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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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Contributing stories: The individuals

Why did people come forward to tell their stories?

Many motives were cited for participants contributing their stories. Many felt the need to tell their story 'before they fell off their perches' (comment in message board on the website). Others wanted to leave a legacy for future generations, a reminder of what life had been like during the war; others wished to leave a tribute for those relatives and friends who had died during wartime. For some, it was the first time they had shared their memories.

'My Dad was from Jamaica and he volunteered to fight with the RAF. I have always been proud of him and want to tell his story.'

However it was clear that, for many, the real pleasure was to be had in talking, reminiscing and having a willing ear to bend. The fact that so much enjoyment could be had while building something so worthwhile was appreciated by many.

'It's lovely to find someone who wants to hear our stories. So many don't'.

Some who had lived through the war were reluctant to talk, either through modesty, or because their experience was too painful to share.

'I never like talking about the war. I don't feel I was particularly special, just one of many.' D-Day veteran

The involvement of partners and volunteers reassured many contributors, who felt their memories too mundane, or not interesting enough, for the site.

'I didn't realize you'd want stories from the likes of us - I didn't go to fight.' Herefordshire farmer

Many met old friends...

'There are people here from 5 villages. I haven't seen some for years!'

Lucy Preston (née Fowler) went to an Ilkley tea dance to tell how she was evacuated in 1939 with her friend, Dorothy Williamson. They'd lost touch after the war but, to her amazement, Lucy found that Dorothy had told her story on the website already. With the help of the BBC and Age Concern Bradford, they were reunited.

...and made new ones

Tim Laycock, musician and collector of traditional songs, performed stories and songs about wartime Dorset to enthusiastic audiences in Durweston and Sturminster Newton. However, he found himself more than matched by the local talent who were able to add 'missing verses' and extra songs which Tim had never heard. When they'd finished, Tim said:

'I'm going over to Stan's house afterwards to hear some more local traditional songs. I never expected this.'

Computers in unexpected places

'We haven't got a place nearby to do computer classes.'

Where residents in remote rural villages didn't have free access to computers, the BBC and partners took projectors and laptops to them.

A herd of cows at Croft Castle, Herefordshire, was very surprised by the sudden arrival in their field of Shropshire's NACRO Net Navigator Bus and Worcestershire County Council Comput@bus. Poking their noses into the buses, the cows found a Girl Guide unit helping local residents add their stories about rural life in wartime.

Connecting people across generations

'I've just come in to Worcester Library to show my grandson where my story is. He does all the internet stuff.'

At least 43% of contributors had never used a computer before, but many from this group appreciated that their children or grandchildren could assist with adding or finding stories on the site. From the outset, the project clearly offered potential for inter-generational learning, especially since study of World War Two was part of the National Curriculum from KS2 onwards.

'It's great to find this information on the Internet, it helps with my school projects.'

'My Grandad was really interested in the Second World War and he just got a computer a few months ago and I had to show him the BBC People's War and stuff, and get pictures for him.'

When the People's War Roadshow went to Bedford Civic Theatre, schoolchildren gave up some of their holiday to help visitors type their war stories onto the website.

Bristol primary school pupils at the Commonwealth Museum used mini-disc recorders to interview older people about their memories. The recordings were then broadcast on Commonwealth FM, Bristol's community radio station.

'It's great seeing the kids learning from people who actually experienced the war, seeing what they wore, what they had to eat.' - Bradford school teacher

With the help of the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, Bradford pupils learned about the experiences of elders from the Muslim community who served in the Indian Army. They filmed the interviews in the museum's TV studio and hosted a special film showing on the big screen. As one elder said,

'We want people to know our part in the war. We want them to know it wasn't just a white war.'

Some people were introduced to the project through their children and grandchildren.

'I wanted to show my father the website before adding his story. [We] found a story from a fellow airman who he has not heard from for 60 years. It was wonderful for my father to see this story.' - Contributor, Ipswich

And the children themselves were amazed to hear the stories.

'The pupils took down notes as if they were at a celebrity press conference and learnt more from the experience than any book could ever cover.' - Teacher, Sunderland

Hidden benefits

Evaluation of the project revealed that there were many personal benefits as a result of the social interaction created by People's War events, such as an increase in self worth and self-confidence.

'So many visitors say how much they've enjoyed the events, chatting to others and adding stories to the website etc. It's been noticeable how many visitors have been made to feel important, simply because others have expressed an interest in their stories. I'm sure it's raised self esteem for many of them, too. We're really glad we've been involved.' - Wolverhampton Borough Libraries

Some older participants were (re)introduced to services in their own communities from which they had felt excluded.

'I've never visited this museum before. I thought it was for posh people.'

The inclusive nature of sharing stories with each other in a safe environment proved to be a learning experience for all concerned.

'As someone talks, others chip in with other memories; we have bounced off each other - l learnt a lot from Vera who is Polish.'

'Yes [I learnt about the war]. It was good to hear what it was like in Sherborne with all the American troops getting ready for D-Day. I was in South Africa you see.'

'We found out so much about our service users' wartime experience. We learnt how kind people were... they seemed very happy though they didn't have much.' - Age Concern Day Centre Manager

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