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Identifying veterans of the First World War: Putting names to faces, and faces to names.

 Fig.1. ‘Poster’ constructed using a combination of ‘Brushes’ (to layer several photos in one) and ‘Studio’ a simple graphics app that provided the overlays and text. Images and screen-grabs cropped and saved into Picasa Web Albums. 

Created for the Open University module H818: The Networked Practitioner – towards a poster to illustrate a conference demonstration of an interactive mobile learning platform aimed at sourcing the involvement of many collaborators to enrich our understanding of this period in history.

The QR code should work, the YouTube video does not – it’s a screengrab. The video clip, under 2 minutes, is there.

In fairness to my grandfather I edited around 8 minutes down to 2 minutes, keeping one story about a young woman who came down from London to meet up and otherwise to compress the kind of circuitous conversation you can have with someone in their nineties.

Fig. 2. Jack Wilson (1896-1992) talks briefly about his few weeks military training at RAF Hastings in May/June 1918. Features several of his photographs from these weeks that he sent home to his mother in Consett, County Durham. (As YouTube doesn’t embed on OU platform, link to YouTube)

 Fig.3. The simplest of SimpleMind mind maps to remind me what the poster still requires and is certainly missing. 

And as a reminder to me there is 2500 words to write too.


If you or your relatives have old photos from the First World War how about sharing them and let’s see of collectively we can bring these characters back to life by researching then telling them story. If you are seeing family over the holiday try to find out what you have in that battered box in the attic: photos, an ID bracelet, his watch? A pay book, or log book? An Webley Revolver!! A gas-mask. A piklehaube helmet.

I’m always very interested to hear from people with a similar interest in the ‘Great War’ especially when it comes to the Machine Gun Corps and the Royal Flying Corps where my grandfather and great uncle served.

The project above relates to RAF, formerly RFC Hastings. Cadets were sent for military training in batches of 30 or so, six weeks at a time. They got military training, fitness, map reading and meteorology. Time off was spent on the beach, on the pier, in the outdoor pool and cinemas, and in a RAF club in Wellington Square. After this they headed for Clifton College, Bristol (Douglas Haig’s old school) for Morse Code, navigation and mechanics (basics) and machine gun training. Then to Uxbridge for bombs and finally off to an aerodrome for flight training. I don’t even know if they all went off together. I do recognise one other face here, a man who shared a room with my grandfather. They had a valet between them. Some change for my grandfather, the son of domestic servants, finding himself in the Officer’s Mess with schoolboy Etonians and all sorts of others.



Recruits to the Royal Flying Corps took military training, map reading and meteorology at RAF Hastings


During the First World War the Royal Flying Corps – renamed the Royal Air Force in April 1918, put recruits through military training in Hastings – this included a fitness regime on the South Downs and swimming in the sea. Jack Wilson transferred from the Machine Gun Corps at the end of 1917 having served some 18 months across the Somme and Ypres Salient. His memoir runs to some three hours though it remains incomplete – who are these people alongside him the the cadet photographs. The picture on the left was taken by the Queen’s Hotel and would appear to include the entire intake with the Commander in the centre. The second picture was taken outside a club then in a building known as Howard House – it is 20 Wellington Square just a five minute walk from the Queen’s. Seen on BBC South East someone thought they recognised their 19 year old father Benjamin Dawson.

Help would be appreciated trying to identify all the characters in these pictures. The National Archive at Kew proved unhelpful. Where are records of those serving in the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force kept?


World War 1914-1918 The Centenary Commemorations begin on the BBC


As a boy my grandfather would tell me stories of his time on the Western Front during the First World War and how it transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and trained as a fighter pilot. It was a pleasure therefore to introduce him to the audience of BBC South Today at the start of a year long commemoration of the 1914-1918 war.

My own interest is shifting from amateu historian and research sleuth in relation to my grandfather’s rather unusual story – he startef out in the Durham Light Infantry, was transferred to the Machine Gun Corps … and at one stage was asked if he’d like to join the Tank Corps. Then right at the end of 1917 having survived the Third Battle of Ypres, known as Passchendaele, his papers came through and he spent 1918 training to be a pilot, starting in Hastings where he got military training, morse code and topography.

To support my interest I am taking a Masters degree in First World War studies at the university of Birmingham.

RAF Hastings 1918

WWI Post Card D Flight 3 Squadron RAF Hastings June 1918

RAF Cadets, 1918, Military Training, Hastings

WWI Pics 2AUG09 h0001

RAF Cadets, The Queen’s Hotel, Hastings, 1918

RFC Cadets June or July 1918 Hastings

Royal Air Force – Military Training – Hastings 1918

Military Training & the beach – Hastings June 1918

From interviews conducted in 1992 with Jack Wilson.

We got general military training at Hastings.

It was old hat to me; I’d done it all with Durham Light Infantry in 1915 and then I had two and a half years on the Front Line. I should have gone straight on to Bristol.

We were taught drill, discipline, military law, aeronautics and gunnery.

RFC Cadets June or July 1918 Hastings

We drilled and exercised in the various parks in Hastings and at low tide we went down onto the beach and put on a drilling display by the pier. Other times we marched along the front, everyone taking their turn to lead the whole squadron.

We used to go on the front and take the whole squadron drilling them.

You had to take your turn. You marched the lads to the lectures we had in front of all the holidaymakers. They put pictures of us in ‘The Hastings and St.Leonards Pictorial Advertiser.’

You got topography, sort of local map reading, and Morse Code. I never forget S.O.S.

As well as holidaymakers there were convalescing soldiers in blue uniforms on the pier; they were looked after by nurses from Old Hastings House

There were fisherwomen laying clothes on the beach to dry and horses turning capstans to bring boats up the beach.

We swam in the sea; I have photographs of that.

RAF Cadets Hastins 7th June 1918

WWI Pics 2AUG09 j0001

And I did this lovely ‘sand scratching’ of a Roman Soldier on the beach that could have been viewed from the pier.


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