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Second World War

Collaborative Doctoral Award student, Rebecca Coll, writes about the IWM’s historic commitment to progressive methods of research and collecting.

“…a remarkable thing about the war museum is that, despite the nineteenth century type name…right from the beginnings, which were at the end of the First World War, they collected material relating to say women and empire people and so on. Not just the male white generals that you might expect that, that kind of place might do, they, they always wanted to show how the war affected everybody.”

Margaret Brooks, Research Assistant 1973-1983, IWM and Keeper of the Department of Sound Records 1983-2010, IWM (Interview with Margaret Brooks by Robert Wilkinson, February-September 2013, Oral history of oral history in the UK, track 01, Sound & Moving Image catalogue (http://sami.bl.uk/uhtbin/cgisirsi/x/x/0/49/) reference C1149/30, © The British Library). 

With the recent opening of the new First World War galleries at IWM London, it is important to recognise the museum’s past and present commitment to new and progressive forms of research. The 1960s and 1970s are considered to have been a period of reinvention for the IWM, and the development of the Department of Sound Records was a prime example of this.

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Image of the main entrance at Budapest's Hospital in the Rock.

The Main Entrance at Budapest’s Hospital in the Rock, 1944 © hospitalintherock

Research Manager at IWM London, Emily Peirson-Webber, describes the history of Budapest’s Hospital in the Rock after a recent trip to the Hugarian capital.

During my recent trip to Budapest, I discovered the enigmatically named ‘Hospital in the Rock’. The site, which appears in the New York Times list of the top ten places to visit in the Hungarian capital and was nominated in the 2014 European Museum of the Year Awards, is still in its infancy as a visitor attraction – it was first opened to the public on a one-off basis in 2007.

The history of the Hospital in the Rock is compelling. Housed in a natural cave system spanning around 10km and located under Budapest’s Castle Hill (a 1km-long plateau situated 170m above the Danube); the site has been in use since the medieval period. However, it was during the Second World War that the caves took on a particularly important role for the city, due to their uniquely sheltered position.

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Marking stone on the Piskaryov cemetery.

‘No-one is forgotten and nothing is forgotten’ (Olga Berggolz): marking stone on the Piskaryov cemetery. Courtesy of author.

 

Visiting researcher, Dr Yvonne Pörzgen, writes about uncovering stories of the Siege of Leningrad in IWM’s collections.

Where do you go to research the Siege of Leningrad (1941-1944)? As it turns out, IWM London and the University of Bristol are excellent places for such a project. The Goethe Institut’s programme “Scholars in Residence” brings young scholars from different countries in touch with each other to work on related projects. I was happy to support Alys Cundy in conducting her project on the representation of twentieth-century conflict in museums in Germany in 2013. In spring 2014, Alys introduced me to the scholars at the Research Department of IWM and at the History and Russian Departments at the University of Bristol who supported me with my research.

It was just the right time. On January 27 2014, St. Petersburg celebrated the 70th anniversary of the lifting of the Siege that  killed over a million inhabitants of the city. How do you commemorate such an event that  changed the city forever and whose traces are still to be found all over Saint Petersburg?

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 Arabic Monitor 1941 © BBC

Arabic monitors at the BBC Monitoring Service’s early wartime home in Wood Norton Hall, Evesham, 1941 © BBC

 

Former IWM Collaborative Doctoral Award Student, Laura Johnson, describes her exciting research into the BBC Monitoring Service. 

The BBC Monitoring Service played an indisputable role in British intelligence during the Second World War. Their reports of international radio broadcasting, now held in the storage areas at IWM Duxford, provided the British Government with a daily assessment of news, information, propaganda, and indications of the intentions of other nations.

The fact that the Monitoring Service mainly reported on open, publicly available radio broadcasts has, however, resulted in its long absence from intelligence literature. This is because intelligence has traditionally been associated with secrecy. Whilst conducting my PhD research on the role of the BBC Monitoring Service during the Second World War, I was struck by a tension between the roles of openness and secrecy within its operation. 

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King Georve VI letter Far East Prisoners of War

Letter from King George VI welcoming returning prisoners of war from the Far East. © IWM (MH 27887)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 IWM holds a vast collection of documents telling the stories of the men who were held captive by the Japanese during the Second World War. The collection includes diaries, memoirs, photographs, artworks and oral history interviews, and all of these resources are invaluable in helping historians, researchers, families and members of the public to learn about the day-to-day experiences of the men who were prisoners of war.

Alongside my research at IWM, I have written catalogue entries for documents that have been donated to the museum by men who were imprisoned on the island of Sumatra from February 1942 until August 1945. This has been a fascinating task.  The materials from Sumatra are exciting sources because there are very few first-hand accounts available from this theatre of captivity. Yet these documents tell the stories of the prison camps from the perspective of the men who were there at the time, and who continued to remember it after their liberation.

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Image of German troops advancing on the Russian army. Image courtesy of Fremantle Media.

Our guest blogger Taylor Downing is a historian and writer whose best selling books include works on the Second World War as well as other popular histories. Taylor also writes on the history of film and television. Recent publications include The World At War (BFI Palgrave Macmillan 2012) an account of the making of the landmark documentary series, and a number of publications on the Second World War including Night Raid (Little, Brown 2013), Spies in the Sky (Little, Brown 2011) and Churchill’s War Lab (Little, Brown 2010). Taylor is currently writing the history of a series of change making scientists from the First World War, to be published in 2014.

The World at War is forty years old! It was first shown to immense acclaim on ITV from October 1973 and it has never been off television screens somewhere in the world since. It is as popular with viewers today as it was when first shown, making it the most successful history series ever produced by British television. The title music by Carl Davis, the graphics with the flames and faces of war, the heavyweight commentary by Laurence Olivier, the stunning archive material and the brilliant interviews with those who took part in and witnessed events are as dynamic and compelling a combination today as they were forty years ago. The Imperial War Museum (IWM)World  played an important role in making the series with the then director, Dr Noble Frankland acting as historical consultant. IWM staff viewed and commented on copies of the programmes as they were being made so it is entirely fitting that the IWM should mark the anniversary. Behind the entire project was Jeremy Isaacs (today Sir Jeremy Isaacs). It was his vision that imagined the series in the first place and as producer he oversaw every step of the production process, but he is the first to admit that the series would not have been as successful without the team of fifty talented people who worked on it over a period of three years. It was a young team and many of those who made the series gathered at the IWM to mark the birthday. For nearly all of them, working on the series was the most important creative experience of their lives.

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Anthony Delahoy, one of the British Second World War veterans interviewed by Greg Tinker as part of his PhD research project. Photograph courtesy of Greg Tinker.

Our guest blogger, Greg Tinker, conducted his doctoral research on cultural memory and the Second World War. Studying for his PhD at the University of Reading, he explored the relationship between British veterans and remembrance. Here he describes some of the findings of his thesis.

I joined the University of Reading’s Languages at War team to research and write my doctoral thesis on British Second World War veterans’ remembrance activities. Languages at War was an AHRC-funded research project that aimed to provide new insights into the policies and practices of language contacts in conflict. The research documented veterans’ ‘Heroes Return’ visits to former sites of battle, embarked on as part of the government’s Veterans Reunited national remembrance programme, mounted to mark the sixtieth anniversary of D-Day and the end of the Second World War in Europe in 2004-5.

The IWM contributed to the programme with Their Past Your Future (TPYF), an education project that grew out of a youth remembrance scheme created by the UK government’s cross-departmental Veterans Task Force. The Task Force had been set up by the Prime Minister in 2001 to promote wider public recognition of the achievements of British armed forces veterans and service personnel.

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Image of The remains of Surrey Lodge, an apartment building destroyed by a V2 rocket on 4 January 1945.  The photograph was apparently taken on the following day and graphically shows how a 5 storey building was reduced to rubble.

The remains of Surrey Lodge, an apartment building destroyed by a V2 rocket on 4 January 1945. The photograph was apparently taken on the following day and graphically shows how a 5 storey building was reduced to rubble. Courtesy of Lambeth Archives.

Barely 150 metres from Imperial War Museum London is the site of the most destructive explosion in Lambeth during the Second World War, which killed 43 people.  Just before 8.30pm on the night of Thursday 4 January 1945 a huge explosion destroyed an apartment building, Surrey Lodge, on the corner of Kennington Road and Lambeth Road.   The old Lambeth Baths and a chapel on the opposite side of Lambeth Road were also severely damaged.  The blast also extensively damaged the northern and western sides of the  Imperial War Museum as well as many surrounding buildings.

There was no warning – no air raid sirens or sounds of approaching aircraft – just the explosion.  However the initial detonation was followed by a distinctive roaring noise and a sonic boom, because the disaster was caused by a German V2 rocket – the world’s first ballistic missile – diving into the building faster than the speed of sound.

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Image of a photograph of William Davey

William Davey in uniform while serving with the Dragoon Guards. (Papers of W Davey, Documents 62/179/1)

As part of a major project supported by the Wellcome Trust, I catalogued some of the IWM’s medical collections which had hitherto been largely unavailable to researchers.  A major dividend from making these newly catalogued collections more accessible is that some are now on display in the new exhibition at IWM North, Saving Lives: Frontline Medicine in a Century of Conflict (13 October 2012 to 1 September 2013). 

The papers of William Davey who served in the ranks with the Dragoon Guards and the Labour Corps on the Western Front, record the effects of his service on his health.  He was awarded a War Badge in December 1917, having received an honourable discharge due to ill health.  On display are his Discharge Certificate releasing him from the Army as ‘no longer physically fit’ in November 1917; a Ministry of Pensions Notification of Final Award dated 1930, providing a full ‘a pension for life’ and a Ministry of Pensions letter dated 17 March 1933 informing his widow after his death (from the effects of gas) that she would not be eligible for a widow’s pension (but could apply for one).

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Image of an engraving from the Sumatra railway memorial on Sumatra itself

A engraving from the Sumatra railway memorial. Amanda Farrell.

February this year saw the seventieth anniversary of the Fall of Singapore on 15th of that month 1942. Between June of that year and October 1943, over 60,000 Allied troops would be forced to labour as prisoners of war (POWs) on the Burma-Thailand railway.  It is not so popularly known, however, that after this a second ‘Death Railway’ project was overseen by many of the same Japanese engineers. This second railway was built on the island of Sumatra, and its construction involved nearly 5,000 Allied POWs.

As an island rich in coal and oil, Sumatra presented a vital energy resource for the Japanese. Their intention was that the new line starting at Pakanbaroe in the east of Sumatra would connect to an existing track at the town of Moeara, and continue to the western port of Padang. By joining the new track with the old, and constructing a tributary line to connect the railway to Sumatran coal mines, the Japanese planned to transport fuel and troops by rail for shipping from Padang to Singapore.

The track between Pakanbaroe and Moeara was approximately 140 miles long, with a total of 17 camps made and lived in by prisoners. Since there was no place to which men could escape, very few were fully enclosed by the bamboo fences or barbed wire associated with typical images of POW camps. The railway was built through mountain ranges and thick jungle, and across swamp and river.

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