Researchers from the University of Kent are working with the Western Front Association to develop an online record of the battlefield crosses and grave markers which were returned from Europe to Britain after the First World War
During the First World War, soldiers' graves were marked for later identification where possible. Markers varied from a simple stick or broken rifle pushed into the ground to army regulation markers, and extend to carved and ornate hand-made memorials, sometimes made by local tradesmen or friends of the deceased.
Under the authority of the Imperial War Graves Commission the old wooden markers and crosses were gradually replaced with the familiar regularity of the gentle curved top and squared angles of the Portland Stone markers. During the process of replacement with headstones some efforts were made to offer these wooden crosses to the families of the people whose graves they originally marked on the front.
These repatriated battlefield crosses and grave markers exist across the whole country. They can be found in churches, memorial halls, chapels, museums and private dwellings. Although lists exist there is no definitive study of them. The aim of this project is to try and provide an online resource which does exactly that. The database will provide information on as many of the locations and as much detail as possible about the stories surrounding the people whose graves they marked and the people they left behind. It will hopefully be of use to anyone interested in the period, be they local historians, curious casual observers, schools and for academic study.
The project team intends to try and build as complete a picture of the true extent of these memorials, map them all using geodata and fill in as much detail as possible about the crosses and the people they represent. They will shortly publish a list of known wooden memorials and a basic map and intend to build an online entry for each one as the information becomes available.
How to get involved
The project team is looking for members of the public to help build up a picture of how these unusual and personal memorials are distributed. They are asking volunteers and interested parties to check their local churches, ask councils, museums, community centres and church halls. If you are aware of a rumour about the existence of one in the past perhaps since put in storage, or know of a local story, they would be keen to hear from you.
Full information about the project is available at thereturned.co.uk where you can find guidelines for research and download a survey form.