Poignant, humorous and harrowing experiences of UK veterans have been brought to life in an innovative new virtual reality project.
Poppyscotland has collaborated with Abertay University in Dundee to produce Their Memory, a prototype VR simulation that sees players explore the real-life memories of those who served their country across various major conflicts.
The project saw a total of seven veterans open up to the Abertay team, sharing their reasons for signing up, stories of battle and friendship, and describing what the poppy and remembrance mean to them.
"No country should forget it's past history and what people have had to do, both in previous and current generations, so it is important to carry on with remembrance" - Veteran Alf Gibbons
Their Memory has been led by Dr Iain Donald of Abertay’s School of Design and Informatics and research assistant Emma Houghton.
Above: Isla Campbell Luton and Gordon Michie standing with Dr Iain Donald and Emma Houghton. Seated are veterans Alf Gibbons and John Sutherland.
The immersive experience allows the user to explore a virtual version of Lady Haig’s Poppy Factory in Edinburgh, with a series of artifacts laid out to be picked up.
All items are personal to the veterans involved and include a poppy, a poppybox, letters and pictures from children, a mortar shell, a model tank, a plane, a copy of an oath, a bullet, a coffee mug from Bosnia and a NATO flag, among several others.
“As one of the world’s leading computer games universities we regularly collaborate on industry-led and charity projects, but Their Memory is something very special" - Dr Iain Donald, Abertay University
Once selected by the user, each item triggers an interview soundtrack of a veteran describing a related memory or a Poppyscotland video, as the user continues to explore the virtual area.
The Abertay University academics, along with support from Abertay graduate games studio Pocket Sized Hands and Dundee-based Ruffian Games, initially came together with Poppyscotland to examine how technology, and in particular virtual reality, could be harnessed to capture and share memories.
The project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Immersive Experiences scheme to deliver the current prototype, with the next stage to secure further funding to evidence the impact this innovative approach can have.
The current version is due to be released on the Oculus Go virtual reality platform.
Gordon Michie, Head of Fundraising at Poppyscotland said: “It is vital that we preserve and share the memories of veterans experiences so that they are understood and recognised for generations to come.
“Poppyscotland strives to be innovative in the way in which we do this and utilising the latest virtual reality technology allows us to both reach new audiences and provide them with a truly immersive, memorable experience.”
Dr Donald said: “As one of the world’s leading computer games universities we regularly collaborate on industry-led and charity projects, but Their Memory is something very special.
“We were delighted to be able to work with Poppyscotland and their brave veterans to produce this unique new way of remembering those who gave up their lives in conflict.”
Veteran Alf Gibbons, 73, from Newport, a Chief Petty Officer in the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm, was involved in the project along with John Sutherland, 83, a Private in the Black Watch from Dundee (both above left to right).
Alf said: "We have been involved all the way along and now we've seen the finished project it has been great.
"No country should forget it's past history and what people have had to do, both in previous and current generations, so it is important to carry on with remembrance.
"There's no finer symbol than the poppy - I never have to rattle a can. From the children who come up and ask 'how much is a poppy mister' to the businessmen who come up and just stuff your can with notes."
John said: "It's 100 years on now, so I think it's very important to keep coming up with new ways of remembering those who gave up their lives.
"It was just a great thing to be involved in and I've really enjoyed working with the students."
Lady Haig's Poppy Factory in Edinburgh employs disabled ex-servicemen and women to hand-assemble some five million poppies and 15,000 wreaths every year.
To make a donation to Poppyscotland visit poppyscotland.org.uk