Jean North interviewing Mrs Hewlett
It's 20 years since the then Hereford and Worcester Record Office took its first tentative steps into the world of oral history. The first project was quite an ambitious one – a five year project to record local people's reminiscences of World War II. Valuable support came from the British Library and the Record Office's Friends organisation. Members of the local community offered their services as volunteers to conduct or transcribe interviews and as interviewees. People from many different walks of life with very different experiences came forward to take part. Many personal stories were shared often for the very first time. One interviewer commented afterwards 'The people I interviewed were modest, accommodating, friendly, engaged and by no means ordinary. it felt like we were making a difference by recording these memories.' Certainly we felt the timing of our oral history work was just right and we caught a particular mood at a particular time. The recordings made stand as a wonderful testament to an incredible bunch of people and their support for our endeavours.
Volunteer Stephen Yeomans checking transcripts
From that small beginning the Record Office went on to record individual life story interviews and work with local schools and groups on a variety of projects. Such work also offered the opportunity to offer advice and guidance to people new to oral history, share our experiences and take in oral history collections from local groups and individuals. More recently Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service staff have been involved in projects to record reminiscences of life in Bromsgrove and Great and Little Witley, to investigate the industrial heritage of Redditch and to survey our audio collections for the British Library's 'Save our Sounds' project.
As part of marking our 20 years of involvement in oral history staff have been using sound bites from oral history interviews in some of our blogs this year. Many of the interviews from our very first project have tied in with recent commemorations of World War II events such as VE Day, VJ Day and the Dunkirk evacuations. With the recent commemorations of the Battle of Britain fresh in the nation's memory it seems appropriate to choose a sound bite from that event for this blog. World War II pilot Wing Commander Smith (1915-2013) was interviewed in 1990 by BBC Hereford and Worcester about his experiences and he donated his copy of the recording to our archives.
Click here to listen to Wing Commander Smith's recollections of being shot down during the Battle of Britain.
Oral History Society
In our 20th year of oral history work we are pleased to be hosting the Oral History Society's Regional Networkers Day this weekend. The theme for the day is 'Being innovative with oral histories' with our very own Justin Hughes talking about some of the diverse work he has done with local groups.
Thomas Hopkins listening to oral history recordings on the Hive jukebox
- You can listen to material from the Bromsgrove Townscape Heritage Initiative here.
- Check the Engineering the Past website for more information on the Redditch project.
- Some of Witleys' Oral History Group interviews are available online.
- Check the British Library website for more information on the Save our Sounds Project.
- Check the Oral History Society site for more information on the work they do.
By Margaret Tohill
Wing Commander Smith's recording used with kind permission of BBC Hereford and Worcester.