Ansar Ahmed Ullah, a member of the Swadhinata Trust, is one of three external specialist researchers on the Whose remembrance? project. Ansar writes here about his research into the experiences of South Asian seamen in the two world wars.
As Project Manager of the AHRC sponsored Whose remembrance? project, I was responsible for drawing up the programme for the two workshops we held in the summer of 2012 - to enable both historians and museum professionals who have been researching aspects of this history to share their work.
For a large part of 2012 the Research Department has been working on an AHRC-sponsored scoping study called Whose Remembrance?. The study asked the IWM to identify whose stories were being included in the history of the First and Second World Wars and how this was affecting patterns of remembrance. In particular the IWM has looked at how the experiences of colonial troops have been studied by academics and displayed by museums.
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.
The Battle of the Ancre and Advance of the Tanks (1917) is a little known masterpiece of British non-fiction cinema that documents the winter stages of the Somme campaign on the Western Front. The sequel to the famous Battle of the Somme (1916), which covers the opening phase of the campaign, ‘Ancre’ should not be dismissed as Somme II. Although similar to the ‘Somme’, Battle of the Ancre is cinematically the better film and contains haunting images of trench warfare, notably of the mud that beset the trenches in the winter, the waves of troops advancing into no-man’s land, the use of horses and the first views of the tank - the secret weapon which it was hoped would break the deadlock on the Western Front.
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).
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.
One of the most rewarding aspects of my work since I joined the Research Department has been cataloguing IWM’s medical collections. This was part of a major project supported by the Wellcome Trust to expand our understanding and online coverage of the experiences and participation of medical personnel and their patients in various conflicts since 1900. Working my way through boxes of diaries and letters, I wrote synopses for each of a large number of our collections which has now made it easier for researchers to locate material relevant to the history of medicine.
The collective noun for a gathering of film archivists? A vault? A screening? The more cynical might say a confusion. Certainly, at the annual congress of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) held in Beijing in May, in addition to a certain amount of confusion surrounding voting procedures (something of a tradition at FIAF congresses), archivists were understandably confused by the sheer scale and rapidity of the changes to their world brought about by digital technology. And so a good deal of the proceedings set about addressing some of these concerns, not least the workshop organised jointly by the Technical Commission (of which I am the head) and the Programming and Access Commission, where we looked at the digital world from different perspectives and tried to offer some guidance on acquisition, management, preservation and access. (Some of the guidance we offered is now available in a few handy documents on the FIAF website).
Britain at War, filmmaker Rosie Newman’s film of Britain during the Second World War, is one of the most important amateur films in our collection, notable for its content and the fact that it was shot, almost entirely, in colour. This film has interested and intrigued many researchers. Who was Rosie Newman? How did she manage to film in places considered as 'off-limits' to amateur filmmakers? How and where did she show her films? In order to answer such questions I did some research and discovered a most remarkable filmmaker.