WWI brought to life

Prepare to be moved by the personal experiences of men and women of World War One, brought to life in The First World War online collection.

When I recently discovered a letter written by a family member to his two sons on their departure to Gallipoli in 1915, I was moved by the expression of emotion and appeals to God, made all the more poignant by the fact that both boys were killed within two years. The letter injected character and soul into what had appeared previously as mere names and photos in our family tree. It also piqued my curiosity about how the young men felt as they embarked on their voyage to war, and the realities of their lives in the brutal and bloody battlefields of a foreign land.

The First World War provides such insights, through its valuable compilation of original documents from archival collections around the world. It focusses on personal material, such as diaries, photographs, postcards, souvenirs, sketches and other artefacts that show the war through the eyes of the people who lived through it. The material’s unique presentation makes it easy to view images, and even see many personal items using a 360 degree rotating viewer.

One particularly touching item is a love letter written on an ivy leaf by a Maori digger, saying “In the field somewhere in France. 1st August 1918. No pleasures are so sweet as memory which turns my thoughts again to you. Like this ivy leaf I cling to you. To my loving wife. From Horo.”

The diary of Enid Bell, an ambulance driver in France, provides glimpses into the daily lives of women and support workers, describing friendships and the hardships of life during wartime.

Many items also offer unexpected moments of humour, demonstrating people’s incredible ability to cope and maintain balance under the harshest of circumstances.

Images and detailed information about propaganda and recruitment give an insight into how these played such a significant role in influencing public opinion and morale during wartime. Posters, cartoons and leaflets, and instructions for the distribution of propaganda, are fascinating - showing the use of both fear and humour as a weapon during the war. One editor’s article highlights the use of propaganda with children, designed to educate the youngest citizens about the conflict and their country’s part in it.

These rich primary sources are excellent for studying, researching and teaching, giving insight into daily life and routines in the army, conditions in the trenches, discipline, friendships, supplies, training and death.

The First World War also includes a useful introductory “tour”, interactive maps with timelines and descriptions of key incidents, a chronology, scholarly essays and a comprehensive glossary.

When searching The First World War, you can save documents and images from multiple search sessions, making it a handy research tool. External links to other online resources from around the world also make this a great starting point for scholars and history buffs.

The First World War is easily accessed in State Library of Queensland’s One Search. View the list of history databases or the alphabetical listing of all databases, then log in using your SLQ membership details. If you’re not already a member, you can join online now.

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