What is Recollections of WWII?

This site was created to provide a source of information on oral history collections held in the UK, which include recordings which specifically refer to the Second World War. It is an independent non-profit website, and is run on a voluntary basis.

At the time of writing (March 2008) there is a strong upswell of interest in personal recollections of the Second World War. Documentaries feature first hand accounts, and books such as the 'Forgotten Voices' series (which use the Imperial War Museum sound archive as their source of material) have brought the stories of individual soldiers, sailors, airmen and civilians into the public eye. Conversely, the number of people who hold personal memories of this time is rapidly dwindling.

In the last few weeks, the UK national newspapers have reported the deaths of a Gurkha VC holder (Bhanubhakta Gurung), an RAF radar technician (author Arthur C. Clarke), the only British civilian to survive Auschwitz (Leon Greenman), a secret agent for SOE (Pearl Cornioley), and the last surviving witness to the surrender of German forces in northern Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands in 1945 (Paul Odgers). Most of these famous individuals have had their stories recorded for posterity. But they are in the minority - many hundreds of people sadly pass away without being asked about their experiences. Luckily  there are many groups across the country who are trying to address this, and to record these memories before it is too late.

I have been involved in recording memories of the Second World War for a number of years, and the idea for this site came from my personal experiences. I have interviewed over 150 people for the BBC People's War Project, and more recently The Second World War Experience Centre. Some people who I met informed me that they had been interviewed before. Likewise, a number who have declined to speak to me stated this reason for their decision. I started to consider what had happened to these recordings. The interviewees had kindly donated their time and personal recollections to the interviewers. Were the recordings now sitting in a drawer somewhere, unlistened to? Or were they carefully catalogued in an archive?

It soon became apparent that there was no list of Second World War oral history collections in the UK. Therefore, this site has been developed, with the intention of bringing attention to these collections and their contents. It is a work in progress, and it is by no means complete - if you know of any collections, both online and those in traditional archives, please let me know

I hope that by raising the profile of the many oral history collections held across the country, the stories of these people will not become 'forgotten voices', instead they will be heard, and more importantly listened to. I also hope that this may encourage you, your parents, your grandparents or your great-grandparents to consider recording their memories too. There are many people who would like to hear them.

While every effor has been made to ensure the contact details and links on this site are up to date, if you happen to discover any dead links or errors, please contact me.

Matthew Smaldon
March 2008