Aberystwyth at War: Experience, Impact, Legacy, 1914-1919
Our National Lottery Heritage Fund project Aberystwyth at War: Experience, Impact, Legacy, 1914-1919 ran from May 2018 to November 2019 and explored the impact of the First World War on the people and communities of Aberystwyth through the collaborative efforts of volunteers, students, local archives, the university, local history societies, schools, and performance and arts groups. These groups engaged with wartime records, letters, newspapers, photographs, music, war memorials and personal histories held at our partner organizations the National Library of Wales, Ceredigion Archives and Ceredigion Museum, as well as at the Aberystwyth University Library and public places in the area. Over 70 students and local volunteers captured and interpreted these community histories in activities, displays, exhibitions, performance and accessible online resources.
The key aim of our project was to enable local people to engage with their heritage, to access and interpret this heritage, and to share their knowledge and learning in both traditional and non-traditional ways. Our project activities therefore included training workshops, guided access to local archives, community art, performance, and display, for as wide a range of local volunteers (including students) as possible. We collaborated with local heritage, art and community organizations to pool resources and jointly programme events. We offered people of all ages and backgrounds the opportunity to take part in free activities and events, skills building workshops, volunteering, and group discovery of the past, to help people connect directly with the impact and legacy of the Great War.
The project also offered our students a unique opportunity to participate in an active community research project, and to take part in activities that brought the university and the local community together, either as volunteers or on one of four work placements. Our student volunteers were able to access new archives, to research their own topics, to post their own blogs, and to gain important individual and team work experience skills.
Key project outputs
The project sponsored and participated in a range of community events over its duration, including the following:
- Two research training workshops for volunteers at Ceredigion Archives
- Two researching training workshops at the National Library of Wales
- Digital archiving training course for volunteers (Agored Cymru accreditation)
- Two WWI film screenings: Battle of the Somme (1916)/All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), 18 May 2018, and Mrs John Bull Prepared (1918)/ Journey’s End (1930) (9 Nov 2018), Coliseum Theatre, Ceredigion Museum.
- Lecture on the Belgian Refugees in Aberystwyth by Dr Rhian Davies, Old College, 31 October 1918.
- Penglais School Armistice Tea, 9 November 2018
- Interactive talk with the Aberystwyth Scouts, 10 November 2018
- St Michael’s Church Armistice Service and Community Tea, 11 November 1918
- ‘Pages of the Sea’, at Ynys Las, 11 November 1918
- Photographic exhibition of project finds, Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Nov 1918 - Jan 2019
- ‘Dot and Billy: Let Us be Sweethearts’: a performed reading of a collection of letters between Stanley Wilbrahim Burditt (Cheshire Regiment) and Dorothy Agnes French (University College Aberystwyth), 1915-1917, made available to the project by Tom James, Round Studio, Aberystwyth Arts Centre, 16-17 May 2019
- ‘Songs from the Great War’, concert by Plascrug Primary School choir and Aberystwyth Youth Brass Band, Coliseum Theatre, Ceredigion Museum, 22 May 2019
- Five interactive guided tours of WWI-era Aberystwyth, with guides in period dress, summer 2019
- Four days of community art workshops, Aberystwyth Arts Centre, in March, May, June and July 2019.
- Four schools workshops with Year 8 and Year 9 students from Penglais School, June/July and October 2019
The project blog was set up in June 2018 to publicise research undertaken by the project volunteers. It proved to be one of our most unexpected and visible successes, with a new post added almost every week for the entire duration of the project – over 70 in total.
Topics include: Aberystwyth Freemasons at war; the visit of Julian the Tank to Aberystwyth; Aberystwyth shops at Christmas; Aber boys overseas; the Women’s Land Army; the Children’s Egg Collection for the Wounded; Belgian refugees; Nanteos Mansion and the war; the Penparcau Sewing Circle; Cardiganshire politics in August 1914; ‘Dead man’s pennies’; the Aberystwyth Red Cross Hospital; Aberystwyth nurses in Serbia; local children and the war effort; and local individuals who served.
A selection of the blogs, with photographs from the project, has recently been published by Y Lolfa.
Online digital map
Over the course of the project a number of volunteers compiled a database of Aberystwyth servicemen of WWI. This database includes as much information as we have been able to find about these servicemen and women. This information was then used to generate a digital map of both present-day and WWI-era Aberystwyth and surrounding area that pinpoints the home addresses of all those who served as well as such details as branch of service, rank, location of service, and other key details. To date we have identified over 1200 individual service personnel for the map.
The map provides unique insights into the town and its residents during the war years, the diversity of experiences of those who served, and the impact of WWI on the demographics of the town and surrounding area. It provides a model of what can be done with relatively simple computer technology to make history visible and alive to communities, and rooted in the very streets they walk down every day.
We would like to acknowledge with thanks the invaluable help of Professor Barry Robinson, of Queen’s University of Charlotte, USA, in compiling this map.