No forgetting war dead

War memorials.
War memorials.

Sadly, when people here on South Tyneside attempt to trace their family history, they sometimes come across relatives whose lives were lost fighting for king and country – predominantly in the First and Second World Wars.

As a result, they may struggle to find many more details about their tragic ancestors.

Remembering.

Remembering.

And that’s where a regional history project can help.

The North East War Memorials Project (NEWMP) went live in 2006.

NEWMP researcher, Jim Pasby, said at the time, it had records of some 2,500 war memorials in the region: today it has more than 4,800.

“The website records war memorials situated all over the North East pre-1974 borders Durham, Northumberland and Newcastle,” explains Jim.

“We try to add as much detail to the war memorial files as possible, including costs, dedications, construction etc.

“We also include archive newspapers and spend many volunteer hours looking for documents, photographs and any other sources relating to war memorials.

“Such memorials can also help in finding people’s ancestors and relatives when they are researching their family trees.

“We also compile biographies of people named on them, under the heading of ‘Every Name A Story’, and the public, who frequently attend our stands at various locations around the North East, often give us photographs and their research which we endeavour to add to our website, linking with the memorial, often adding details to their stories.”

The NEWMP’s website charts the history of war memorials in this country.

“The Great War caused great upheaval,” it reads. “It lasted too long; too many men were killed or maimed.

“The Government did not bring bodies home. The rich tried to bring bodies back, the poor couldn’t, so none were allowed to be returned.

“The wealthy offered to pay for tombstones for their sons, but again, the Government refused, stating that all those killed would be treated in exactly the same way, regardless of rank, wealth or privilege.

“The erection of memorials was a Government-inspired initiative which offered something to focus on.

“Their 1923 Act allowed local authorities to levy a small rate – no more than 1d in the pound – towards costs and maintenance. But it was left to locals to decide for themselves what form their memorial would take, and how money would be raised.

“The memorials became surrogate tombstones which people could visit and where they could pay their respects when they felt the need.

“The unveiling ceremonies became substitute funeral services, albeit sometimes many years after the loss has occurred.

“Because of the passage of time, people with personal knowledge of those named have themselves passed into history. The role of memorials has evolved and they now also represent the suffering of all – the fallen, the serving men, the families.

“Their descendants still have very powerful feelings about what their forebears endured.

“Not all memorials are in the open. In those impoverished times, some people erected memorials to serve the living: hospitals, village halls, playing fields.

“Other choices were church furnishings, birdbaths, rolls of honour, boats, plaques, annuities, libraries, clocks, houses, gardens – the variety is astonishing!

“The 20th century was the bloodiest century in world history, twice it saw the horrors of global warfare.

“Our local war memorials remind us of what happened and the consequences of these conflicts for many people in the region.

“They tell the story of those who fought, those who died, and those left behind to cope with the confusion which followed.

“The North East War Memorials Project is intended to assist members of the public, local and family history groups, military historians, schools and individuals to learn about and research their local war memorials and record the results.”

But all that hard work and effort needs support from the public and other potential benefactors, so Jim is anxious to secure more funding from the public and other benefactors.

“We have a small team of researchers/volunteers who contribute so much of their time and skill.

“But we are funded only by donations, and as such we are desperately short of funding. Yet we wish to expand our website and future-proof it for generations to come.

“It is a valuable and unique resource, respected and well used, with over one million hits from all over the world, but it is showing its age. So we need help.

“Please visit http://www.newmp.org.uk and donate as much as you willing to give.”

What are your experiences of compiling a family tree? Have you uncovered any particularly interesting stories about your ancestors?

Please get in touch with your experiences.