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Engaging with the past

09 May 2011

Engaging with the past 2 WEBJosh Smith and Annabel Avison from Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw learn about the School’s Egyptian Sarcophagus

School children from south Wales who added their families World War 1 memorabilia to a University research project have learnt first-hand how their contributions have been used.

Pupils from St Martin’s School in Caerphilly and Ysgol Gwynllyw in Pontypool visited the School of History, Archaeology and Religion to learn more about the project Welsh Voices of the Great War Online.

Led by Dr Gethin Matthews of the School, the digital project gathered and made public artefacts and memorabilia from World War 1 which was in private hands. The aim was to give people across Wales the chance to share their forgotten treasures and family history with the rest of the nation.

Running from summer 2010 to March 2011 the team worked with the families of those in Wales who fought, or otherwise served, in the First World War. They held roadshows across Wales for members of the public to bring along their memorabilia and secondary schools were also invited to submit material as part of their GCSE studies.

"One of the problems we encountered with the project was that the generation who had the material were not necessarily able to use the online submission mechanism" explained Dr Matthews. "So we did our best to engage with local history societies and community groups, and launched an initiative to involve schools in the collection of material.

Engaging with the past 3WEBTom Morgan and Casey Richards from St Martin’s School in Caerphilly receive their prize cheque from Dr Gethin Matthews

"As a further incentive, we also offered two cash prizes to the schools that engaged with the project best. In the end, St Martin’s school in Caerphilly and Ysgol Gwynllyw in Pontypool were the winners, but thanks to all of the participating schools and community groups we gathered everything from letters and diaries to postcards and newspaper clippings as well as finding out about stories that has been passed down from generation to generation about the war."

As part of the visit on 4 May, the pupils learnt about the world-leading work that the School is carrying out and the range of degrees on offer. Talks during the event were aimed at introducing the pupils to history, archaeology and religion in an accessible and fun way. They included:

  • Getting a job! What might I do with a degree in history, archaeology or religion?
  • ‘If you steal yoghurt you will be reborn as a flamingo'! Religion and Society in Ancient India
  • Horrible histories & visions of Vikings

The pupils also got the chance to get hands on history experience with a tour of the School’s laboratories and conservation department, and a workshop on ancient pottery, run by postgraduate Alice Forward.

School pupil Tom Corbett, 17, of Caerphilly, said: "The range of material we saw was impressive and very informative. I particularly enjoyed seeing the chainmail: having seen so many films of warriors in armour, it was really interesting to see a historical object that had actually been used by a real person."

The ‘Welsh Voices of the Great War Online’ project was organised by the School of History, Archaeology & Religion, in partnership with the National Museum of Wales and the National Library of Wales.

In total, more than 2,500 images were collected, which are now available to the public via the ‘People’s Collection Wales’ website. (For more details, visit:

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