WW1 Soldier’s Tale, a not-for-profit online project created to tell the story of the First World War as if it was in today’s digital age, follows the life of the fictional – but meticulously-researched – Walter Carter. We spoke to writer and researcher Nikky Pye to find out more…
Where did the idea come from?
From a single sentence! Back in 2013, the team was discussing the upcoming centenary of the First World War and one of my colleagues happened to say: “I wonder what it would have been like if Facebook had been around back then.” This sparked the idea of documenting the life of a soldier and his friends and family through social media.
How important is it to commemorate these events in the digital era?
The centenary is an opportunity to chronicle the war in real time and the ability to do this digitally means we can share links, footage, images and articles as well as the posts themselves. It’s important that what happened 100 years ago is part of what people are reading and that it’s accessible to all.
Who is it aimed at?
Everyone – but we’ve been delighted to see that 13-to-24-year-olds form our largest group of followers. We want to engage people with the day-to-day reality of the war rather than only focusing on commemorative events. It’s also important to provide a range of viewpoints, from Walter’s nurse sister, to his mum on the home front and his friend in the Indian Army.
How much research have you had to do?
This project has taken over our lives for the past four years! I work about five months in advance of when the posts go out – reading newspapers, battalion war diaries and regimental histories from the time alongside contemporary letters and diaries. Everything I write is then checked by a team of historians to make sure I’ve got military details as well as tone of voice correct.
How do you come up with the material for each post?
Walter’s story follows that of a real battalion, so around that I add personal details that I’ve discovered in letters or diaries which help to flesh out our characters’ experiences. The newspapers also provide good story ideas. For example, if I find an advert on the front page for Turtle Extract Soup, I’ll have Walter’s mum try out the recipe at home.
What’s the response been like?
Better than we ever could have expected. It’s great to see people of all ages and backgrounds engaging with Walter and his friends. A follower on Facebook commented: “I am constantly learning despite being someone who looked into this time.” That made us all very happy.
Follow the project at ww1soldierstale.co.uk or search for it on Facebook and Twitter.