Image of IWM logo with photographic background IWM Research Blog

Fictional Acknowledgements

Image of the cover image of William Boyd's An Ice Cream War

William Boyd, An Ice Cream War, 1982

How do we ‘get’ history?  If not at first hand, then where do the people we get it from find it themselves?  I have been exploring the ways in which other people’s research into IWM Collections gets shared with a wider public.  Formal works of written history and biography provide some obvious examples, which I will look at in a later post, but works of fiction offer a rather more left-field starting point.

Then there are writers who have included scenes at IWM buildings in their plots – the protagonists of both W G Sebald’s Austerlitz (2001) and Justin Cartwright’s The Song Before It Is Sung (2007) view film at the All Saints Annexe, a First World War veteran gives talks to schoolchildren in the London galleries in Pat Barker’s Another World (2001), a woman commissioned to write the biography of a First World War flying ace turned politician begins her researches here in Isabel Colegate’s Deceits of Time (1988), and the whole final chapter of Ian McEwan’s Atonement (2001) concerns a visit to the Reading Room by the central character.

Many writers of historical novels have acknowledged the help they received when researching here – examples include Len Deighton (Bomber, 1970), William Boyd (An Ice Cream War, 1982), Penelope Lively (Moon Tiger, 1987), Pat Barker (Regeneration, 1991), Elizabeth Buchan (The Light of the Moon, 1991), Leslie Thomas (Other Times, 1999), Jody Shields (The Crimson Portrait, 2006) and Sarah Waters (The Night Watch, 2006).

Image of Sarah Waters' novel the Night Watch

Sarah Waters, The Night Watch, 2006.

Genre fiction has been helped in similar ways.  Jacqueline Winspear has several times expressed thanks to IWM in her books featuring amateur sleuth Maisie Dobbs (since 2004).  Veronica Stallwood acknowledged IWM in Oxford Shadows (2000), eighth in her  Kate Ivory series, as have Carola Dunn in Gunpowder Plot (2006), one of her Daisy Dalrymple series, Anne Perry for her First World War Reavley novels (No Graves As Yet, etc, from 2003) and Laura Wilson for her Stratton books (Stratton’s War, etc, from 2008).  An actual 1995 reunion of Second World War women workers hosted by the Imperial War Museum plays a role in Connie Willis’s All Clear (2010), one of her sequence of science fiction novels about time-travelling Oxford Academics from the mid-21st Century.

IWM premises have also on occasion been the imagined scene of much more violent encounters, whether in Reg Gadney’s 1971 thriller Somewhere in England, where two warders are killed in a vault as various agencies struggle for a politically dangerous reel of film, or in Charlie Higson’s young person’s horror story The Dead (2010), in which the IWM London  is one of the places where children are besieged by flesh-eating zombie adults.

This rapid survey has barely scratched the surface: please feel free to post further examples as comments.

Be Sociable, Share!
  1. Eric Brewster says: September 12, 201212:50 pm

    People get such histories by exploring their own, the icecream war is an example of this; I am both a historian and genealogist that has devoted 32 years of my life in tracing the Brewster-Breheny Family of King Fergus McFergusson, the McFergussons, O’Donnelly’s, MacDarmaids (Gweniviyar’s family) and the McBrehenys have cut quite a swath in British Irish History since 544AD to 1620AD when we were forced out of Britain for being cousins to Queen Elizabeth I as well as being Pilgrims; we founded the New World in Plymouth, Massachusetts Colony but was forced out of there comming to Nova Scotia, Canada, Cornwallis Township, Kings County in 1761AD. How I learned this history was by your UK author Stephen R Lawhead, and his fictional but mythic stories about King Arthur and what he precieved as being true about King Arthur….the mention of the name Brehon. Though I cannot trace King Arthur’s genealogy we have no reason to doubt that King Arthur was the son of Uther Constantinus 2, whom was the brother of King Aurelius1, son of Constantinus I of Rome, more than likely. King Ferguss McFergusson had a son and grandson via the Breheny Family, an Mormac Erc was the first son, then they have an Eochaid Muinremuir, finally a Tri King of West Scotland Loarnmac Erc is born. The dates are about 514AD, 556AD and 546AD; I base this on BBC History website information, in modern History, my own Grandfather, Stanley Wayman Brewster attends the Corination of King George VI at 1911AD and Stanley Wayman Brewster being of an honor guard of the 68th West Nova Scotia Regiment Militia Of Canada, he brought a printed water pitcher home to my grandmother and a handkerchief from the Corination. It was a great honor for my grandfather to have been selected to go to the Corination. In WW2 my late father, Leander Wilson Brewster Able Bodied Seaman served aboard the HMCS 322 Outremont and with the help of the HMCS New Waterford helped bring up the Uboat 1006 intact and they brought the uboat to the Bedford Oceanic Research Station in Halifax, Nova Scotia this being 1 of 3 submarines in Nova Scotian waters brought up intact to be researched for their secrets and their Enigma Code Machines and code books, the uboat 1006 being brought up intact on November of 1943 off of Norway. You may ask me how I know this it was because an Westly Allen Spinks took pictures of the incident in 1943 and his grandson Don Spinks kindly sent me copies of the UBoat 1006 in 2 frames at Halifax Harbour, the West Arm there of. It was very secreative and sadly the Brit and Canadian Admiriality put secracy vows upon both ships crews of the Outremont and New Waterford for 60 years or so, my dad dying in 2003, but told me the truth at about 2001. The HMCS Annanah was given credit for the sinking of the Uboat 1006 but a surviving junior officer of the HMCS Outremont, a Lloyd Meredith whom lives in Ontario can confirm the entire incident, sadly a ships captain of the Outremont got drunk and rammed his ship into her beirth ending his career. The Outremont and the New Waterford both going to tow the Uboat 1006 to Hollywood, USA to make a documentary of the incident in just 3 weeks prior to researching of the Uboat 1006. True History is stranger than fiction… see Commander Ian Fleming and his crowd being angry at the Outremont’s success thought it was better that the movie documentary be not made and the gag of secracy had to be maintained untill 1945 and beyond, my father, the crews of the Outremont and New Waterford paid the price for the secracy and they did not go to Hollywood to make the movie documentary, far from it, they went back on patrols of the Atlantic Ocean, none got the attention and rewards they deserved thanks to Commander Ian Fleming and the Brit Navy Department Of Intelligence.

  2. Roger Smither says: September 19, 20121:31 pm

    Dear Eric,

    Thanks for sharing the results of your exploration of your family’s history, and in particular the story of your father’s service on HMCS Outremont. The breaking of the Enigma code seems to have been one of the war’s best-kept secrets – it was only in the mid-1970s that the facts finally started to emerge.

    Roger Smither.

Submit comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.