Project Volunteer: John O'Brien

I used to work in the library and had got to know the Heritage Officer, Sarah Gould, so that when I retired 5 years ago I contacted her and asked if I could work for the Heritage and Local Studies Centre as a volunteer. Sarah agreed and I started on general duties, helping out where needed. I found the work interesting and varied. Answering enquiries from the public was probably the most interesting, as every question is different and requires different sources to get the answers.

I later became one of the volunteers working on the Merton Memories project, helping to digitise 15,000 photos from the Local Studies collection and making them available on-line. I learned new skills, including how to scan and catalogue some of the photos.  Another interesting job was researching and writing information on the various photos, prior to uploading them to the internet.

I am now working on The Carved in Stone project. This tells the story of Merton's people and their involvement in World War One.  Together with most of the Merton Memories team and several new volunteers, I am working hard to research those combatants who are remembered on local memorials throughout Merton, as well as other stories from the Home Front. We have been using lots of different sources in this research, including local newspapers from the period, the Ancestry and Commonwealth War Graves Commission websites, the National Archives and other sites on the internet.

We had a group visit to the National Archives at Kew and were able to access actual files and documents that are not available online. The feeling of satisfaction when you take a name from a memorial and after hunting through different sources, manage to find information to show that soldier as a real person, is immense.

Over the past 5 years I have enjoyed being part of the volunteer team, learning new skills and using my knowledge and experience. I am looking forward to completing some more combatant stories in the future.

For previous Project Volunteer articles .