Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Searching on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site

Earlier this month there was a most interesting talk about the Commonwealth War Graves Commission at our local University of the Third Age (U3A) monthly meeting. One of the exhibits was a listing of the casualties on their web site  linked to my home town in Hertfordshire. Several people wanted to look at it and I decided that I would visit their web site to generate a copy of the list for myself.

I was very disappointed to find that this was not possible using the searching facility available to the public, and the scope of the searching was very restricted - although it worked well for the kinds of searches you could do. I therefore contacted the site and got a useful reply from Peter. He said:
At present the CWGC website is unable to offer the functionality you require. However, a completely redeveloped website will go live at the end of this year and that will include an advanced search capability. This will enable individuals to search for regiments, date of death, military awards etc. We hope that unites (Ships, Squadron etc) will also be an option but this may not be ready for phase one. A search on place of residence is not envisaged ... 
The improvement could be very useful, as far as it goes. I replied querying the lack of a text search on the "Additional Information" and pointed out that many people were currently collecting information for books, etc., for the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War could find it useful. In reply he added:
Although I accept all of the points you make, as we have so little data on "home town" because the vast majority of next of kin did not supply this information, we feel at this stage it is not something that would add value to the vast majority of our users but rather has the potential to confuse and limit results. It may be something we look at in connection with other partnerships we are working towards for the centenary of the Great War, but for the first release I think we need to get the other fields working and see what load this puts on our systems before we take any further steps. 
Thanks for the comments. I will add item to the debate and development log and I hope you will find the new site a major improvement.
It is clear that there are to be some welcome improvements by the end of the year, but not text searching  - although this might go on the list of things to do at a later date. I guess that this will happen if enough people ask for it. I also feel that the words "vast majority" may be a put off phrase rather than an accurate measure.  I checked 25 random WW1 casualties and 18 out of 25 entries had some "Additional Information" 

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