An Historical Perspective
Old Weather is a revolutionary approach to naval, as well as family history research. More and more people are fascinated by their past, including the naval and military careers of their British forebears, especially in the two world wars. As so many families are now spread around the world, this is a global interest, especially in the United States and the Commonwealth. A decade or so back finding out about World War 2 experiences was a lengthy task, but possible. Now, with the advent of the internet and many fine naval history sites, this is often a ten minute task. But not when it comes to World War 1. There are great gaps in the published stories of the many ships that served. Apart from the Battle of Jutland and perhaps Gallipoli, little has been published in what is getting on for nearly a century. Yet for many people, World War 1 at Sea is of great interest going back only as far as grandfathers and great-grandfathers.
By digitising the daily logbooks, initially of 280 Royal Navy warships and auxiliaries (converted liners, cargo ships, trawlers) for months at a time, and all over the world, the stories of these ships and the men who served in them will be going into far more detail than that of any ship of World War 2, including the famous HMS Hood’s and Ark Royal’s. Suddenly World War 1, a conflict that is still being worked out in the 21st century – Balkans, Middle East etc. is having a spotlight shone on it, at least at sea, that would have been impossible before the internet and the harnessing of hundreds of thousands of volunteers worldwide. The only equivalent to date are the published collections of senior naval officer’s letters. Now the rank and file, the petty officers and ratings, are being afforded the same degree of recognition.
As the centenary of World War 1 approaches, Naval-History.Net is planning to provide a resource that includes all Royal Navy casualties, London Gazette naval despatches and honours and awards, and a complete update of all warship and auxiliary losses. To add to this the detailed day-to-day activities of 280 battleships, cruisers, destroyers, armed merchant cruisers, river gunboats would not have even been a dream before the advent of Old Weather. The Zooniverse and Met Office team deserve the hearty thanks of all the naval and family history community for having the foresight to recognise how, what is primarily meteorological research, can bring so much benefit to others.
Gordon Smith (Naval-History.net)