York Minster World War One: Developing learning resources

Posted on 5 November 2013

With the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War approaching, it is an honour for me to have worked as an intern for York Minster, researching those who served as staff in the Minster and fought during the First World War.

The induction Esther gave me in the Minster was eye-opening. She introduced to me the war monuments, explained what kind of work I would have to do and how my research would contribute to building a learning database for the school children’s visit. As a PhD student working on Victorian war poetry, I was thrilled to see not only the First World War monuments but also those associated with the Crimean war, Indian Munity and the Boer war.

Evidently, there is a long tradition of erecting monuments for wartime fallen heroes in the Minster and religion plays a crucial role in commemorating these individuals. My job mainly involved researching a list of names from York Staff Roll of Honour, and finding out details of their biographical backgrounds and positions in the Minster before, during and after the war. While Esther and I had narrowed down the scope of research to a list of names, my preliminary searches for these names were rather frustrating. The challenge was simply that I couldn’t find anything in academic databases. I tried 19th and 20th century national and local newspapers but none of the names appeared in any articles. At that point, I followed the advice of Peter Young, an archivist based in York Minster, and found it extremely helpful. He had suggested that I check the census records, the archives of York city council and Minster library. I did. After a few hours of work, I was delighted that I found biographical information for three names and a photo of another name. During our meeting, Esther suggested that I further look at the positions of individuals in York Minster. With the aid of archivists Peter and Sarah who kindly and thoughtfully prepared all the material I needed, I spent a few hours in the archive of the Minster library going through a large pile of material (police books and diaries, King’s book, admission register, etc). It’s a pity that while there was a lot of information I could have gathered, I didn’t have enough time to do the work. Therefore, I do hope that there will be other interns who can continue the project and build on the work I’ve done.

I applied for the York Minster internship mainly because I wanted to share my research and enthusiasm with the public and because I felt it would help me better understand the history and people of York. Overall, I’ve enjoyed the internship immensely and found the experience deeply rewarding. As well as gaining practical research skills for obscure soldiers in the context of the First World War and familiarizing myself with specific war-related resources and websites, I learned that York Minster played an indispensable role in commemorating those who came from York and fought in the First World War. As I finally saw the photos of the individuals I researched in The King’s book of York Heroes, I felt a deep respect and sadness for those who died so young. In my own research, I have not explored the theme of religion in the Crimean war but it is clear to me now that it is an aspect worth investigating. Having lived as a student in York for almost three years, I’m pleased that I had the opportunity to participate in this First World War project featuring the theme of remembrance and to collaborate with the Minster staff and archivists in the Minster library who were kind enough to help me to discover the untold stories of fallen heroes in York.

Tai Chun-Ho

PhD English
IPUP Intern