2014 marks the start of the centenary commemorations for the First World War which will be taking place over the next four years. Locally there is a lot of activity in York marking this occasion, including a major new exhibition at York Castle Museum and a wide variety of community group projects such as the Poppy Road Poppy Project
So what about us? As the city archives we hold original archive material created during that period. However, you don’t find archives on a theme such as this conveniently labelled in a box all together as a collection, you have to do detective work amongst all your collections to draw out the individual treasures within.
This is what our MA placement student Lauren Bray did earlier in the year. As part of her MA programme placement at the Institute of the Public Understanding of the Past at the University of York, we set her on a resource discovery exercise to produce a guide to our collections, so we can highlight what original material we hold that can aid research and interest in the First World War. Instead of simply producing a paper booklet, she decided to trial creating a Pinterest board as a showcase. The Pinterest board is now live and available at
You don’t need a Pinterest account to see it, but if you do you can repin, comment and like individual pins.
As access to our archive collections is currently closed during the building work, we hope this can act as a shop window and taster of what types of material we have, and can be viewed in person when we reopen at the end of the year. The nature of our collections (focused on the civic archive and the archives of community groups) means that the archives relate as much to home life, as to military activity abroad. The records show how the city had to adapt quickly to the outbreak of war to solve practical issues locally, without the centralised instructions more familiar from the Second World War.
The ‘Chocolate Letters’ written by serving soldiers to the Lord Mayor in thanks for boxes of chocolate sent to the front are well known, having provided the inspiration for the play ‘Blood and Chocolate’ and are appearing at exhibitions all over the city. However, individual documents scattered over disparate collections can provide unique windows onto the local experience of the First World War in York and are important sources despite their relatively small size and number.
Did you know?
- Conscientious objectors in York such as William Varley were tried and incarcerated for refusing to follow military orders, such as wearing uniform
- Teenage Sea Scouts from York served on coastguard duty after the coastal bombardments?
- Your house might have been hit in the Zeppelin raid in May 1916 and there might be records of a claim for war damages?
We hope you come along and see the records and our First World War exhibition once we are setup with our new facilities at York Explore, and you can get stuck in in the meantime and find out something new about the war in York by visiting and sharing our Pinterest Board.
2 thoughts on “The First World War in our archive collections”
Great way to show the depth an breadth of the materials in the York archives. What about some large posters or a big screen monitor to scroll and show off these fantastic records in the entrance of the new Explore York? There are lots of other areas that we could create other collages or pinboards for. Perhaps groups of volunteers could be organised to help create some more?
Excellent way to introduce your Collection to teachers and researchers.