Opportunity to trace soldiers' stories thanks to trio

Stephen White with Sue Yardley and Sue Gallagher

Stephen White with Sue Yardley and Sue Gallagher

First published in News by , Reporter

TWO industrious volunteers have compiled a database of all the soldiers who featured in the pages of The Westmorland Gazette from 1914 to 1919.

More than 9,000 soldiers appear in the Cumbria Libraries database, including those killed, wounded, reported missing in action, awarded medals and taken prisoner.

Stephen White, Carlisle Library local history librarian, recruited Sue Yardley and Sue Gallagher for the mammoth task three years ago.

“I’ve been trying to get the right person to do this for a while because I’ve always thought it would be interesting,” he said. “It was initially designed for tracing family members – we’ve had people ask us to find a relative in the past but a name and the date when they died doesn’t necessarily help you find when it was in the paper.”

Mrs Yardley, who used to work at the library, and Mrs Gallagher viewed the newspapers on microfiche and entered any names on the database, along with the date, page number and column to locate where references to them can be found in the Gazette.

As well as people trying to trace family members, the database is also a useful resource for schools, with pupils able to look up what was going on in their town or village. Mrs Gallagher said: “What we didn’t want to do was dismiss any detail, however small, because the families might want that detail.

“It’s been very interesting and rewarding to contribute to the bigger picture.

“It’s great that the internet has really opened things like this up to a much wider audience.

“A lot of people have asked if I found it depressing, which I didn’t as there was enough time and distance, but there were some very sad stories.

“Sometimes you’d see someone reported missing in action in 1915 and then reappear in 1917 or 1918 – so their family had been left for two years without knowing what happened.”

Mrs Yardley said: “I remember seeing one terrible letter from a chaplain saying a lot of men had been lost in one of the big battles in July but they couldn’t go to retrieve the bodies until January – the thought of them lying out there was just awful.

“I don’t think when we started we realised the significance of it, and just how much information there actually is.

“It’s been a lot of work – sometimes laborious but very interesting.”

* The Gazette database can be checked on line by visiting www.cumbria.gov.uk/ libraries/localstudies/default.asp. The information can then be used to locate the Gazette pages, which can be viewed on microfiche at Kendal Library.

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