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Neil Oliver and his grandfather's gold watch

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Paul Sargeant Paul Sargeant | 12:54 UK time, Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Gold retirement watchNeil Oliver is the historian familiar to most of us from trekking around the cliffs and beaches of the UK in the BBC Two series Coast.

The Radio Café's Chris Kane asked him about A History of the World and how objects can engage us with history. He also got him to nominate an object that he owns, and he chose a gold wristwatch presented to his grandfather when he retired from Cooper and Co's supermarket.

On the back of the watch it says 'in appreciation of 41 years loyal service 1913 - 1954.' But, as Neil explains in this video, the inscription quietly glosses over a momentous event in world history in which his grandfather played his part: the First World War.

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So a watch presented in the mid-50s can tell us about the way people went to war, and then returned to their everyday lives, at the start of the 20th century.

And even the popularity of the wristwatch is connected to the war, as Neil pointed out on The Radio Café.

The fashion for wristwatches was essentially a product of the First World War itself. Up until that time men had worn pocket-watches - a watch on a chain. But they were less practical in the often filthy circumstances of fighting in the trenches of the First World War. And wristwatches made more sense - you were less likely to lose them.

Did you know that? I didn't. Listen to the rest of the interview for more about the watch and Neil's thoughts on why it's important to find ways to teach our children and ourselves about history.

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You can catch up with stories from A History of the World on The Radio Café every Tuesday.

And if Neil has inspired you to look for history in your home, then you can add your object to the site whenever you want. Or see what others have added using our timeline (use the arrows or the bar on the right to move forward through the objects).

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