THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

12 posts categorized "Modern history"

06 June 2019

D-Day has come

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US troops disembark landing craftU.S. Soldiers disembark a landing craft at Normandy, France, June 6, 1944

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

For those people in occupied countries, this was life changing news.  Seventy five years ago today, as the allied forces landed on the Normandy beaches to liberate France and countries beyond with Operation Overlord, these words were broadcast by the BBC.  By the end of the day, 6th June 1944, 150,000 Allied troops had landed on five Normandy beaches.

D-Day has come

In 1944 the radio – or wireless as it was known – was the main source of information.  The day before D-Day, known as D-Day minus one, the BBC broadcast instructions from Supreme Allied Command to those in occupied countries to make sure they would be listening to their radios on D-Day during the actual invasion of the Normandy beaches.

D-Day minus one

Meeting_of_the_Supreme_Command _Allied_Expeditionary_Force _London _1_February_1944_TR1631Meeting of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force(SHAEF), 1 February 1944 

Reporter Richard North on board a ‘largish craft’ described the scene of the invasion during a live broadcast on the morning of 6th June 1944.

Eye witness on Normany coast

These recordings are from the Alan Cooban collection (C1398) digitised with funding from the Saga Trust.

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

01 May 2019

The Duke of Wellington

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Sir_Arthur_Wellesley _1st_Duke_of_WellingtonSir Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington by Thomas Lawrence

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

Two hundred and fifty years ago today, Arthur Wellesley, Field Marshall His Grace the Duke of Wellington, was born in Dublin.  Most famous for his victory at the Battle of Waterloo where he defeated Napoleon in 1815, he was also Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Leader of the House of Lords three times and Prime Minister twice while upon his death he was still Commander-in-chief of the British Army.

Wellington_at_Waterloo_HillingfordWellington at Waterloo by Robert Alexander Hillingford

Born in 1769, when he died at the age of eighty-three in 1852, Wellington was given a state funeral, a rare honour also accorded Sir Isaac Newton, Lord Nelson, Palmerston, Gladstone and Sir Winston Churchill.  It is amazing to think that we can hear the voice of someone who attended the funeral of this great man born two and a half centuries ago. 

TicketTicket to the funeral (courtesy of Marlborough Rare Books)

Frederick Mead was ninety-two years old when he recorded his memories of the occasion in 1940.  He can only have been four or five years of age at the time and is obviously reading from a prepared script, but we are hearing the voice of an eye-witness which creates a living connection to the event.  Mead describes queuing with his brother to see the lying in state at Chelsea Hospital and his uncle withdrawing them as he saw no hope of attaining their purpose with such a large crowd.  In this extract, he goes on to describe the funeral including a reference to the Thames Embankment which at that time did not exist.

This recording comes from the Alan Cooban collection (C1398) digitised with funding from the Saga Trust.

Frederick Mead 1940

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

04 September 2018

Sir Francis Chichester talks to Lady Chichester from Gipsy Moth IV

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Dr Emma Greenwood, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage, writes:

Sir Francis Chichester’s record-breaking circumnavigation of the globe in 1966-1967 is a legendary accomplishment in yachting and sporting history. When he sailed back into Plymouth Sir Francis was greeted by a fleet of small boats, thousands of fans and a hysterical press.

This huge public interest was largely owing to the Marconi Kestrel radio telephone installed on board the yacht Gipsy Moth IV which enabled Sir Francis to send weekly newspaper despatches throughout his voyage.

This same radio set, however, also allowed Sir Francis to communicate, very occasionally, with his wife Lady Chichester. One of these rare conversations took place on 19 November 1966 and, fortunately for us, it was recorded and has now been preserved as part of the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project.

The recording itself is of poor quality, but this only reflects listening conditions at the time. Lady Chichester was on board the cruise ship SS Oriana at the time, on route to a planned rendezvous in Sydney, and the radio signal was weak and subject to lots of interference. Questions had to be repeated, voices raised, and speech slowed down. There was also an operator on the line throughout, so there was no privacy between the couple.

Sir Francis and Lady Chichester talking before Sydney (C1604/01)

In spite of the circumstances, both Sir Francis and Lady Chichester sound remarkably composed. Much of the 14 minute conversation is taken up with the exchange of essential information relating to their respective positions, rates of progress, weather conditions and expected arrival times into Sydney. It is hard to believe that this was the first time they had spoken in nearly three months, or imagine the dangers Sir Francis had already faced in his voyage.

Nevertheless, the ability to communicate via radio telephone, was clearly of great importance to both parties. After the voyage, Lady Chichester stated, ‘the radio communication with Gipsy Moth IV was something really marvellous, and the men who worked it were wonderful people’ (‘A Wife’s Part in High Adventure’ in Sir Francis Chichester, Gipsy Moth Circles the World (Bello, 2012), p. 249).As for Sir Francis, being able to speak directly to Lady Chichester provided a much-needed psychological boost. He signs off “very glad to hear your voice and you have all my love, all my love, goodbye, goodbye”. Later, he wrote in his account of the voyage, ‘It was a joy to hear her, and to be able to talk directly to her. This cheered me up immensely’ (Gipsy Moth Circles the World, p.93).

UOSH_Footer with HLF logo

21 May 2018

Recording of the week: "We regret to inform you" - bad news from the sound archives

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This week's selection comes from David Govier, Oral History Archivist.

An Oral History of the Post Office includes memories of telegram delivery boys who delivered telegrams by hand with news of war casualties during the Second World War, and their reflections on what it was like delivering the bad news. Delivery boys were always told what the news was. They were instructed to ask if there was a man in the house first. They also had to wait at the door in case a reply was requested.

Roger Osborn (C1007/16) discusses the wording of war telegrams which would always start with the words “We regret to inform you…” A friend of Roger’s in Tring, Hertfordshire, ignored his instructions when delivering news of the killing of a woman’s husband. He noticed the woman out shopping and gave her the telegram. Her first reaction was to hit him over the head with her loaf of bread.

Des Callaghan (C1007/38) remembers delivering three telegrams in Nottingham to one home: one with the news that the son was missing, the second the incorrect news that he was dead, and the third that he was actually in a prisoner of war camp - and Des got a £1 note in return!

These extracts come from An Oral History of the Post Office, a collection of life story interviews with a sample of Royal Mail and Post Office staff in the UK conducted between 2001 and 2005. Interviewees include, of course, postmasters and postmistresses, postmen and postwomen but also those involved with postal sorting and transportation (by road, air and train); stamp design, printing and marketing (the story of the stamp); legal, purchasing and property departments. The collection also includes interviews with staff who worked in lesser-known departments such as the Post Office Rifles, the Post Office Film Unit and the Lost Letter Centre.

There is an emphasis within the collection on change within living memory from the 1930s to the 1990s: the separation of post from telecommunications, computerisation and automation, new management practices and the diversification of new services offered by Royal Mail and the Post Office.

A CD of extracts from the collection entitled “Speeding the Mail: an oral history of the post from the 1930s to the 1990s” was published by the British Library and the British Postal Museum and Archive in 2005, and over forty extracts are available online at British Library Sounds.

Speeding the Mail CD

Follow @BL_OralHistory and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

11 May 2018

Trauma, narrative and theatre

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This blog is by Rib Davis, the 2018-2019 National Life Stories Goodison Fellow.

I am very excited to be embarking on my work as the National Life Stories Goodison Fellow 2018-2019. The project brings together my two loves, oral history and theatre, but in a way that is new for me. I am going to be exploring memory – and in particular the traumatic memories of Holocaust survivors – and how those memories are accessed differently at different points in life. So I will be particularly focusing on those Holocaust survivors in the oral history collection who have been interviewed on more than one occasion.

How do we form our memories of experiences – experiences which may be utterly chaotic – into something which we can present to ourselves and others as a coherent narrative, something that makes sense, something that might even have a meaning? How do we give it shape? How do we even choose the words? And as we create that narrative, each time we create it and re-create it, what is the process of choosing what to include, what to leave out, what to emphasise, what is an aside? How much are were affected by our own previous tellings? And how are our versions of events informed by what we have since learned from others, and also by what has happened to us personally since the time of those events?

Then there is the interview itself. How is the interviewee feeling on that day? Who is the interviewer? What might their expectations be? What might the interviewee feel is expected of him or her? How much does the interviewer contribute, or question, or even lead? What can the interviewee cope with telling, or not?

IMG_20180511_141022554The original cassette tape from the 1988 interview with Barbara Stimler

Let us take one example. Barbara Stimler, born in Poland in 1927, endured appalling events, particularly in the Lodz/Litzmannstadt ghetto and then in Auschwitz. Barbara was interviewed a number of times; two of the interviews, from 1988 (for the Living Memory of the Jewish Community project) and 1998 (for the Holocaust Survivors Centre Interviews) are archived in the British Library and accessible in the Jewish Survivors of the Holocaust collections on British Library Sounds. Here are two version of what was perhaps the most traumatic moment of Barbara’s life: when she saw her mother for the last time. I find both versions quite difficult to listen to.

Barbara Stimler interviewed in 1988 (C410/004/05)

Barbara Stimler interviewed in 1998 (C830/038/02)

Where does all this leave us as we try to put together History? Of course we all access our memories differently every time we recall an event. This does not mean that we have to decide which version is true and which is false. There may be many different versions of an event – from different people or even from one individual – all of which may be true (and this applies to written accounts as well as oral ones). The subtle differences between one version and another, and the reasons for those differences, are fascinating and perhaps informative. (However, present day politics also reminds us that there are also some statements that are simply false – not all statements are equal).

These are the issues – of memory, of trauma and of history - with which I will be dealing, not in the form of a paper or a lecture but as theatre. The challenge is not only to come to grips with the material and its context, in a respectful yet questioning way, but then to create a script which explores it in a form that is truly theatrical. It’s a challenge I’m looking forward to.

The Living Memory of the Jewish Community was a National Life Stories project which ran between 1987 and 2000 and recorded 186 life stories with Jewish survivors of the Holocaust and their children. The Holocaust Survivors' Centre Interviews was a National Life Stories collaborative project with the Jewish Care Holocaust Survivors' Centre which ran between 1993 and 1998 and gathered 154 audio life story testimonies. You can listen to full interviews from both collections on British Library Sounds.

04 December 2017

Recording of the week: Britain's first supercomputer

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This week's selection comes from Tom Lean, Project Interviewer for An Oral History of British Science.

It has been 55 years since the commissioning of Atlas at the University of Manchester in 1962, one of the world's very first supercomputers. Developed largely by the University of Manchester and Ferranti, the enormous machine was probably the second most powerful computer at the time and pioneered a number of innovations in hardware and software. Capable of processing about a million instructions a second and with over 670 kilobytes of memory, Atlas had as much computing power as several smaller machines, albeit far less than the simplest desktop machine today. It was said that when Atlas went offline, Britain lost half its computing power. Yet despite this awesome potential, only three Atlas computers were ever built. As Atlas's lead hardware designer Professor David Edwards recalled for An Oral History Of British Science, it was rather difficult convincing the sceptics that Britain even needed a machine that was so powerful:

We only need one computer for the country_Dai Edwards (C1379/11)

University_of_Manchester_Atlas _January_1963

The Atlas computer at the University of Manchester, 1963 (Iain MacCallum)

Visit the library's Voices of Science web resource to explore 100 life stories about environmental science, British technology and engineering from 1940 to the present.

Follow @BL_OralHistory and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

06 November 2017

Recording of the week: watching Britain's nuclear bomb tests

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This week's selection comes from Tom Lean, Project Interviewer for An Oral History of British Science.

On 8th November 1957, hundreds of British military and scientific personnel gathered at Christmas Island, a remote speck of land in the Pacific Ocean. They were there for Operation Grapple X, the first successful test of a British hydrogen bomb. At 1.8 megatons, the blast was about a hundred and forty times more powerful than the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, and signified Britain's mastery of the secrets of thermonuclear power. Amongst the witnesses to the mushroom cloud rising above Christmas Island was a 35 year old technician named Frank Raynor. As he recalls, in perhaps something of an understatement, it was “quite impressive” to watch:

Frank Raynor_C1379/76

Grapple

The tests were also witnessed by Laurance Reed, a naval officer on HMS Warrior. He describes a shipboard atmosphere of excitement, anxiety and awe when the first bomb was dropped. 

Laurence Reed_C1503/37

The full interview with Frank Raynor can be found in the Oral History of British Science collection on British Library Sounds.

Follow @BL_OralHistory  and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

07 August 2017

Recording of the week: Gay UK - falling in love with peace

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This week's selection comes from David Govier, Oral History Archivist.

The Second World War saw women take on roles that they had not been expected to undertake before. Women moved from the home into factories, ship yards and pivotal roles in war administration. In one of the earliest recordings used in the British Library’s Gay UK exhibition, Mary Wilkins (born 1909) remembers her war experience and reflects on how it informed her identity.

Mary describes how her emotional feelings towards women developed during her childhood. She remembers making a promise to herself, while working as an ambulance driver during the Second World War, to join a peace organisation. She also describes listening to the pacifist and suffragist Sybil Morrison give a speech in Coventry and falling for her ‘hook, line and sinker’.

Mary Wilkins on falling in love_C456/066

This interview extract is part of the Hall Carpenter Oral History Archive which is part of the British Library's Sound Archive. It is a collection of 113 oral history interviews relating to lesbian and gay experience in Britain, and, together with the Hall Carpenter physical archives held at London School of Economics, is one of the largest resources for studying gay activism in the UK. The British Library’s current Gay UK exhibition uses over a dozen oral history extracts from the Hall Carpenter collection to tell the varied stories of a broad range of gay people throughout the twentieth century.

GayUKWhatsOn

The Hall Carpenter Memorial Archive was established in 1982 and grew out of the Gay Monitoring & Archive Project, which collected evidence of discrimination and police arrests in the UK. The archives were named after lesbian author Marguerite Radclyffe Hall and writer and early gay rights activist Edward Carpenter. In 1985 the archives employed Margot Farnham to coordinate an oral history project documenting the life experiences of lesbians and gay men in Britain. Farnham worked with volunteers who located interviewees, carried out interviews, and helped produce documentation such as summaries and transcripts. In 1989, an anthology called ‘Inventing Ourselves – Lesbian Life Stories’ was published based on the interviews with lesbians.

HCALesbianCover

You can find out more about the Hall Carpenter Oral History Archive and our other oral histories of sexuality in our collection guide.

Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty is a free exhibition in the entrance hall at the British Library until 19 September 2017.

Follow @BL_OralHistory  and @soundarchive for all the latest news.