Over the years, Stand To! has built up to be a vast – and growing – resource for members of The Western Front Association. From the first issues back in 1981 there has been (to date) 131 magazines published containing hundreds of articles. The first three issues at 16 pages were small compared to what came later (20 pages per issue grew to 24 pages by issue 6). Then by the 2000s 60 pages became the norm, and then we had a number of ‘bumper’ special editions (Issue 100 being 164 pages in length).

Obviously as excellent as these are for members to read, it has troubled us for some time that not only could new members not read the articles from 40 years ago, but also how does one find articles that are of particular interest?

The first problem was solved a few years ago, when we digitised Stand To! and made it available on the website. This has been enhanced by the publication of ‘Gun Fire’ and ‘Firestep’ (the magazines of the Yorkshire Branch and London Branch which were produced for a number of years before and after the millennium). We also obtained from Len Sellers, and made available the ‘Royal Naval Division Magazine’ together with the WFA’s ‘Military Factsheets’. More recently we acquired the ‘History of the First World War’ (published by Purnell in the early 1970s). This means there are now over 370 magazines comprising some 40,000 pages available for members.

However, these added to (rather than resolved) the problem about how to find references to a particular subject.

We are delighted to inform members that in a major development, we have partnered with a leading technology company called Townsweb Archiving whose brilliant ‘PastView’ product has been used to revolutionise how we obtain access to the WFA’s digitised content.

WFA members can, by logging onto the ‘members area’ of the website now see a button that says ‘Searchable Magazine Archive’. This is the gateway to the searchable content.

Search our magazines

So what does this new ‘portal’ enable us to do? Well, if you want to know about Submarines, but don’t know which articles mention them, you do now! (479 results, with 71 in issues of Stand To!)

How about ‘Lusitania’ (72, including 14 in Stand To!) or General William Heneker? (ten ‘hits’ in Stand To!) Of course search results may need to be manipulated, as ‘Sheffield’ brings up not only our President, Prof Gary Sheffield as well as others with that surname, but also the 12th battalion of the Y&L regiment, the city, and the memorial near Serre.

If you want to search a town, that’s very easy (Scarborough can be found in 51 locations across the magazines), or a disease (tuberculosis 27 times), or a unit (Leeds Pals, 19 ‘hits’). The possibilities are endless.

Searches can be refined to any one of the magazines we currently have scanned, or even to a particular issue of a magazine.

The magazines can be downloaded (which has been an available option for a while) but also read by ‘turning the page’ with your mouse. Three videos have been prepared which give a very quick overview of what has been developed, but the best approach is for members (after watching the videos) to simply ‘dive in’ and have a play with this new portal.

The WFA President, Prof Gary Sheffield is really enthusiastic about this new development and says 'This is a wonderful resource for researchers and historians that unlocks the treasures of the Western Front Association's journal. Many people, myself included, will benefit from this excellent initiative'.

How it works

Optical Character Recognition (OCR): PastView's very own inbuilt Text Recognition Service, supports Optical Character Recognition (OCR), revolutionising the search capabilities within the our collections. Now, all typed text found within archived images are stored against each item as a permanent record. This allows users to quickly and easily search for specific content within a document on the website, rather than relying on traditional search methods (such as using dates or names). 

BookExplorer: This feature breathes life into collections, even through a screen. With the BookExplorer feature on PastView, pages can be turned smoothly and elegantly with a simple click/swipe, providing a user experience that closely resembles handling physical documents in the flesh. 

As with all technology, this may well develop over coming weeks and months. We are, for instance, looking to enable a function that gives members the ability to download sections rather than entire issues. We will also aim to add new publications to the portal over time.

We are convinced that members who wish to undertake particular research into subjects will find this of immense value, as will members who simply wish to browse the content and follow up on certain matters that catch their eye. Obviously as Stand To! is published on a regular basis, these new editions will be added to the portal as soon as they are printed.

Below is an introductory video which gives an overview of how this works. 

David Tattersfield

Vice-Chairman, The Western Front Association