World War One Remembered

World War One Remembered

Organisation: Trinity Mirror Data Unit (United Kingdom)

Publication Date: 04/09/2015


A colleague of ours asked the Trinity Mirror Data Unit last spring whether it was possible to get a list of all the soldiers who died from Rochdale in the First World War. We had been wondering what data was out there to mark the 100th anniversary ourselves and decided to investigate. The authoritative source on Britain's fallen soldiers during the World Wars is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC). We asked them whether we could have a copy of their master dataset for the fallen Commonwealth servicemen and women of World War One. Very kindly, they agreed and sent back a series of spreadsheets containing the records of over one million soldiers. We loaded the data into Tableau and were faced with a new challenge: how to determine where a particular soldier came from. The biographical data about where soldiers came from was messy. Written out in almost-full sentences, in some cases it told us where they were born; in others where their spouse or parents now lived or some combination of these. If a soldier's parents lived in Leeds but his wife lived in Nottingham, where did he come from? To make things more difficult, the Britain of 1918 was different from the Britain of today. The historic counties of Britain were largely still in use - the urban counties of Greater London, Merseyside and Greater Manchester did not exist in the way we recognise them. This posed a challenge for us because our regional titles often cover a city and the towns that surround it. For example, the Birmingham Mail also reports on Smethwick, Tipton and Sutton Coldfield. These were places that had much less of an association with Birmingham in 1918 and the 1920s when the data began to be compiled but we had to include them. This cleaning and assigning process took several weeks. When it was done, we were able to say definitively how many people died from each city, town and region that we cover - the first time this had ever been attempted. We delved into the stories behind these numbers by highlighting the first and last and the youngest and oldest to die in each area. Dmitri Thompson, our designer, created a print page design template presenting this data. Carlos Nóvoa, our developer, fed the data through Adobe Photoshop automatically, filling in dozens of pages. Carlos's programming saved hours of time by eliminating the need for Dmitri to design each page manually. These went on to become spreads and even a supplement in the Manchester Evening News, generating thousands of extra sales. We also wanted to create a widget for our websites to publish. Dmitri and Carlos designed one where anyone could search for a name or a street and it would turn up all the relevant results from the database. This also required some cleaning - we had to ensure that someone searching for 'Church Road' or 'Church Rd' would turn up the same results. All the roads named after saints also presented the same challenge. The result was a simple, yet very powerful tool to find the names of those most significant to you who died in the war. Both the print and digital aspects of the project were timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War One last summer. It was very warmly received by our readers and our colleagues. The widget has been used 1.5 million times and counting. We had readers submitting screenshots of relatives they had found using the widget. We were enormously proud of the project as it provided new journalistic insight into such a significant historical event, as well as a fitting tribute to the sacrifice made by Britain's towns and cities. We also believe it is a prime example of how a journalist, designer and a coder can work together in a newsroom to produce a huge volume of first-class work. As well as our Newcastle Chronicle URL, here are some other examples of how it was used around Trinity Mirror:

Technologies used for this project:

Tableau Adobe Photoshop Adobe Illustrator Google Sheets OpenOffice Calc
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