Veterans’ war memories given life in innovative virtual reality remembrance project.

7th November 2018

Poppyscotland Learning 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 have served their country across various major conflicts. Poignant, humorous and harrowing experiences are brought to life in the project, which sees a total of seven veterans share their reasons for signing up, stories of battle and friendship, and describing what the Poppy and remembrance mean to them.


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. 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.


Their Memory has been led by Dr Iain Donald of Abertay’s School of Design and Informatics and Research Assistant Emma Houghton. 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.


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. 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 its 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.”


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.