A one-year project to create a memorial and to publicise the sacrifice of LDS soldiers during The Great War.
This project, which began in June 2016, utilised digital methods to extract, process, and examine the British Latter-day Saint (LDS) casualties of The Great War, 1914-1919. The impetus for the project was largely borne from the fact that there were no previous attempts to remember or commemorate those LDS members who had died from military service. However, a second more pressing fact was that with all the commemoration projects taking place to celebrate the contributions and service of those who served in the war, and given that LDS members widely support and are grateful for military service, that many of these men had become forgotten – their stories and sacrifices swallowed up in the rolling fog of the past. This project is an attempt to identify and remember those who died and to understand how those at home managed to keep pressing forward in their faith.
The aims for this project are three-fold;
- To identify those LDS soldiers who died in military service and who were commemorated by members throughout the British Isles.
- To explore the multimodal experiences of remembrance amongst contemporary LDS members, primarily through understanding their methods of commemoration as well as their efforts to deal with the evolving logistical and ministerial challenges faced in the absence of many of the Priesthood.
- To offer quantitative and spatial analysis of the casualties, as well as combining this with statistical data gathered which provides yet further understanding with respect to the impact these casualties would have had on the functioning capabilities of the Church.
|Sidney M. Evans||06-Jul-17||Cardiff|
|Alick Cushion||18-Oct-17||Great Yarmouth|
|Edward Henson||16-Nov-17||St Albans|
The project draws inspiration from a similar project that I am involved in, Streets of Mourning, which is based at Lancaster University, History Department.
To identify the LDS casualties, corpus linguistics methods were utilised to text mine the Millennial Star, an LDS periodical that first began publication in 1840. After utilising techniques to download OCR’d (Optimal Character Recognition) text files from Archive.org, it was possible to then begin querying the corpus.
Most death notices were published with a degree of prominence, often with similar linguistic patterns. This method of identification and extraction made it possible for the many hundreds of issues to be quickly searched through and casualties and events to be identified.
After identifying the casualties from the published death notices, it was possible to then move on and to begin to put them into a spreadsheet. Most notices included information such as the unit they belonged to, family members, nearly always their baptismal and birth information, death date and death location, amongst other elements. It was always touching that a loving epithet would accompany the notice.
This information was entered into a spreadsheet and the data was cross-referenced with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) database. Further information, including rank, regimental information, and inscriptions upon gravestones could then be added.
After correlating the original data with the CWGC data, it was possible to then contribute additional data from the 1911 England and Wales, 1911 Scotland, and 1911 Ireland censuses. Here variables including occupation and address were identified, further data could be extracted if it was needed. This extra layer of data provided an opportunity to explore the socio-economic composition of this group, as well as questions around mobility and migration of LDS persons during this period, something that very little is known about. Where possible, information corroborated as belonging to the same individual which was found on public family trees hosted on Ancestry.co.uk was utilised.
This data was then tabulated and analysed, and was subsequently brought into a Geographic Information System (GIS), specifically the pieces of software used were QGIS and ArcGIS.
By drawing from reports within the Millennial Star, it was possible to recreate the contemporary boundaries of LDS conferences, and with these boundaries, membership, attendance, and other figures could be combined to create a longitudinal picture of changing behaviours and responses to wartime conditions.
To complement this data, a text mining exercise was conducted which enabled over 90 branches to be identified as operating during the period of The Great War. As would be expected, concentrations were largely confined to urban centres – particularly the Lancashire and West Yorkshire areas which composed a considerable portion of the branches, as did London.
By visualising the distribution of casualties, conference statistics, and other data it was possible to gain a more nuanced understanding of how the war affected the Church, even in very basic ways such as attendance at meetings.
Some of the challenges of this methodological approach include a large amount of data, which offers challenges in its own right, but the linking of the data required considerable time and dedication to ensure accuracy. In many ways, as is the case with most visualisations of data, the mapping side of things actually provided more questions than it answered. Although it showed the distribution patterns of various elements of data, it could not adequately answer why those patterns existed, something which required further qualitative analysis.
Yet, this digital approach to exploring LDS casualties has resulted in a number of things.
- The identification of all those British LDS members who were reported as dying in the service of their country.
- The extraction and compilation of various data sets for the purposes of further exploration and investigation of life as LDS members during a period of prolonged conflict.
- Digital resources including polygon and point shapefiles that permit further use to explore early twentieth century LDS activities and behaviours.
- Permitted new forms of analysis to take place that previously could not feasibly have been conducted. Ranging from quantitative tabulation to proximity searches within the corpus, and from querying multiple databases to spatially analysing distribution patterns, this project has pioneered new ways to explore British LDS history.
More details about the findings of this project can be found in the forthcoming journal article which will be hosted here. However, here are three of the most interesting findings;
- Norwich Conference was devastated by the conflict. Most of its Priesthood served in the conflict and they lost an estimated 19% of their Priesthood to the war.
- Branches within the City of London and the nearby districts lost none of their members during the war, an unusual and unexpected discovery, especially given the size of the city and the conference, and the activity of the Saints there.
- The Relief Society, mobilised by Sister Ida B. Smith, performed a feat of extraordinary proportions. The calling of hundreds of Sisters as LDS ‘Lady Missionaries’, ensured the Church could continue during the darkest days of the war, baptisms continued despite the wide scale withdrawal of foreign-born Elders.
The chief intended outcome of this project was an academic journal article, and a public presentation with subsequent online storage of the presentation material, with a video of the presentation if possible.
It is hope that in the future, funding could be secured to create a portal for remembering those British LDS members who gave their lives, but not just for WWI, also for the Crimean War, WWII, and all other military conflicts that they have been involved in.
The methodologies illustrated in this project, which serves as an effective proof of concept, highlights the possibilities that are opening up as researchers more confidently grapple with the digital and spatial turns that have been emerging in recent years.
On Wednesday 9th November 2016, I gave a presentation at the National Single Adult Conference. The presentation aimed to highlight how members reacted and dealt with the war, and drew from individual examples to illustrate typical reactions.