What was life like for the ordinary British or Commonwealth citizen in the Second World War? What were the experiences of the children, men and women on the home front, as well as serving personnel? What objects and stories have been passed down to generations? And how do people feel about repeated references to the War in modern discourse?
These questions are all being addressed as part of the Faculty of English’s two-year project ‘Their Finest Hour’ (funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund) which seeks to capture and preserve stories, memories, and objects from the war through public crowd-sourcing. Led by Dr Stuart Lee, who oversaw several projects from 2006-2018 related to the First World War, ‘Their Finest Hour’ is training an army of volunteers (around 200 now) to run digital collection days in their local communities (village halls, local libraries, faith centres, and schools). At these days members of the public are invited to bring in their story and/or objects to be interviewed and the items digitally captured. Everything then goes into Oxford’s online collection, to be digitally preserved for future generations, but more importantly to be released on 6th June 2024 through a free web site allowing anyone in the world to browse and reuse the material.
Over 60 events will run in 2023 alone around the UK with around 2,000 participants, plus there is an online portal allowing people to share their material directly. Audio interviews are also being collected and stored for future research, and attendees are being asked to respond to a few questions around modern-day perceptions of the war. We have already received amazing contributions telling the extraordinary stories about ordinary people. A child whose only memory of her father who was killed at Arnhem is the teddy bear he gave her when home on leave, documentation from a downed RAF pilot who was captured and sent to Buchenwald (shown, right), or the simple diary of an ARP warden in Kent recording the number of attacks in the late summer of 1940. We are also encouraging contributions from hitherto marginalised communities whose contributions to Britain’s war effort is often overlooked (Afro-Caribbean, Chinese, Nepalese, and South Asian communities)
As part of this project we are also launching a campaign – ‘Save Our Stories’ - around Remembrance Weekend (11-12 November) by asking individuals to act as ‘Champions’ to help members of their communities send in stories, and as part of this reaching out to schools and other youth groups to encourage them to mobilise their pupils to find, capture, and send us stories.