Smartphones unlock secrets of war graves

The Oxford Times: Historian Julie Summers tries out the code on her phone at Botley Cemetery Buy this photo » Historian Julie Summers tries out the code on her phone at Botley Cemetery

THE war graves of Botley Cemetery have, for many years, provided a simple and solemn act of memorial.

But now the hidden stories of those buried can be unlocked with smartphone as it has become the first in the UK to boast an interactive information panel.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission installed the new board yesterday, kickstarting a four-year programme to put hundreds more in cemeteries and memorials around the world.

It enlisted Iffley historian Julie Summers, 51, to write the stories on all 100 of the UK boards.

She said she was honoured and proud that the first to be installed in the UK was in her home city.

Each panel features a quick response (QR) code which can be scanned with a suitable phone to provide information about the cemetery and some of the soldiers who are buried there.

Ms Summers said: “We want to show what makes this cemetery special, why it is where it is, and we are trying to show that behind every single headstone here in Botley there is an individual.

“It’s to remember people, the individuals. They were fathers, sons, brothers, lovers, friends.

“Over the next few months the QR codes will reveal more about those who are buried here.”

The first tale told at Botley is of RAF wireless operator Ralph Wingrove, buried in the grounds.

The board also reveals facts about Oxford’s role in the world wars.

It is hoped that by 2014, users can access the history of 500 sites and see the stories pulled from diaries and letters, photographs and audio.

The system allows researchers to add stories and information as the project deveops, and gives visitors the chance to leave comments in an interactive guestbook.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission spokesman Peter Francis said historial boundaries over the amount of information held on panels could be easily overcome with new technology.

He said: “This is the first of a massive project and we hope that it will make lots more people aware of what is held here.

“We are using the QR codes to help provide a historical context to the graves and to break it down to a more personal level. We want to tell the personal stores and give people a little more background on what happened in Oxford.”

If you have any information about the soldiers buried in Botley cemetery or would like to contribute to the project, log on to www.cwgc.org

RALPH'S TALE

A SMARTPHONE is all it takes for the immaculately tended Botley war grave of Ralph Charles Wingrove to spill its secrets.

The QR code on the cemetery panel reveals that Mr Wingrove enlisted in 1937 and was a pilot and RAF wireless operator.

His early service years took him to the Middle East, where he flew 18 missions, but eventually he and his crew found their way to North Luffenham in Rutland where he trained airmen for flying bombers such as the Avro Lancaster and Bristol Blenheims.

It was during one of these training flights in 1945 that Mr Wingrove, and the rest of his crew, were killed.

At the time Botley was the recognised cemetery for RAF personnel and Mr Wingrove was buried there, aged 24.

EXAM SCHOOLS' PAST REVEALED

TODAY an elegant venue for academic and corporate events, the Oxford Examination Schools once teemed with wounded and dying soldiers.

During both the First and Second world wars it housed part of the 3rd Southern General Hospital, along with a number of other notable local buildings.

The injured were ferried in from miles around, and for some buried in Botley cemetery their only links to the county are that they died nearby.

According to the British Official History of the Medical Services, the hospital also occupied two civil hospitals, Oxford Town Hall, three college buildings – Durham, Radcliffe and Somerville Ladies’ College – and had its largest makeshift operation in Cowley Workhouse.

The Examination Schools hospital was the second largest with 346 beds, including 94 for orthopaedic cases and 25 for ‘nerve cases’.
It served tens of thousands of troops.

Thanks to the new interactive board at Botley Cemetery, smartphone users can download historical data and photos.

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