Project Book Launch: Military Voices Past and Present

BookA two year oral history project, Military Voices Past and Present, organised by West Sussex CC Library Service and supported by the Record Office, has seen some 95 audio interviews recorded with West Sussex veterans from World War One, World War Two and Post 1945 conflicts to the 1990s, published in a new book Military Voices Past and Present. The project outcomes were celebrated on 24th May, where veterans and volunteers were presented with copies of the book by Louise Goldsmith, Leader of WSCC, Debbie Kennard, WSCC Cabinet Member for Safer, Stronger Communities, and Wendy Walker, County Archivist. Following the completion of the project, West Sussex Libraries have produced:

  • a 550 page book: Military Voices Past and Present: West Sussex Veterans in the 20th Century (West Sussex County Council, 2017) ISBN 978-0-86260-593-3; on sale for £10 at Record Office, plus lending & sale copies via all 36 county libraries
  • a website of over 130 audio clips: www.westsussex.gov.uk/militaryvoices
  • a travelling display (promotional pull-up banners now touring libraries)
  • a listening turret (over 130 clips; at Worthing Library until 13th July)
  • all 95 full interviews (over 120 hours of audio) on pcs at the Record Office & all west Sussex public libraries

The idea for this Project came out of a previous joint project between Libraries and Record Office, on the Great War. Worthing history teacher Peter Baker offered his collection of

 

audio cassette interviews with First World War veterans to the Library Service for research and he was persuaded to deposit these precious recordings at the Record Office. The Peter Baker Collection of Great War Interviews (WSRO ref. OH 454-471), made between 1983 and 1985, is of both local and national significance, given that no veterans of that conflict survive. The veterans, most then living in Worthing, were regulars, volunteers and conscripts from regiments across Britain. Featured are artillery, infantry, engineers, medics and airmen, medal winners, and a female VAD nurse.

 

Project Manager Emma Worrall (nee White) was appointed in autumn 2015 and some 45 volunteers came forward to help. One team of volunteers were offered research training and prepared case studies of the 1914-18 veterans. Another team received oral history training and went on to record over 60 new interviews with current veterans. Our volunteers did a great job for us and felt rewarded too, by the moving work they undertook. Many of the new recordings were over an hour long, some two or three hours.

An educational programme, involving Worthing primary and secondary schools, saw students taught how to conduct interviews with military veterans who visited their school. The veterans who came forward and were interviewed for the Project varied greatly in age, character, outlook and opinions. The many complex influences, pressures and motivations, affecting those who volunteered, and some who were conscripted, are fully explored in their interviews. Some experiences turned out to be frightening, traumatic, even life-changing; others were boring and tedious; but many were enjoyable, humorous, character-building and inspiring. What many of the recollections reflect are the indomitable spirit of British people and particularly military people. Sadly, six have passed away since being interviewed, underlining the need to have recorded these experiences as a matter of urgency.

Martin Hayes

County Local Studies Librarian & Project Supervisor

 

Military Voices Past and Present: West Sussex Veterans in the 20th Century (West Sussex County Council, 2017) ISBN 978-0-86260-593-3; is available to purchase for £10 at the Record Office, plus lending & sale copies via all 36 West Sussex libraries

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