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World War I Thursday, 12 November, 1998, 12:13 GMT
Huge interest in war graves website
The battle of the Somme 1916
The Debt of Honour database has only been online a few days
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has had an overwhelming response to putting its massive database on the internet.

The organisation holds information on 1.7m soldiers from member countries who were killed during the 1914-18 and 1939-45 world wars.

World War 1:Special Section
The new online Debt of Honour Register reveals details of exactly where in the world all the commonwealth war-dead are buried or commemorated.

It has been flooded with up to 700,000 hits a day since its launch to coincide with the 80th anniversary of the World War I armistice.

A spokesman for the Commission said the system, which was designed to take 100 simultaneous enquiries, has been unable to cope.

"Our phones have been running to meltdown with the overload of people wanting to know why they can't get onto the site.

"We understand from our central computer agency that the level interest is in the league of that for the Princess Diana memorial site and we are expected to exceed that by the end of the week," he said.

Searching for a hero

The commission, which was founded during World War I (1914-18) and looks after memorials in more than 150 countries, has always helped friends and next-of-kin locate the remains of their loved ones.

memorial
Internet users see this memorial when they use the database
Before computerisation, the 1.7m records were stored in more than 3,000 drawers and cross referenced to 1,500 cemetery registers - which made tracking people down very time consuming.

Spokesman Peter Francis said: "In the past searching for a casualty without exact knowledge of a surname... or a specific regiment was well-nigh impossible.

"But now anyone can search using key words and narrow down the hits with more information. This is definitely the way forward for us."

The online register has taken roughly a year to complete. It was unveiled by the Defence Secretary George Robertson MP this week.

Keeping the memories alive

Eighty years have elapsed since the end of World War I and more than 50 years since World War II came to an end - soon both wars will pass out of living memory.

Mr Francis said that this was another reason for putting the records on the Internet.

"It's another way to keep their names alive - to make them accessible, especially to young people who are more familiar with the technology," he said.

There are also plans in the future for the site to be developed further - with more information and facilities that will fit in with the national school curriculum.

Click here to access the War Graves Commission Debt of Honour Register

See also:

21 Aug 98 | Education
10 Oct 98 | Science/Nature
Internet links:


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