Families will be able to honour their relatives who served in the Australian military with a new virtual war memorial being launched in South Australia tomorrow.
The RSL Virtual War Memorial is being developed by the South Australian and Northern Territory branch of the Return & Services League of Australia.
Launched in Adelaide to commemorate the start of World War I, the memorial at present covers the Great War but will be expanded over time to include all conflicts that Australia has been involved in since the Boer War.
Steve Larkins, a retired army colonel who came up with the idea after visiting WWI battlefields in 2008, said anyone could log onto the memorial to research their relatives and share stories and family history.
Larkins said the initial data had been compiled from the Australian War Museum’s “embarkation lists” – the comprehensive list of names of war dead on memorials around South Australia that were once housed on the Tribute of Honour website – as well as other military databases.
“We are not trying to reinvent the wheel,” Larkins said. “We are joining all the dots to ensure there is some place to put all of the stories.”
The website, which has been developed by South Australian company Mindvision, is specifically designed to be able to capture the stories of ordinary men and women whose service may not currently be profiled in official histories.
The ambassador for the virtual memorial, Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith, VC, said that the memorial was key to preserving and adding to the historical record.
“As every day passes, we lose memories, memorabilia and records,” Corp Roberts-Smith said.
The chief operating officer of the RSL SA, Sam Jackman, said the idea was to get families to pull out the shoeboxes in the shed and upload photos and letters and citations against the name of their relative.
“There’s a large amount of material still in the possession of families and individuals which is not currently part of the public record,” she said. “It risks loss or destruction with each successive generation.”
Larkins said that the site would operate like Wikipedia, with experts and volunteers verifying the uploaded material before it was published.
“All the records are anchored to a source of truth – the lists provided by the Australian War Museum and other sources,” he said. “What the memorial will do is become the community end to these lists.”
A video from the Virtual War Memorial
He said that allowing the public to add stories to the lists meant a name etched in stone on a memorial would become a person and the site would become a home for the stories told around the dining table.
Larkins also wants the site to become a valuable education tool for students studying Australian history, and hopes they can contribute to the memorial for their high school research projects.
The project is seeking $750,000 in funding – through sponsorships, grants and bequeaths – to expand its coverage from WWI to all conflicts and also to maintain the site.
The Virtual War Memorial website is live now and can be updated.
It will be officially launched on Friday afternoon at the State Library of South Australia.
This article was first published on The Lead.
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