How this Lowestoft student is helping families trace their First World War ancestry
PUBLISHED: 16:31 09 November 2018 | UPDATED: 16:31 09 November 2018
A Lowestoft student has been helping families locate missing relatives who died during the conflict of the First World War.
Olivia Smith has been working in France at the Thiepval Memorial, which commemorates more than 72,000 men of British and South African forces who lost their lives in the Somme before March 20, 1918.
The 21-year-old, who grew up in Corton, jumped at the chance to become a ‘Centenary Intern’ with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, who base students at their sites on the Western Front.
None of the men on the memorial have a known grave and, for the past four months, Miss Smith has assisted families with finding their missing ancestors, educating visitors along the way.
“Working at the memorial and helping people find their relatives has been great because it makes the history feel much more personal and we often forget these connections exist,” said Miss Smith, a history graduate at the University of Essex.
“It’s changed my whole perspective on the war.
“Remembering those who gave their lives is so prominent in our society, especially in this centenary year. 100 years might seem like a long time but it’s really not.
“It’s said you die the first time and you die again when your name is said for the last time. That has always stayed with me and it’s so important to keep doing this work.”
Overlooking the Somme River, the 45-metre monument dominates the landscape and is the world’s largest Commonwealth memorial to the missing.
Positioned on the high ground where some of the heaviest fighting took place, the majority of the missing men were killed during the Somme offensive of 1916.
Among them is Charles Edward Catchpole, who lived in Kessingland and was a Second Lieutenant in the 7th Battalion, Suffolk Regiment. He died aged 21 on October 12, 1916, alongside boyhood friend and neighbour, Victor Tripp.
In addition to encountering links to home, Miss Smith has toured visitors including Mike Tindall around the site and prides herself on ensuring young people remember the fallen.
“Public engagement with history is so important,” added Miss Smith. “This role is about teaching the next generation and it’s a great honour to be part of the First World War education.”