Ruben Rees, School of History, University of Kent
Following a call for volunteers sent out to the University of Kent by the Archivist at Canterbury Cathedral, work began on preparing a First World War Centenary Commemoration display for open evenings at the Beaney Museum and the Nave of the Cathedral. The research began with a selection of material held in the Cathedral Archives which consisted mainly of wartime letters and some objects. There was also some existing research available specifically on HMS Kent that had been compiled by other volunteers at the Archives.
The project from the off had a specific focus on local history and telling the ‘Soldiers’ stories’. It was decided that the research should cover the local area’s contribution to the war, with reference to the local Regiments, Pilots, Sailors and Civilians. As such, the challenge lay in searching the records for a range of local stories that encapsulated the whole war as much as possible.
The research revealed that Mick Mannock and James McCudden – two of the most notable ‘air aces’ of the war – were local to Canterbury and Kent. This provided a great start to the project. Also available was a paper on HMS Kent, which had already been the subject of research in relation to its role in the Battle of the Falkland Islands. The biggest challenge was the local Regiments, which certainly proved to be the most difficult part of the project. After sifting through casualty records and cross referencing names, dates and events, some little known stories were unearthed which – it is hoped – will enable the public to gain a better insight into the lives of the men of Kent during the First World War.
Finally the civilian organisations – the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) Hospitals and Canterbury War Work Depot – were brought in to give a wider view of the war effort at home and abroad. Research was also undertaken into ‘memorial and commemoration’ in Canterbury.
The research has now been formatted into display boards and is in production. It is hoped that the display will be showcased, along with objects from the Archives, in the Cathedral in early October and will help inform the public of the local history prior to the main commemorative events the following month.
From start to finish the project has been of great benefit to the volunteers involved and has given the students of History a chance to take part in a research project in the historical sector during a very poignant point in the commemorations of the First World War. This experience will be of great benefit in the future.
Ruben Rees is a War Studies student at the University of Kent, about to begin the final year of his undergraduate degree.
Images courtesy of Canterbury Cathedral Archives.