New life for family heroes

By / 6th of August, 2014
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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 on Friday.

The RSL Virtual War Memorial is being developed by the South Australian and Northern Territory branch of the Return Serviceman’s League in Australia.

Launched in Adelaide to commemorate the start of WWI, 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.

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According to Steve Larkins, a retired army colonel who came up with the idea after visiting WWI battlefields in 2008, the memorial will let anyone log on to research their relatives and share stories and family history.

He said the initial data has 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, and other military databases.

“We are not trying to reinvent the wheel,” says Larkins. “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 all 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 says that the memorial is key to preserving and adding to the historical record.

“As every day passes, we lose memories, memorabilia and records,” Corp Ben Roberts-Smith says.

The chief operating officer of the RSL SA, Sam Jackman, says the idea is 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 says. “It risks loss or destruction with each successive generation.”

Larkins says that the site will operate like Wikipedia, with experts and volunteers verifying the uploaded material before it is published.

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“All the records are anchored to a source of truth – the lists provided by the Australian War Museum and other sources,” he says. “What the memorial will do is become the community end to these lists.”

He said that by allowing the public to add stories to the lists would mean 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 hope 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 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.

Key contacts

Sharyn Roberts Manager RSL Virtual War Memorial
61 8 8100 7318 sharynr@rslsa.org.au