Final Thoughts - You Reap what you Sow
The First World War Generation are surely deserving of a permanent digital memorial and as the Imperial War Museum was founded with “The intention was to collect and display material as a record of everyone’s experiences during that war - civilian and military - and to commemorate the sacrifices of all sections of society” it would seem on paper to be the perfect fit.
However despite the bold tagline “We believe that each and every one of the 8 million who served during WW1 deserves to be remembered” this claim does not hold up to scrutiny. What we have with “lives” is a vast and varied collection of military records dumped into a database with hundreds of thousands of duplications, errors and omissions. As a starting point for research that is fine, but it does not constitute a fitting memorial. The most basic memorial task of including all personnel who have a CWGC entry is incomplete despite that information being very publicly available. A cursory search of FIndmypast’s records will reveal many that they did not include in the database despite having the data “in house”. There are thousands of other records that are not held by FMP also ignored. This means that any local researcher or group had many pages that needed to be reported via this clunky support system, assuming they were determined enough to seek it out.
The handful of volunteers who have given up huge amounts of their time over the last 3 years to try and make a positive difference to the data are to be applauded, as well as the thousands of members of the public who have contributed over the project’s lifespan. However it is disappointing that neither FMP nor IWM have demonstrated any desire to acknowledge or get to grips with the underlying problems.
The database is certainly a lot better now that it was in 2016 and the volunteers have done their best with the very limited resources open to them. I would argue that the site only started to build in momentum after the ability to add missing people was belatedly introduced. It is a shame that neither enough time nor resources were made available to really make the difference.
It has to be questioned whether trying to run a memorial through a commercial partnership was ever a sensible proposition. The hard work necessary to compile a complete database was too time consuming to be profitable and therefore ignored, the push towards paid access to records was one of the main turn-offs for a lot of people and those who already have genealogy subscriptions were not inclined to pay twice for the same thing. Having the memorial database as a distinct separate IWM entity that people could have linked FMP etc external references to would have been cleaner and less controversial.
So we wait with interest to see what form the Permanent Digital Memorial takes when IWM have it in house. IWM’s published Digital Transformation Strategy has all the right corporate jargon but we will see how it works in practice with what should have been IWM’s flagship WW1 digital project.
Of all the many fleeting WW1 projects undertaken over the centenary this seemed to be the one with a possibility of a real long term legacy but it remains a great idea badly handled.