Poster for Indigènes (dir Rachid Bouchareb, 2006) released in the UK as Days of Glory by Metrodome
The website Caribbean aircrew in the RAF during WW2 draws attention to the 1953 feature film Appointment in London, a story about Bomber Command starring Dirk Bogarde, and in particular to a scene showing Bogarde mixing with his peers: among the officers is one of Caribbean origin. There is no plot point hanging on this fact – it is simply a tacit recognition of the contribution made in the RAF, as in so many other ways, to the Allied effort in both world wars by people of the Empire. What is sadly remarkable about it, however, is how rare it is to see black troops represented in this way.
One area that the Whose Remembrance? Project set out to explore was the extent to which the wartime role of the peoples of Britain’s colonies has been reflected in the popular media. My contribution was to produce a database of relevant films, tv and radio.
A good start for my search was the Colonial Films Database the result of an earlier AHRC-funded project in which IWM was a partner. As well as providing essays about contemporary films like With the Indian Troops at the Front (1916) and West Africa Was There (1945), this huge database also offers several dozen titles online. Trawls of various websites made it possible to add a number of retrospective documentaries, such as the 2009 Soldiers of Empire episode from Channel 4’s Not Forgotten Series, or Scottish Television’s 2004 programme Treefellers about the work in Scotland during the Second World War of lumberjacks from British Honduras. Drama series which came immediately to mind included Granada’s 1984 adaptation of Paul Scott’s ‘Raj Quartet’ as The Jewel in the Crown, and BBC2’s 1992 Black Poppies.
Professor David Cesarani (right) with Professor Paul Shapiro of USHMM at the Beyond camps and forced labour conference held at IWM London, 4-6 January 2012
On 4-6 January 2012, Imperial War Museum London hosted the fourth international conference in the Beyond camps and forced labour series. Professor David Cesarani of Royal Holloway, University of London, co-organiser of Beyond camps and forced labour guest blogs here about the key themes which emerged from the conference:
‘It is hard to sum up the themes that were explored in the conference, let alone find patterns common to all the papers. But I think that some distinct threads did emerge. One was the discovery of new archival sources or the re-examination of neglected collections.
The largest and most important of these is the vast archive of the International Tracing Service of the International Committee of the Red Cross at Bad Arolsen. Thanks largely to the persistence of Professor Paul Shapiro of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum we now have a good idea of the staggering riches that were kept locked away by the ITS for decades, and the process of making them available to researchers is now well underway. The many sub-collections will offer new insights into the existence of inmates in the concentration camps, the death marches, and the experiences of refugees and survivors after liberation. One of the most extraordinary collections was described by the new ITS historian, Susanne Urban. It comprises 1,200 responses to questionnaires sent out to survivors of death marches – amongst the earliest, most immediate testimony every recorded. The ITS records will help historians to map and analyse population movements after 1945, including the influx of former DPs into the UK. It will take decades and many PhD theses to even scrape the surface of this treasure trove.
A photograph showing Roma in Radom, Poland – torn from a German soldier’s photograph album. IWM HU 105681
Here in the Department of Research, one of my responsibilities is to oversee the development of new content for The Holocaust Exhibition. My next is to display a collection of recently acquired photographs of Roma and Sinti (‘Gypsies’).
A photograph showing Roma in Radom, Poland – torn from a German soldier’s photograph album. IWM HU 105682
Roma and Sinti were targeted by the Nazis in their discriminatory laws and policies from 1933. They were later subject to slave labour, internment and mass murder (including at extermination camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau). 25%, or up to 220,000 of Europe’s Roma were killed by the Nazis.
One of the collections catalogued by Dr Simon Robbins: A photograph of and letter from Nursing Sister D M L Crewdson (August 1918) about the award of her Military Medal. IWM DOCS 62/135/1
A delegation comes from the Wellcome Trust – to hear what we are doing on the medical history front. It’s a great opportunity to let them hear and see just how strong are our collections on this topic. Inevitably the medical treatment of wounded soldiers is a running theme in our collections – whether recruiting posters for Red Cross nurses in the First World War or films urging soldiers to protect themselves against malaria in the Second. But there are wider themes you can explore here too – there are few aspects of war which did not impinge on health also.
Dr Simon Robbins is our medical expert and he talks through the work he has done this year – the Wellcome Trust has just supported a major cataloguing project of our collections of letters and diaries written by medical personnel. We’re hoping to expand our understanding and online coverage of this massive subject – linking up with other archives so that specialists can see who has what.