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National lottery project 'Finding Ella Harling' seeks history of Wye girl in the First World War

A national lottery project has succeeded in tracing the family of a girl from Wye who kept a diary during the First World War.

The project called ‘Finding Ella Harling’, based around her war diary, involves pupils from Wye School and the community.

The diary, which starts just before Christmas 1914 up to March 1919, consists of newspaper clippings and headlines from national newspapers and is now kept at the Imperial War Museum.

Ella Harling kept a diary in the First World War
Ella Harling kept a diary in the First World War

Ella included her name and address, ‘Ella Gertrude Harling, 3 Church Street’, on the cover of the 8 volumes.

With help from the Wye Historical Society, Wye School pupils discovered that Ella was one of five siblings in the house and the daughter of a police sergeant.

Photographs of Ella were available from the society’s archive, and were taken because she volunteered to work for the Women’s RAF as a sailmaker, repairing fabric on planes that flew from Bramble Lane Aerodrome in Wye.

Research by village resident Delia Copland and social media lead to contact with Ella’s descendent John Harling, who lives in Chartham.

Mr Harling said: “My aunt told me about the diary before she died, but I assumed it had been lost.

“We didn’t realise it was in the Imperial War Museum.”

The family provided further details on Ella’s life, stating that she married twice, lived in Willesborough, and died in 1993 at Sevington Mill Residential home.

Her son died last year, and his widow is still alive and lives in Willesborough.

The project, part of the National Lottery’s World War One programme, has involved poetry sessions at Brambles Care Home in Wye and a model wing-making project at WoodnWare CIC in Ashford inspired by the diaries.

An exhibition about the project in the run up to Armistice Day can be seen at Wye Station’s waiting room between 9am and 12pm on Wednesday 26 and Thursday October 27, and between 10am and 12pm at the Wye Heritage Centre on Saturday November 5.

The team behind the project are still keen to know more about Ella, in particular finding out whether Ella worked at all during her life, and her role in the Second World War.

For more information, visit Finding Ella Harling on Facebook.

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