Daily Archives: 3 March, 2010

News – Portsmouth War Dead project

So, I’ve finished processing the names from Portsmouth City Council’s list of men and women who died in between 1939 and 1947.

Thanks to Tim Backhouse, the creator and webmaster of Memorials in Portsmouth, I have another list of names of Portsmouth people who are known to have died in the Second World War but for whatever reason do not appear on the PCC list. Many of them are from local memorials. I have managed to confirm that many of them were in fact from Portsmouth, so should take their place on the memorial. I’ve also managed to find a number of mistakes, such as units, or spelling errors. Hopefully these can be put right for perpetuity. I have found medal citations, and researched some of the interesting stories that have emerged.

At some point in the near future I also plan to spend some time using Geoff’s WW2 search engine to search for individuals who may have completely slipped the net. Sadly, given how the CWGC roll of honour was compiled its highly likely that some Portsmouth people who died during the war will never be recorded. The Comission’s roll was compiled after the war, and casualties details were given by their next of kin. In most cases the next of kin and address are recorded. In some cases, however, this information is not known.

Having gone a long way to compiling the database, what next? Clearly it would be a shame to not make the database available for other people to access, search and use. Not being an IT-Geek, I would welcome any advice about websites and how I could make this happen.

Secondly, by the wonders of Microsoft Access, I can produce reports, queries, and all kinds of things to analyse the database. I can find out totals for services, regiments and ships, average ages, all kinds of statistics that will tell us a lot about the armed forces in the Second World War. This information is about Portsmouth, but my findings will tell us much more than that – it should be a useful micro-study about Britain’s war losses overall.

The other logical step is to repeat the process for the list of WW1 Dead. This time there is no PCC list, but thankfully Tim Backhouse has transcribed the list of names from the Portsmouth Cenotaph on Memorials in Portsmouth. This time, there will be even more information – each casualties entry on the CWGC often includes their house number and street.

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I’ve never really made any bones about who I am and what I do. I’m a young-ish Historian, who reads a lot, and takes an interest in what goes on around the world. Yes, I talk a lot about military stuff. Im not a soldier, sailor or airman. But I am a Historian who puts a history-stye spin on current events. Therefore I see my view of the past as not just the past, but at the intersection between the past, present and the future, and all kinds of subjects that run through it like threads.

I’m always intrigued by the reactions that my writing has had. I have no problem with criticism, if anything I like it when people point out if I’ve made a mistake; it helps shape my thoughts. But when its based on nothing but snobbery, I allow myself a little chuckle. In recent months I have read that my writing is ‘hardly rocket science’, and it has been firmly stressed by another than I am an ‘amateur’. Both of which statements are, essentially correct. However, it is the undertones inherent in them that disappoint me.

I do not have a clue how a surface to air missile works. My Dad – an ex-Dockyard worker – does, having worked on them in the late 70′s and early 80′s, and now works on satellites. But he doesnt know much about history. My point? Not everyone can now everything, its pointless to try! I remember giving a talk based on my dissertation some years ago, about a nautical instrument maker in 19th Century Portsmouth. One of the audience asked a deliberately trying question about the standardisation of screw threads. My response? ‘why don’t you ask an engineer?’!

The internet is full of self-appointed experts, who love to talk the talk on all manner of forums. I’m no stranger to internet hard-men, and internet-experts are from the same mould – the easiest way to make yourself look good is to knock someone else. The irony is you tend to find that the most snidey critics have nothing of substance to offer of their own. Whereas my articles, my talks, my research, is there for all to see.

Its not rocket science. And too bloody right. Cos then only rocket scientists would understand it! And everyone deserves a chance to understand the past, the present and the future.

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