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Commonwealth War Graves Commission hosts open day and launches online archive

History lovers were invited to take a glimpse into the past at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) in Maidenhead, which launched its new online archive on Monday.

 The Marlow Road site contains a vast collection of documents dating back to the First World War as well as physical artefacts including buttons and helmets found in Europe’s battlefields.

Its open day on Friday was part of the national Explore Your Archive campaign, but the site is always open to the public.

About 90 people watched colourised footage from CWGC’s archives, including the Royal Family at the 1958 opening of the Brookwood Memorial.

CWGC’s director of works Jon Gedling gave a talk on how the commission uses its archives to aid conservation work around the world.

Archivist Andrew Fetherston demonstrated the new CWGC online archive catalogue.

Mr Fetherston told The Advertiser that records which demonstrated the ‘range and depth’ of CWGC’s archives were specially chosen for the day.

He pointed out a very large 19th century Bible which was rescued from CWGC-owned St Sever Cemetery near the French city of Rouen in 1940 in the midst of Nazi aggression.

The CWGC, which honours the 1.7m men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in both World Wars, was founded as the Imperial War Graves Commission in May 1917, before changing its name in 1960.

Mr Fetherston, who has been working for the commission for four-and-a-half years hopes putting CWGC’s archives online will open it up to a wider audience.

This is the first time the commission has digitised and released documents about its own history and its cemeteries and memorials.

There will be regular releases of new digitised content over the next 12 months, including staff records, photographs, and architectural drawings and plans.

“I’ve always had a passion for history. I love the fact that you can go into an archive and discover something,” added Mr Fetherston.

“I want other people to share that passion, to see the documents we have and find their own areas of interest.

“One file I might not find interesting other people will find fascinating.”

Visit www.cwgc.org for more information.

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