During this pandemic isolation period many of us have found extra time on our hands. Recently I learned from the Western Front Association (WFA) of two worthwhile volunteer efforts that World War 1 researchers and students are working on. These are called Project Alias and Project Hometown.

Founded in 1980, the WFA is an international organization headquartered in the United Kingdom. It is the largest and most important WW1 interest group, with around 60 local branches, including one in the US. The chapters maintain active meeting, conference and ceremonial schedules; many of their lectures are also available on You Tube. Entirely separate from any government, the WFA is endowed and subscriber supported. The WFA maintains memorial markers in Belgium and France and the organization has from time to time put up funds to preserve sites.

The Man with a Mule Statue
Australian War Museum

In 2012 the U.K. Ministry of Defense announced that, due to budget constraints, the WW1 Pension Records would be discarded. The WFA agreed to take these six million-plus documents and digitally image them. That task is now finished, but there remains a great deal of work to do in indexing and cross referencing.

Back to the projects mentioned above.  ‘Alias’ seeks to index the card images by all surnames. It is surprising how many soldiers served under a name other than their own. The reasons for this were many, including: running from the law, marital problems, complicated family situations, concealing true age, Americans enlisted as Canadians, Brits enlisted as Canadians to get higher pay – the list goes on and on. This effort has already found some interesting cases, for example, there was a pre-war regular soldier killed in 1915 who served under three different surnames. The header photograph is the gravestone of one of the most famous ‘Alias’ servicemen, the ‘Man with a Mule’ of Gallipoli.

‘Hometown’ seeks to build an index of persons by their stated hometown rather than by name. When accomplished these persons can be cross-referenced to local records, memorials and plaques. To read more about the WFA or these projects click on this link.

James (“Jim”) Patton BS BA MPA is a retired state official from Shawnee, Kansas and a frequent contributor to several WW1 e-publications, including "Roads to the Great War," "St. Mihiel Tripwire," "Over the Top" and "Medicine in the First World War." He has spent many hours walking the WW1 battlefields, and is also an authority on British regiments and a collector of their badges. An Army Engineer during the Vietnam War, he does work for the US World War 1 Centennial Commission and has memberships in the WW1 Historical Association, the Western Front Association, the Indian Military Historical Society and the Salonika Campaign Society.