Jewels of our past

Recording memories of the British Armed Forces

Project duration: 18 months

Project summary:

This project shows how individuals have been affected by the British Armed Forces, either through personal service, or the service of their friends or relatives. It is hoped that the material that has been collected will be published in book format in mid 2013.

I have taken the decision to limit the area of study for this book to the North of Britain. Largely, this is a matter of personal affinity. I have lived and studied in this area and thought I could write more passionately about a geographical area that I share a connection to. I also thought it was of utmost importance to personally meet as many of the interviewees as possible, which would be facilitated by my close proximity.However, the testimonies are not only applicable to the North of Britain. They make broader statements about the impacts of warfare and military service, as well as the benefits of oral history. The stories of the participants featured within this book, although individual, are also representative of the many thousands of people whom have been influenced by the British military.

Project reflections:

It is perhaps symptomatic of the increasing rarity of those who experienced the Second World War, that such recollections form the majority of this project and book. It is likely that this is the case for two reasons. Firstly, because people are aware that time is growing short to pass on their memories. This also has an influence on family members who experienced the consequences of their relatives military service during this conflict. They now increasingly feel the desire to preserve their memories too, precisely because they are aware of the declining numbers of veterans of the conflict means that time is growing short to do so. Secondly, the Second World War involved millions of British men and women, both in the services, or who had family serving. Therefore, for varying reasons, it should be noted that people of all ages had the opportunity to become involved with the project, be they witnesses or grandchildren with family stories to tell. The War affected everyone; therefore most families have a story to tell.

Appeals for interview subjects were placed using a variety of different media, both traditional (newspapers and family history journals) and modern (websites and social media.) By doing this, the possibility of inadvertently targeting a specific age-bracket was reduced. As a result of these precautions, the demographics provide strong evidence to link advancing age with likelihood of passing on memories. Older people are far more likely to want to share their stories than younger people. Whether this is a theme relevant exclusively to the Second World War generation, or whether it is a consequence of advancing age, cannot be determined at present. Nevertheless, this analysis shows why recollections of the Second World War, recollections from personal experience or memories of family history, are the most prevalent material collected in this project.

Contact details

Contact person: David Hiscocks


4 Ripon Gardens
Jesmond Vale
Newcastle upon Tyne



This guide is for people who record oral history interviews, and organisations and individuals who keep collections of oral history recordings in the four nations of the United Kingdom. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland comprise the UK and amongst them have three legal systems. However so far as the law is referred to in this document it is safe to assume that all come within the wider context of UK and European law. The Oral History Society promotes the use of oral history techniques to record the memories of those whose life stories would otherwise be lost to future generations, and encourages researchers and teachers to make use of oral history in their work.

It is essential that interviewees should have confidence and trust in interviewers, and that recordings should be available for research and other use within a legal and ethical framework which protects the interests of interviewees. The following information and guidelines are aimed at ensuring that these objectives are achieved.

Anyone involved with the creation and preservation of oral history interviews should take steps to safeguard their reputation for trustworthiness. This means ensuring that what they do is within the various UK and European laws that apply to oral history and that they have not been acting illegally. Oral historians generally speaking have a good reputation in this respect. This guidance is therefore offered as reassurance and advice to both interviewers and interviewees.

The Oral History Society believes that, while oral history work must comply with the law, legal requirements alone do not provide an adequate framework for good practice. No UK law was designed specifically to regulate oral history work; in fact no law even mentions it. Beyond legal considerations we have long held the view that oral historians should abide by a voluntary set of ethical guidelines.

For these reasons this guide covers responsibilities and obligations beyond legal requirements. Members of the Oral History Society, including those who are custodians, archivists and librarians, have agreed to abide by these guidelines.

The guidance reflects the workflow of a typical oral history interview. Much of the legal and technical detail is available not within the main guidance text but via hypertext links so that the key steps and terms can be understood and followed. There are also links to sample documents and resources.