WWI: Let We Forget initiative to archive mementos from the Great War | History | News

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A new initiative seeks to collect World War I mementos for future generations to remember

SERGEANT Major George Cavan was at a training camp when the order came through to have him dispatched to France in 1917.

Desperate to get a message to his wife Jean and their three daughters, he scribbled a note in a matchbox.

As the train taking him to the Western Front sped through his home town he threw it out the window and prayed that it would somehow make its way to his loved ones.

George was killed just a few days later and buried in an unmarked grave in Ypres. But, amazingly, his message made it to his family and provided a tiny bit of comfort in the darkest of times.


These items tell the story from the perspective of the families who were affected by it and the people who fought in it

Dr Stuart Lee


This is just one of the many incredible stories that have emerged as part of an initiative to save the memories of the First World War in a digital archive.

George’s matchbox was recorded as part of the Lest We Forget project, which is the brainwave of Oxford University professor Dr Stuart Lee.

It started as a pilot programme in 2008, during which they found and photographed 6,500 pieces of First World War history.

In 2012 they took the project to the Continent, where more than 200,000 items were brought in by members of the public across Europe.

Each item has been archived digitally to build a remarkable database of personal stories from a war that affected every family in Britain.

Now Dr Lee wants to expand the project nationally; linking up with schools, libraries and village community centres across the country to capture the memories that in a few generations will be lost.

“These items tell the real story of the war,” says Dr Lee.

“They tell the story from the perspective of the families who were affected by it and the people who fought in it. They have been passed…

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