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29 October 2014

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You are in: Tyne > Features > Northumbrian Heritage > Moving Memories

Children marching at Saltwell Park, 1944

The Saltwell Park film is from 1944

Moving Memories

An inter-generational oral history project has given a new lease of life to two wartime films of Gateshead and Newcastle, and captured precious memories for future generations.

As we are all aware, Britain is, at the moment, involved in a number of conflicts across the world, from Iraq to Afghanistan.

However, for those of us without a direct connection to someone in the military, those wars can sometimes feel a long way away. 

But there are still those who remember experiencing war closer to home and a local project, Moving Memories, has recorded their reminiscences for future generations.

Children in Saltwell Park, 1944

Children watching Punch and Judy

Evacuation

Dougie Milburn from Gateshead was just eight years old when World War II broke out in 1939, yet he can still remember it as if it were yesterday: "I've got a photographic memory," he explains.

Dougie was evacuated on 1 September 1939, two days before war was declared.

"I decided to go really, it wasn't compulsory. I thought it might be an adventure. I remember the train slowed up as we entered Richmond station [their destination] and I saw a boy scout and a brownie through the window. They were there to help us.

"We stood in a school yard in the rain and I remember it felt humiliating. Cars were driving up so people could look at us. It was a matter of being chosen."

Dougie and his friend stayed with two different couples, but after three months he returned home to Gateshead for Christmas and never went back.

Saltwell Park, 1944

Dougie recognised several people in the film

Archive footage

Dougie shared this wartime memory and others with local teenagers as part of Moving Memories, an oral history project run by the Tyneside Cinema last year.

Students at two schools on Tyneside were trained in interview and digital photography techniques so that they could interview local elders about their wartime memories.

Their recordings were then given to filmmaker Alex Finlay, who used them to make a soundtrack for two short films he created from existing wartime footage.

Holli McGuire, education and outreach manager at Tyneside Cinema says that one of the aims was to make the original film footage more accessible for young people.

"The original films were shot by an ex-police officer towards the end of the war. One of them shows the Holidays at Home event at Saltwell Park [a government scheme encouraging councils to put on events in the summer] and the other appears to show the VE Day celebrations in Newcastle.

"What's most unusual about them is that they were shot in colour but they were long and silent and we wanted to make them more meaningful to the younger generation today. The films have been brought back to life."

Capturing memories

Holli says the project also helped to break down the stereotypes that the young and old had of each other.

Children on climbing frame in Saltwell Park, 1944

'Holidays at Home' in Saltwell Park

"The older people were so happy at the way the kids respected them and how interested they were and that they were able to share their stories first hand - and the kids really listened. It was great to capture those stories."

Dougie agrees: "I felt like a film star! I've never known anything like it – the student I spoke to, Helen, had a camera and kept taking photos of me!"

Future students will also benefit from hearing the stories as a DVD of several of them is now part of a school loan box at Tyne and Wear Museums. The Saltwell Park film was also shown at the Tyneside Cinema at Gateshead Town Hall as part of Gateshead Council's local history month in May.

last updated: 03/07/07

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