014
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Historian Jason Burke writes for Centenary News about a project to compile a database of every serviceman from East Belfast who served in the First World War and the hope it will be a model for others.

'East Belfast & The Great War' is a World War One community research project that I have coordinated, supported by a further five volunteers. 

Following a lengthly period of consultation and preparation the group is now ready to embark on a two-year research and community-engagement project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The initial aim is to compile a database containing details of every single serviceman (soldier, sailor, flyer) from East Belfast who served in the Great War. 

This will be achieved by consulting a range of sources individually before bringing them all together to form an exhaustive list. 

Local newspapers are an example of one source which will be consulted; the ‘Killed in Action’ and ‘In Memoriam’ notices will be a particular focus, but so too will be the stories and photographs of East Belfast servicemen. 

The Great War lasted for 52 months, news of the wounded and dead servicemen continued to arrive home for many months after the war therefore it is necessary to search up to and including November 1919. 

This equates to 64 months and for the 3 main newspapers (Belfast Evening Telegraph, Northern Whig, Belfast News-Letter) equals 192 months worth of newspapers to be consulted in total.  

The completed database will go online in a fully searchable format for the general public to access free of charge.  www.EastBelfastWW1.com will go live in August 2014 and will be a dedicated East Belfast & The Great War website which will provide research developments, event news, podcasts, videos, and social media integration during the two year research period, the completed database will then go live to the public in July 2016.

Working in and with the local community is vital in order for this project to reach its maximum potential. 

A key aim of the project is to broaden community engagement with, and understanding of, First World War heritage in East Belfast. 

Led by Jonathan Evershed (Queen’s University Belfast), the project will incorporate a process of ongoing community engagement which will allow for the reciprocal sharing of information. 

Family records, photographs, diaries and letters constitute a potential stock of untapped heritage, it is hoped that this can be catalogued and shared. 

Project coordinator Jason Burke. Courtesy Jason Burke.

A series of ‘Information gathering sessions’ will be organised at accessible venues (e.g. churches or community centres) at which members of the public will be able to come and share their resources and family histories with the project. 

These events will take the form of an ‘Antiques Roadshow’ theme and will serve to allow the East Belfast public to share their stories and artifacts with the project and the wider public.

The research methods that are used by East Belfast & The Great War are modelled on those developed by Professor Richard Grayson in the research for his book Belfast Boys – How Unionists and Nationalists Fought and Died Together In the First World War

These methods are easily transferable and can be tailored in order to suit a number of smaller community studies.  

As part of the commitment to enhancing heritage within the East Belfast community, a number of ‘Research Workshops’ will be held in conjunction with several local community groups who wish to participate in a local study based on a war-memorial or a particular group of servicemen. 

The community groups have already been identified and will shortly begin their own small-scale projects.

East Belfast & The Great War will officially launch on Wednesday 13 August 2014 in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings, Stormont. 

The guest speaker on the evening will be Professor Richard Grayson, Head of History at Goldsmiths University London.  You can keep track of all developments associated with this project on Facebook and on Twitter.  Alternatively you can contact the project on eastbelfastgreatwar@hotmail.co.uk   

Posted by Mike Swain, Centenary News

Author: Jason Burke

Pictures courtesy of Jason Burke