Martine Aubry is a research engineer at Lille 3 university. With a group of lecturer-researchers, she designed a database to catalogue the war memorials of Nord and Pas-de-Calais, which became collaborative and has since been expanded to include the rest of France and some foreign countries.
What is the war memorials database and what are its aims?
The war memorials database was designed as a research tool accessible to all. It is fed by information filed by history associations, departmental archives, schools, professional photographers and remembrance enthusiasts.
How did the idea for the database come about and where does your interest in war memorials stem from?
The idea for the database came about in 2009, i.e. long before the centenary commemorations.
A member of staff at the IRHiS laboratory at Lille University, who had worked on the theme of “The war memorial in your commune” with his undergraduate students, then wondered what use their work might be put to. Meanwhile, another lecturer had begun a collection of old postcards of war memorials. After discussing it, we came up with the idea for a database.
Initially, the database covered the department of Nord. Careful thought went into defining the different fields to be used. After promising initial tests, we expanded the data collection to Pas-de-Calais, using information gathered on the “Mémoires de Pierre” platform. By the end of 2012, we had over 2 000 records.
Our initial discussions with the Mission du Centenaire, responsible for overseeing the French WWI centenary commemorations, at the Prefecture of Nord, gave us the opportunity to show our knowledge, then to extend the area under consideration to the whole world. Today, the database contains 31 554 records relating to the First World War, which we hope will be enriched with data on the other conflicts. This year, for example, which marks the 150th anniversary of the Franco-Prussian War, we are focusing specifically on memorials to that conflict.
How did you go about cataloguing these memorials?
As of 29 June 2020, the database has 36 696 catalogued records, including all regions, all types of war and all types of memorial (town/village, religious, administrative, professional, private, etc.). Because it is collaborative, the cataloguing can be done by secondary administrators responsible for a department, in particular departmental archives. A submission area receives photos, archive documents, postcards or other kinds of documents.
The database’s main administrator checks the material before publication and may add additional information. Submissions like this continue to be made on a regular basis today.
This year, we are taking part, alongside the Directorate for Heritage, Remembrance and Archives and Le Souvenir Français, in the 150th anniversary of the Franco-Prussian War, cataloguing the memorials built at the end of that war.
In what way does this tool contribute to the structuring of remembrance tourism in France, and more specifically in Hauts-de-France?
The advanced search area of the database enables anyone to make a selection of memorials in a specific geographical area (for example, there are 3 424 catalogued in Hauts-de-France) and/or for a specific conflict.
Searches like this mean that a war memorial, often a key symbol in a village, can be included in a tourist itinerary that takes in major monuments or military cemeteries. One example is Beaumont-Hamel, which has three memorials in the database: one in Beaumont, one in Hamel and one dedicated to Canadian soldiers. There are other similar examples.
The search area also allows you to identify any gaps in the database and to submit new photographs or other documents. A review is regularly carried out for each department, when users can download the list of missing memorials and add to it. Through this process, all of the First World War and communal memorials in a number of departments have been completely covered.
Articles of the review
Remembrance tourism in Hauts-de-FranceA land steeped in history, Hauts-de-France received crowds of French and foreign visitors for the First World War centenary. Building on that success and the involvement of local actors, the region has encouraged cooperation across the territory around remembrance tourism, which brings economic, cul...Read more
The 80th anniversary of Operation DynamoTo mark the 80th anniversary of Operation Dynamo, the Fort des Dunes and the national military cemetery of Leffrinckoucke reveal an exceptional site, completely restored; a unique witness of the Battle of Dunkirk, whose memory occupies a central place in British and French collective memory. ...Read more
Art and gardens
Hauts-de-France was left deeply scarred by the Great War. For the centenary of the conflict, a landscaping project was born to reaffirm the message of peace which today emanates from the region’s remembrance sites and cemeteries.Read more