Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013
The Second World War Experience Centre is a Leeds-based archive dedicated to preserving the memories of anyone involved in the Second World War. Most of our ancestors living through those times would have been touched by the war in some way, for example serving in the armed forces, taking in an evacuee, experiencing the bombing of their local area, or being affected by food and other necessity shortages. One of the most interesting features about this wonderful archive is that it contains a varied collection of material including diaries, photographs, books, official papers and oral recordings, preserving the memories of people that the war had an impact on in some way.
The Centre was established in 1998 and was registered as a charity the same year. The archives quickly grew and as word of the Centre’s work spread, more material was donated. In February 2003, staff was delighted when they achieved full registered museum status.
Those featured in the archives include people who fought against the allies, civilians on both sides of the conflict, children whose young years were affected by the war and people who opposed the fighting for religious or moral reasons. Whether you are hoping to find a particular relative, or simply want to research this period to complement your family tree findings, you are bound to find something of interest.
Visits to the Centre are by appointment only to allow the staff to give everyone a warm welcome. The material available is constantly being added to and people are encouraged to donate material; particularly precious are the recorded memories of those who experienced the war in various capacities because if these had not been recorded, like much other family history
Material which is committed only to memory, they would have been lost forever.
The museum’s is an excellent starting point for family history research. It gives a comprehensive taste of the varied material and the different collections on offer, which include war in the air, on land and at sea, the civilians’ war, clandestine war and the newly-developing Axis war section comprising German and Italian alliance material, plus information on foreign nationals and British civilians abroad.
To help people researching their family history, staff at the Centre has set up a ‘Useful links’ section on its website. This gives details of many different organisations that can assist anyone building their family tree, including overseas contacts and groups which may serve in putting old friends and family members back in touch.
It is impossible to calculate the number of people who were affected by the Second World War, an event which would have had a huge impact on the lives of our ancestors. The work carried out at the Centre allows the public access to a huge variety of documents and memories which may otherwise have been lost, destroyed or forgotten. The stories told there are a part of history preserved to help future generations understand what life was like during the Second World War.
• All photographs courtesy of The Second World War Experience Centre.
Bringing history to life
One of the most interesting sections of the website for family history researchers is the space devoted to the memories of those who lived through the war. Their experiences are many and varied, and some are accompanied by photographs and audio clips – an exciting way of bringing history to life through the words of those who were there.
Patricia Potton, like many other young girls, eagerly joined the Wrens as soon as she became eligible, despite having her call-up papers burnt by a family member. She shares her memories of how unusual it was when women began to work during the war years, and remembers how wives were still expected to do most of the work at home, despite working the same long hours as their husbands.
A most poignant tale is that of sisters Pam and Judy Crisp, aged 13 and 11 respectively, who were evacuated from London early in the war to Deal in Kent. Their father, Alfred, who worked as a firewatcher in London, sent them beautifully illustrated letters detailing humorous events happening at home. On the centre’s website, Judy describes her excitement at waiting for the postman to deliver another letter from her dad, and her sadness at his premature death in 1950; he was only 58, but had suffered poor health due to serving in World War 1 and being gassed at Ypres.
Brave Second World War firewatcher, artist and doting father Alfred Crisp.
Right is a selection of the precious letters and postcards Alfred Crisp sent to his evacuated daughters Pam and Judy? The Centre is always grateful for donations of material, no matter how small, so if you think you may be able to help, and then get in touch.