The Book of Remembrance: bringing wartime experiences to life
23 April 2013
27 April, 1915
"We hear that our men are continuing to make good progress, in spite of the fact of having fought continuously since Sunday with only biscuits to eat. The Turks are backed up by huge reinforcement and as soon as the men in a trench are shot down others spring into their places. There were 1500 casualties on Sunday and though the ambulance people are doing magnificent work they are seriously handicapped by a lack of hospital ship accommodation. Wounded are arriving on all our transports and operations are performed on dirty troop decks - we have a number of wounded on our [transport ship] Nizam and they all recount most interesting news of the bravery of our armies, hundreds of cases will never be heard."- The Gallipoli diaries of Francis Badham Oliver, University of Sydney Archives
Life for the University of Sydney community during the First World War seems worlds away from the hustle and bustle of the Quadrangle in 2013, but as the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and Anzac approaches, a new project at the University of Sydney Archives is bringing wartime experiences to life.
The Book of Remembrance Online is a free, searchable database of men and women associated with the University who served in the First World War. It is based on the research files used to compile the Book of Remembrance, and the actual book itself. The Book was published in 1939 as a memorial to students, staff and graduates who served overseas. Of the 2036 entries in the book, 230 lost their lives during the war.
Members of the public will also be able to upload personal collections of letters, photographs, postcards, and diaries to the database entries. The extensive archives of the University, the Department of History, residential colleges and various alumni associations will also be gradually added to the database.
The University's Fisher Library recently hosted members of the NSW Centenary of Anzac Advisory Council, the body responsible for advising the NSW Government on its commemoration activities for the centenary, including General Peter Cosgrove AC MC, Air-Vice Marshall Bob Treloar, actor Mark Lee (star of the Peter Weir film Gallipoli), and Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen Garton.
As part of the discussion of the project with staff from the Archives and the Rare Books Library, the committee viewed remarkable items from the University's archives, including an album of postcards, images and clippings from the First World War in Western Europe belonging to Sir Samuel Barraclough, Professor of Engineering, assembled and annotated by an English aristocrat, and biographical sheets used to compile the Book of Remembrance entries, including for the University's only Victoria Cross winner, Percy Storkey. The Rare Books Library displayed an original copy of the ANZAC Book, compiled by soldiers serving in Gallipoli, belonging to official Australian war historian Dr CEW Bean.
"Our archives are enormously significant, not just to the University's history, but to Australian history and how we remember the Anzacs," says Professor Garton, who was chosen as a NSW Centenary of Anzac Ambassador for his distinguished body of research in 19th and 20th century Australian history.
"University of Sydney students during the First World War came from diverse walks of life, as they do today, so this resource tells us a lot about what life in Australia was like at the time."
The Book of Remembrance Online Project will make all 2036 of the book's records fully searchable, allowing researchers to sort the data by a range of criteria such as faculty, school, and movements after the war.
The project also intends to geomap data in the book, showing researchers where members of the University community were educated, served and settled after the war.
"Geomapping the data gives us an interesting and often surprising picture of people's movements before, during and after the war," says Reference Archivist Nyree Morrison, who is leading the project with University Historian Dr Julia Horne and Professor Ian Johnson, Director of Arts E-Research.
"For example, a lot of Australians didn't come back to Australia straight after the war, and many actually stayed in Britain for a period of time before returning to Australia. Many of the academics teaching at the University of Sydney at the time were educated overseas, so it's interesting to see where many staff members got their degrees," Morrison says.
The Book of Remembrance Online is set to launch in 2014, and is funded by the Chancellor's Committee.
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