The client

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission cares for thousands of cemeteries and memorials around the world, commemorating the soldiers that died in two World Wars.

The Commission moves with the times, using technology for preservation and for efficiency in its services to interested organizations and the public. Strategic data digitization projects involving The Stationery Office and Direct Data Capture have led to The Commission’s output increasing by fifty per-cent. Linking casualties of war to their official documents the task here concerned the Commission’s archive of documents that record the burial of all Commonwealth soldiers from the World Wars, and a separate database of 1.7 million identified casualties.

The challenge

The task also involved high-levelindexing of the digital images in a forerunning project, including classification of documents from a gallery of over 40 types. Key to the success of this project was the lengthy work done by DDC to codify the indexing criteria in advance, an important investment in time.

This work provided a fundamentally sound basis for software development and training. Thus, variants coming out of the woodwork mid-project — a factor never to be underestimated in archive work — did not lead to costly re-thinks and delays. The casualty indexing once started ran continuously to its scheduled finish, thirteen months later.

"CWGC were very impressed by the professional service provided by DDC. In particular, the trouble taken to fully understand CWGC requirements — paying careful attention to the detail — ensured that the solutions that were developed facilitated the project’s successful completion.”

The solution

The solution was designed to assure accurate matching and non-matching in a cost-effective manner for each casualty in the image. For each one, first, a short, keyed search-key was applied to obtain a visually verifiable set of candidate database records. Then, fuller data for the casualty was keyed from a list of seven possible elements (including grave reference and date of death).

And, finally, taking the keyed data and candidate records, a program incorporating the matching rules at element level and across matchable elements reached a decision about the identity (or otherwise) of the casualty. The approach also allowed unknown soldiers to be recorded, linked to their images, and assigned their own casualty references in TRIM.

The benefits

  • Excellent value for money
  • Graduate-level staff with an excellent work ethic and willingness to learn and adapt
  • No HR or infrastructure overheads
  • Data processing, at around half the cost of the UK
  • Agile expansion of scope or scale with no capital outlay
  • Contractually guaranteed data accuracy and delivery times.

Summary

The Commission weighed the success of the completed indexing thus, “Information that was previously very difficult to access for any specific individual casualty has been made readily available to Commission staff for both internal purposes, and to answer enquires from external organisations and the public.

The most significant impact has been experienced by the Commission team producing the instructions used to produce replacement headstones. It is now possible to swiftly check details for an individual’s commemoration back to the original records using just a few clicks of a mouse, a task which, working with the old paperwork, could have taken up to 20 minutes in some cases. Although like-for-like comparisons are complicated by other factors, annual output has been increased by something like 50%.”

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