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Explaining Tommy's missing finger
Matt Pickles | 19 Mar 12
Alan Townhill never asked his grandfather how he lost the ring finger on his left hand, assuming it had been lost in conflict in the First World War. But upon examining William Rose Townhill’s log book and hospital notes, it turns out the injury happened as he tried to fix his pipe with a copper tube.
The incident is one of many stories revealed at the latest roadshow for Europeana 1914-1918, the successor project to Oxford University’s Great War Archive, which digitizes items relating to World War One and makes them available online.
The roadshow began in Germany last year and arrives in Dublin on Wednesday 21 March, before heading to Slovenia, Denmark, Belgium and Italy – as well as to Banbury in September. They have been a huge success so far – at just one event in Preston on Saturday 10 March, 220 people brought material in which led to 2,300 scans being taken of items including diaries, drawings, textiles, photos, poems and prisoner of war sketches.
It was also in Preston that William Rose Townhill’s story was revealed. His grandson Alan said: ‘Granddad was afraid people would think he was trying to leave the war because it was well-known that some people harmed themselves on purpose, just to get out of combat. All my granddad had tried to do was take a break with his pipe.’
Alun Edwards, the archive’s project manager at Oxford University, which has been involved in running 17 roadshows across Europe, said: ‘These events are a fantastic way of engaging people with history through the internet. At Preston we had one woman who brought in a notebook relating to her grandfather, which included a lock of hair from her mother as a little girl in 1918.
'Her grandfather had kept this link to his daughter during his time away from the family. While this was not a unique story from the war, the artefact had been saved and it was memorable to those of us who were given the opportunity to photograph it.'
Europeana 1914-1918 is run by a partnership of Europeana, Oxford University, the British Library, and JISC among others. Anyone who has items relating to the First World War is encouraged to add these to the website.
Top image: William Rose Townhill. Bottom image: A trench at the Battle of the Somme.