Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

19 June 2023

Recording of the week: Windrush Voices

For this week’s ‘Recording of the Week’ the Library’s Schools Team celebrates Windrush Day.

Windrush Day is this week on June 22nd, the date in 1948 when the Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury.  This week, and all year round, the British Library Schools Team run a session that looks at the some of the personal stories of the Windrush Generation.  ‘Windrush Voices’ engages GCSE and A-Level students with oral history recordings and written sources to offer a different perspective to that found in textbooks.  Our session uses testimony from a wide range of the Library’s oral history collections.  Learners can hear the voices of people including educator and writer Beryl Gilroy, novelist Andrea Levy and photographer Vanley Burke.

My favourite recording though comes from, appropriately enough, An Oral History of Oral Histories.  It is a 2012 recording of Donald Hinds by Robert Wilkinson, and all 38 parts of it are available in the Sounds Collection.

Red double decker bus in London

A photograph of a London bus.

Donald, who died in March this year aged 89, was a writer, journalist, historian and teacher.  Listening to his recordings you get the impression of an incredibly clever man, sharp, interested in everything and with a very wry sense of humour.  Even when describing some very difficult subjects you feel an amused laugh is not far away.

Listen to Donald Hinds talking about being a bus conductor

Download Donald Hinds (bus conductor) transcript

Listen to Donald Hinds talking about being a history teacher

Download Donald Hinds (teacher) transcript

We use two clips of Donald, which you can listen to here, one about his experiences as a Bus Conductor and one about his experiences as a History Teacher.  So what do we get our learners to do with these recordings?  If you’d like, why not try yourself?

Read the transcript of each clip and think about what stands out for you from what Donald is saying.  Then listen, ideally twice, to the clips.  Think about whether something different stands out now and why?  With learners we delve into the power of the voice and the layers of understanding this can add to what is being said.

Did something different stand out for you?  It certainly does for us.  We find learners are often surprised by Donald’s wry detachment when recounting his stories, and a sense he is self-editing his account.  I’d really like to question Donald more about Sid Norris.  There seems so much more there he is not telling us.  As with many of the clips we use, racism is ever present in Donald’s experiences.  You do get the sense of a man who refused to be cowed by it at any point.

As an amazing History teacher himself, we think that it is fitting that Donald Hinds voice continues to be heard by young people studying the history of the Windrush Generation.

Today's post was written by Kate Fowler, Learning Facilitator.