On this day in 1914, war was declared between Britain and Germany. When it started many people believed it would be "over by Christmas". The reality was four years of rats, mud, death and physical, geographical and psychological scars. It was the first war on a global scale as the British Empire summoned it's colonies or former colonies to come and help. It was a call that was answered by many and led to men coming from India, Australia and Canada, among many others, to fight in the rain of Belgium and the scorching heat of Gallipoli and East Africa. As a result there were advances in technology, plastic surgery, psychology and women's rights. But the price that was paid was highlighted when blood-red poppies were seen growing in the fields. The poppy became a symbol of rememberance, a symbol that still holds to this day.
Poppies by Jean-Pol Grandmont via WikiCommons
If you haven't been aware of it The National Archives has been running it's First World War 100 campaign since the beginning of the year, a campaign that will only end when the full anniversary of the war finishes. As part of this campaign they have been recataloguing documents with more details so they're easier to find, and they are digitising the war diaries from the battalions so people can now download and see what the men of their families may have been doing. You can also help with the digitisation project by "tagging" the documents with names, dates and places, making it much easier for other people to use them. You can find more information at Operation War Diary.
Ancestry has also been busy recataloguing some of their records to show next of kin details, and they've added more pension records. Local history groups and museums have been researching people in their area who fought, and the impact that the war had on their towns and villages. Many schools are organising projects that encourage children to research an aspect of the war, such as any of their family members that fought, particular battles, the causes of the war, and some of the technological and medical advances that came from it.
In London the Flanders Field Memoral Garden has been created. It will open on 9th November and it contains soil taken from the battle cemeteries across Flanders in Belgium. The Tower of London has been "planting" thousands of ceramic poppies in it's moats, which will eventually be sold with the money being donated to charity. There are currently a lot of photos circulating around Twitter and Facebook showing the incredble effect that has been created. The Imperial War Museum has reopened after a massive refurbishment which let them open the First World War Galleries. Like many museums in London the IWM is free to get in to so seeing these galleries really is an opportunity that shouldn't be missed.
The Royal British Legion is organising it's own events. This evening it is encouraging everyone to join in wit the Lights Out campaign, which includes a service being held at Westminster Abbey. They have also created a new memorial database called Every Man Remembered. In it you can add information about those who died in the First World War, to give more information about those whose graves are protected by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
If you've never really looked in to your own family's history during the First World War then there has never been a better time to do so. You'd be amazed at what you find. Yes, most service records were destroyed in bombing during the Second World War, but there's still information out there that can help you. If you do identify a deceased family member you can then use the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website to find where they are buried, and potentially visit.
Keep an eye out on Twitter, Facebook and the news for information about other events and memorials, and I'll be adding a few more blog posts as well.