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War generates unique and unexpected experiences in civilians’ ordinary lives. But war can also exist as a surprisingly uneventful setting for everyday working lives. At the European Social Sciences and History Conference three talks encouraged me to consider ways in which war work impacted civilians’ ordinary lives through memories that reclaim, forget and negotiate popular experiences of the Second World War.

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 Over the weekend of 18-20 March an international conference took place in Leeds, focusing on resistance to the First World War. The conference, which I helped to organise, brought together academics, community groups, poets and storytellers from across the globe, including delegates who had travelled from Australia and the USA. The conference was envisaged following the suggestion that the prominent narratives during the First World War Centenary were limited to stories of those who had actively participated in the war effort. Stories of resistance to the war were missing from dominant narratives of remembrance and the conference sought to question what war resistance was, how acts of resistance were undertaken, and the significance of war resistance today. The presence of both academic and community focused research on resistance worked particularly well in addressing the many different facets of resistance; including the theoretical underpinnings of pacifism, international and transnational movements for peace, individual acts of conscious and unconscious resistance as well as national and local networks of resistance.

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As we look forward to the New Year and begin to plan the various projects which will keep us busy over 2016, it is always useful to take a step back and consider the progress already made.  For over forty years, IWM has preserved one of the most important sound archives of its kind in the world.  Established in 1972, the Department of Sound Records, as it was then called, was an offspring of the museum’s Library which at that point included a handful of gramophone records.  The following decades saw the collection grow in size until, following a major restructuring in 2010, it was merged with the Department of Documents to form the Documents and Sound Section, with myself appointed as the new Section Head.

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On 1st August 2009 I visited Warsaw to take part in the 65th anniversary commemorations. The occasion was organised by the ambitiously conceived Museum of the Warsaw Uprising which tells the story of this epic event.  On 1st August 1944 soldiers of the Polish Home Army, supported by citizens of Warsaw, rose up against the German occupiers. After five years of occupation,  “Operation Bagration” had brought the Red Army to the gates of the Polish capital.

A German prisoner being led away by troops of the Kiliński Battalion, Home Army after the capture of the PAST building on Zielna Street, 20 August 1944. © IWM HU 31070.

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Simon Black, ‘The Martyr’, oil on canvas, © The Estate of Simon Black, Art.IWM ART 17558.

Visions of War Above and Below’ curated by Claire Brenard at IWM London explores how artists have used both the aerial perspective and that ‘from below’ to explore how these different, at times dramatic perspectives, can convey both power and vulnerability in the face of modern warfare. 

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The Cold War launched a new series of threats on Britain – from invasion by communists to atomic warfare. The military and moral implications of this ideological battle meant that fear was ever-present in the public sphere.

My Collaborative Partnership PhD asks whether fear really was the most widely held emotion in 1950s Britain. At the British Social and Cultural History conference, held from 31 March to 2 April, I will be presenting my initial thoughts on this topic, using evidence gained through oral history interviews.

Interviewing ‘ordinary’ people who carried on with their lives beneath the increasing Cold War threat offers the opportunity to delve deeper into what society understood by ‘fear’, ‘threat’ and ‘survival’. In the interviews I have done so far, emotion is ever-present; it is the point at which personal experience and collective historical experience overlap.

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Operation Chastise which destroyed the Möhne, Eder and Sorpe Dams was launched on the night of the 16th May 1943.

IWM FILM 2342. No. 617 Squadron practice dropping the bomb at Reculver bombing range, Kent. The bomb rises from the water after its first ‘bounce’.

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Hawker Hunters of No. 111 Squadron’s display team the Black Arrows. Photograph by Mike Chase MM FRPS, 1957. © IWM RAF-T 240.

For over forty years the Royal Air Force was in the frontline of Britain’s Cold War defences. Recording the first half of this dynamic period were a small number of specialist aviation photographers from the Air Ministry’s (later Ministry of Defence’s) Photographic Reproduction Branch (PRB) who produced a unique collection of 10,000 colour images. PRB’s chief photographer for much of this period was Mike Chase MM, one of the country’s most experienced aviation photographers.

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“11.30pm HE bomb exploded Walcot Square. Serious damage to property. Known casualties. 1 killed.” Civil Defence incident report from Post 9, 195 Kennington Road, 17 September 1940

Take a stroll around the side of IWM London and onto the Kennington Road. Walk south for a few minutes until on your left you see Walcot Square. Turn into this street and walk up towards the Square itself. https://goo.gl/maps/pbiFH Turn around and look back. Notice the lampost on the right and the tree to the side of the built out bay window on the house on Kennington Road. Notice the shapes of the houses backing onto Walcot Square. All looks settled, peaceful, normal.

Now look at this photograph.

Walcot Square 1940. Press & Censorship Bureau Photograph Library. © IWM

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“It is difficult enough to justify your action to higher authority and it is made no easier when you fail to obey orders issued for the comfort of your troops and in addition fail to ack[nowledge] or reply to my messages.”

Major General W D A Lentaigne to Brigadier J M Calvert DSO, 9 July 1944.

Brigadier Mike Calvert (left) gives orders to Lieutenant-Colonel Shaw, while Major James Lumley stands with M1 carbine under his arm,after the capture of Mogaung in Burma during the second
Chindit expedition, June 1944. IWM MH7287.

The large and important collection of papers kept by Brigadier J M Calvert DSO* (1913-1998) during his long career have now been catalogued, making them much more accessible to researchers who are interested in Special Forces, notably the exploits and development of the Chindits (AKA “Wingate’s ‘Ghost Army’” or “Wingate’s Raiders”) [1] and the Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) who operated behind enemy lines during and after the Second World War.  Calvert’s own papers and extensive correspondence with many leading military figures provide a unique insight into the British Army. They are particularly of interest in examining the development of its use of special operations, which have been the subject of much debate and research.

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