Our project 'The One Hundred Year Heritage of the First World War for Wimborne and East Dorset' ran from 2014-2019 and was funded by a £56,100 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Our aim was to uncover the history and the stories of those who lived in our area a century ago.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists 254 men who 'died of wounds’, or were 'killed in action' and whose next of kin were in East Dorset, but we wanted to know about everyone else. The soldiers with no known grave, the sailors who were lost at sea, those commemorated elsewhere but with family in East Dorset. Or those who had lived and worked in East Dorset but the link has been lost. We wanted to know about those who served and survived, were they in the army, navy or RFC? What did they look like? What were their experiences?
In addition to the men who served, we wanted to know about the roles played in the war by women and children. How many East Dorset women stepped forward to fill the traditional male roles, working in factories, as VAD's and nurses, and in horticulture, agriculture and with livestock? The war could not have been won without their input and we wanted to find out about these women and tell their story too.
Because there were many private estates, farms and gardens in East Dorset it is possible some men would have stayed and carried out the important role of maintaining the land, providing food and fodder for the war effort and to top up the rations at home. These men would have been in reserved occupations, and they could also be in Britain in defence roles. We wanted to trace those who were Conscientious Objectors and the reasons they gave and what happened to them. Were any stretcher bearers or ambulance drivers?
Our final area for research was how our environment changed. Where were the army camps in the area? Did we have Prisoners of War working on our local farms? Which houses were used as hospitals or convalescence homes? Did the army billet any soldiers locally? Were there any airfields in East Dorset? What happened to the large estates, did they fall into decline during the conflict?
To make sure that the precious photographs, letters, diaries, postcards, medals and other links to the First World War are recorded we worked with the local community to take digital photographs of the artefacts and memorabilia they shared with us to ensure these are recorded, firstly on our own database, (see menu bar) and shared with the 'Lives of the First World War' Imperial War Museum digital project ensuring all information can be preserved for future generations.
Some of the stories, research and information we collected were told through sell out drama and film productions, exhibitions and educational resources for schools (available on our main website: www.museumofeastdorset.co.uk). In addition we presented our research findings at two conferences to add to the academic knowledge and understanding of the First World War.
We were thrilled that the community responded so positively to the project, showing up to drop in days with stories, objects and potential leads which could be followed up.
We also could not have delivered this project without the enthusiasm and dedication of our volunteers who were instrumental in all aspects of this project. Thank you to those who so generously gave their time to expand our knowledge of how the First World War impacted our community.
The Priest's House Museum & Garden is holding a First World War conference on Saturday 20 August 2016.