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World War I history roadshow wants your family memorabilia

Call for public to find old documents, photographs etc. relating to ‘The Great War’ – they will be scanned and recorded on a pan-European website.

A letter from Lt Col John McDonnell from Louth to his wife Senta - in it he is concerned with how his farm at home is doing, and draws a lost key for her. He was killed by an enemy shell on 29 September 1918.
A letter from Lt Col John McDonnell from Louth to his wife Senta - in it he is concerned with how his farm at home is doing, and draws a lost key for her. He was killed by an enemy shell on 29 September 1918.
Image: National Library of Ireland

AN OPEN DAY will be held at the National Library on Wednesday when people are asked to bring memorabilia relating to friends or relatives’ involvement in World War I.

The NLI on Kildare Street in Dublin is preparing for the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the ‘Great War’ in 1914. According to figures from BBC History, about 210,000 Irishmen served in the British forces from 1914-1918 – and 35,000 of them died.

Katherine McSharry, head of services at the NLI, said:

We are hoping people will bring in anything from the 1914-1918 period, be it a family photo, a love letter, some sort of document or object. It doesn’t matter if people don’t know the background behind it. Once the material is online then it’s likely that researchers and other individuals will be able to fill in some of those information gaps.

The ‘roadshow’ is one of many being held across Europe as part of a pan-European virtual archive of World War I that will then be available to all European citizens to view. It has already seen collections gathered in the UK, Slovenia, Denmark and Belgium. In Germany alone in 2011, more than 25,000 digital images were made from material submitted by the public – these included diaries, hand-drawn maps, portraits, photographs and sketches.

The NLI’s director Fiona Ross said that there will be historians and experts at the Library tomorrow to talk to members of the public about the significance of the items they bring in. The items will be scanned on the spot by Library staff and then you can take your item home with you. The material will then be uploaded to the Europeana 1914-1918 website.

Items the NLI hopes to see from people include:

  • Letters
  • Photographs
  • Postcards
  • Medals
  • Coins
  • Keepsakes
  • Diaries
  • Sketches
  • Army discharge papers
  • Recordings

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Ross said:

We want ordinary families to tell us about their keepsakes, who they belonged to and why they are so important to them – and we will save those memories in our archive. Digitisation will ensure that World War I-related materials are not destroyed or thrown away.

It will also allow the information in those materials to be incorporated into apps for smartphones and tablets that will bring history alive for people in contemporary ways.

And if you can’t make it today (the roadshow is at the NLI from 10am-7pm), you can scan your own items and upload them to the Europeana website where there is a step-by-step guide to help you through.

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