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Remembered Today:

Lives of the First World War launch - February 2014


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2 hours ago, charlie962 said:

The volunteers, as has been said by others, were the saving grace.

Agreed and they all desreve MiDs.

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Lives of the First World War has now been concluded for several days. I have had involvement with this, firstly as a contributor, and later as an unpaid volunteer.

I have had a number of points where, to put it mildly, I have been disappointed in what has gone on with this project. I have not wanted to speak out, because it could have dampened the ardour of a member of the public from contributing to LOTFWW. Now that this is in the past, and I have been reflecting upon what has gone on, I am of the opinion that now is the time to speak out. As it is no longer a “going concern”, I do not see there being any issues of “commercial confidentiality”. It never had any plausible rivals in the “marketplace”, in any case.

It has been a fantastic concept. It is indeed great that over 150,000 people have contributed to the site, that was eventually maintained by unpaid volunteers, and it is even better that this will be a permanent digital memorial.

Below is a breakout of what was used as source material. The basic catalogue details were used and each profile was "seeded"


    Ref Description Added to LOTFWW    
  5,483,303 WO 372 British Army 07-Mar-14 5,476,302  
    WO 398 Women's Army Auxiliary Corp Service Records 13-Mar-15 7,001  
  394,179 AIR 79 British Royal Air Force, Airmens' Service Records 04-Sep-14 308,972  
    AIR 76 British Royal Air Force, Officers' Service Records 06-Nov-14 58,124  
    AIR 80 British Women's Royal Air Force Airwomen 19-Feb-15 27,083  
  512,243 ADM 188 RN ratings 01-Aug-14 372,146  
    ADM 339 RN Reserve 24-Jul-14 50,241  
    ADM196 Royal Navy Officers 11-Dec-14 17,917  
    ADM 159 Royal Marines 08-Jan-15 64,518  
    ADM 318 British WRNS Officers 24-Feb-15 548  
    ADM 336 British WRNS Ratings 24-Feb-15 6,873  
    BT 351 British Merchant Navy, First World War Medal Cards 10-Feb-15 157,148  
    RG 150 CEF 23-May-14 623,048  
    18805 Online Cenotaph: New Zealand Expeditionary Force 10-Apr-15 99,963  
    B2455 Australian ANZACs from the National Archives of Australia 14-Apr-15 375,904  
    N/A Conscientious Objectors 06-May-15 16,501  












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Below is a breakout of requests. The IWM unpaid volunteers commenced in 2015. As well as working on requests made that year, there was the backlog from 2014 to work through also

The request would fall into one of two categories, either a new Life Story profile to be added to the database, or a merge where seeding had resulted in more than one Life Story profile existing in the database. Given that half a million gallantry MICs were loaded, it could be the case there are about half a million duplicates as a consequence.


    Total IWM PEM Vols  
  2014 295 0 295  
  2015 542 5 537  
  2016 1449 3 1446  
  2017 2239 13 2226  
  2018 2886 29 2857  
  2019 1465 3 1462  

As can be seen 2019 was a busy time. Between 01 January and 15 March 2019, 3 requests were actioned by the IWM Public Engagement Manager, and 1462 were actioned by the volunteers,thus totalling 1465 requests. 

Although it appears that FMP had responsibility for this maintenance and support, as intimated by something I have seen in the public domain, the tasks were done manually.

As for the manually created Life Stories:

The first Life Story, with an unique identifier of 7662317 was created on 20 February 2015. This was performed by Melanie Donnelly of the IWM and related to Lottie Meade.

J R R Tolkein was requested as an addition on 27 March 2014 by the IWM Public Engagement Manager. This was actioned on 17 August 2015 and has an identifier of  7663189

                3784 entries later,
7666101 was created on 30 December 2015                
                8815 entries later,
7674916 was created on 31 December 2016                
                10096 entries later,
7685012 was created on 31 December 2017                
                10471 entries later,
7695483 was created on 31 December 2018                
                5914 entries later,
7701397 was created on 31 March 2019

There was an issue with the functionality of the request forum. 

Status updates worked as at May 2014. A comment from Simon FMP Product Manager on 1 September 2014 is noticeably coy in making no reference to status updates, in response to a question as to whether suggestions are being read, and the fact there is no evidence to prove they are not being ignored. 

I cannot help but think that if a measure of your performance is to act on status updates, one measure is to show you have no received any that need working on. (The French term is sabotage.) If such messages are not being sent, then there is nothing visible to do, in the same manner that Nelson saw no signal at the Battle of Copenhagen.

Nothing was done to switch it back on again. This was problematic, because if you had asked for further details, you never knew if a person had responded with further details, owing to the notification function not working. 

It is a shame that something so simple could not be fixed, but that is somewhat symptomatic of the IWM FMP partnership.

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The declared aim of LOTFWW has been ' the stories of individuals from across Britain and the Commonwealth who served in uniform and worked on the home front' yet it can be seen there has been nothing systemically inputted for India or South Africa. They have fallen at the first hurdle.

As with the Tom Sawyer comment, I have a slight digression to make, but it brings us straight back to this topic, and in particular the conclusion of the topic.

A wish for Andy
Whilst I do not like football, my mate Andy does. It makes him happy and to this end, I wish his team would win the next game; it would be good if this happened. If they could keep winning games, then all the better. It is a rather passive statement, given that I do not have the power or influence to have an effect on the score.


I could be more active in making this Premiership club win if was in one of the following positions

  1. I was one of the richest people on the planet, and could make a cash injection into the club, à la Manchester City, to ensure the best players were purchased by the club

  2. If I myself was one of the best football players in the world, I could play for the club, foregoing any lucrative transfers to other clubs, knowing that by being there, and continuing to win games I am making Andy happy.

I was at a Centenary event on Monday 11 March at IWM London with around 100 people, as I was an unpaid volunteer on this project, hence getting the invite. Di Lees gave a speech, and she started to talk about Lives of the First World War.

When she addressed the crowd, she made enthusiastic noises about LOTFWW, and to conclude, she said it was great but she wished that the database had made it to eight million. This was, word for word, what the LOTFWW project manager (an IWM full-tme employee) had said in November. (I shall return to this, as my jaw nearly dropped in November and it shocked me to the core.)

I have to say that what Di Lees said did sound to me like crocodile tears. If the project had seen the active participation of a senior sponsor, then I see no reason why this could not have happened.

If you are taking an active part in managing the project, and are aware that manual entries will amount to 10,000 every 12 months, it should be as plain as the nose on your face that you are not going to make that target of eight million.

There are known gaps in the coverage. If a list is obtained of basic details, it can be loaded into the database. It takes less than the duration of a tea break – I would say a pee break, even – to write a few lines of script, to call the data from a file and write it to the database. Identifying those gaps would not be hard. By asking the public, there could be insights into easily identifiable groups which could be “seeded”. At the very least, the IWM should have sourced the basic details on CWGC casualties from India and South Africa, so as to have addressed the basic premise that at least one substantial dataset for each major Commonwealth had been uploaded.

The ethos of the project was supposed to reflect that of the museum:

The idea was that 'It is hoped to make [the museum] so complete that every individual, man or woman, sailor, soldier, airman or civilian who contributed, however obscurely, to the final result, may be able to find in these galleries an example or illustration of the sacrifice he made or the work he did, and in the archives some record of it.' The museum 'was not a monument of military glory, but a record of toil and sacrifice,..and to the people of the Empire, as a record of their toil and sacrifice through these fateful years.' (There was a similar philosophy with the forerunner to the CWGC, '…all, from General to Private, of whatever race or creed, should receive equal honour under a memorial which should be the common symbol of their comradeship and of the cause for which they died.' After all, when war broke out, King George V called for 'men of every class, creed and colour' to join the fight against Germany.)    

I do not see that ethos being reflected. The information collected, to my mind, alludes to a commemoration of the First World War as being the White man's burden, and an undeclared mission statement of “I'm not racist, but …..... if it doesn't have a dataset behind a FMP paywall, we won't make any effort to get it loaded.”

In November 2014, it was suggested that the Chinese Labour Corps fatalities, as listed on the CWGC website, could be used to extend the coverage. The request was fully endorsed in February 2015 by Steve Lau, chair of the Chair of the Ensuring We Remember Campaign.

Similarly, a request was made in 2017 to add a Jamaican contingent. The request was acknowledged and the IWM project manager was going to speak to FindMyPast about this. A status update was requested, and the response was that it was under review.

If a number of these had been identified, and acted upon, Di Lees would be associated with a database that would have in excess of her eight million target. It currently has less than this amount, and that figure contains a million duplicates in any case, by my estimates.

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The scope of this thread has been the announcement of the start of the LOTFWW as a centenary project. There has been mention in greater detail on other threads on this forum with regard to content etc, and it is better to add subsequent comment to those threads. This story had a start, and now, several days after shutdown, it has a finish.

There are also threads on the PDM project. Whilst a lot of the aforementioned story around LOTFWW is doom and gloom about a squandered opportunity, in my personal opinion, the irony is that the PDM, which is an IBM standalone project with services provided by two niche contractors with a professional air, does show positive signs of being better managed than the legacy project from whence its dataset has come from, based upon the data about the PDM that is in the public domain. 

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With the benefit of hindsight, this is what I would have like to have seen:

In an ideal scenario, I would have liked to have seen the following:

A greater amount of funding to The National Archives, thereby allowing the pension cards to be stored and maintained, for the Public good.
A collaboration – perhaps using TNA unpaid volunteers – to record basic transcription details in the same successful manner as the Chelsea records in WO 96 & WO 97
The use of these transcripts as “seeding” for the British Army Other Ranks

The use of the WO 339 and WO 374 catalogue details as the basis for seeding British Army officers. (These details have appeared on FMP since July 2016 onwards, with a link to TNA.)

The digitisation of the transcriptions of medal rolls of RN ratings and RNR ratings (ADM 171/94-119 & ADM 171/120-124 respectively). 
RN seeding based upon medal roll transcriptions

Extra funding to the IWM to facilitate:
Adequate funding of a project team to manage the LOTFWW project. 
Active engagement with three IWM Trustee members – India, Pakistan & South Africa High Commissioners – to encourage the sharing of data. A contingency plan to allow some sort of dataset – even if it is only CWGC fatalities – to have a bare minimum fallback dataset. 

Loading of RCN data from the RG 150 series catalogue details for 16,788 sailors.

Loading of RAN data from the A6670 series catalogue details for an estimated 6,000 sailors

Loading of the CEF data from the RG 150 series catalogue details (as did occur)
Loading of the AIF data from the B2455 series catalogue details (as did occur)
Loading of the NZEF data derived from the Archway 18805 series catalogue details (as did occur)
Loading of the Pearce List of conscientious objectors (as did occur)
The addition of the RAF Officers and RAF Airmen data - particular attention being paid that any duplicates are identified in a staging environment, to avoid the scenario of a million or so duplicates in the database, (which did unfortunately happen), from happening in an idealised scenario.

A triage of areas of responsibility, resulting in:

  • a genealogy services provider (probably FMP) providing a search portal
  • a company with a track record of web hosting that could support this
  • a data integration services company, involved in creating/merging entries, and maintaining a "sole source of truth" of those who were in WW1

Quarterly reviews, resulting in a review of milestones that are met, maintaining of documented performance in line with Service Level Agreements,
Evidence of continuous improvement in

  • improved website reliability and less outages
  • growing coverage of WW1 participants  
  • improvements to the functionality and execution being rolled out with subsequent releases - no intangible difference for the period April 2015 to March 2019 could occur

A successful review by the National Audit Office, to ascertain that Value for Money was achieved, and that best practice in project management had been adhered to. 

At the end of the day, a lot of this comes down to the inadequate funding of the cultural sector that is way, way, way short of that seen in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and France, but to name a few.

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