A conversation among historians at Chalke Valley History Festival 2016 led to the creation of WarGen, a project that seeks to digitally archive stories and memories from World War Two.
What is WarGen and what is your involvement in the project?
SG – The idea for WarGen initially came about during a conversation between James Holland and Dan Snow at the Chalke Valley History Festival in 2016 where it was mentioned that WW2 will soon pass out of living memory so with the help of Dan Morelle a site was set up for people to capture these memories from family members and the like and to upload them to the site for others to read.
It is a crowdsourced online repository that hopes to capture as many memories as possible from folk who have lived through World War Two before their memories disappear forever. Initially it was an oral history project where the subjects were recorded but due to the amount of interesting stories we have had emailed to us it has basically become a catch all of memories relating to growing up or serving during the years 1939-1945.
It is a volunteer led project and apart from a crowdfunder we ran in March 2018 which raised over £600 and covered the costs of equipment and advertising material it is completely self financed by the volunteers themselves.
As a volunteer I came on board and guided WarGen to what we have today. We have a large membership looking on and a hardy bunch of volunteers that actually go out and do the interviews. My role is now Coordinator and I spend several hours a day working on transcriptions, uploading to the site and connecting interviewers with interviewees. We put a lot of work into it but the rewards for investing the time is to hear the fabulous memories of the people from all over the world who come forward to be interviewed. It won’t be long until WW2 will pass out of living memory so it is vital we record as much as possible before it is truly gone forever and when that time comes the volunteers who have worked so hard can rest easy knowing they have done their bit to preserve the memories of that very special time.
How did you become part of the WarGen team?
SG – As mentioned I started as a volunteer and I can only surmise that my enthusiasm and belief in what WarGen was trying to accomplish eventually led to me being given the keys to the sites with the caveat that I try to pull things together and get the interviews recorded. It is very much a team effort however and the work others have carried out far surpasses my involvement with interviewers actually travelling the length and breadth of the UK to carry out interviews.
Have you always been interested in history? Was is something you studied or just a hobby?
SG – I have always been interested in history but it isn’t something I have studied. From an early age I was captivated with military history through the majority of my family having served in the forces at one time or another and I remember nights sitting round the table listening to the older generation share their ‘war’ stories and tales of derring-do, no doubt embellished due to the consumption of alcohol. But it certainly made me more aware of the conflicts they discussed ranging from WW2, the Korean War, the Malaya Emergency, the Cyprus Emergency and in latter years the Troubles, the Gulf Wars, the Balkan Wars and finally Afghanistan… all conflicts where a relative was involved.
My education took me down a different path so these days I would refer to myself as a military history aficionado backed up by years of reading, researching and discussion but sadly no official history based qualifications but who knows what the future holds.
You’re originally from Co. Antrim. Is there any WW2 related story relating to your hometown you think people should know?
SG – Yes, I’m originally from Antrim town itself but moved to Scotland over 20 years ago. Sadly my knowledge of WW2 history of my own hometown was rather limited in the mid 90s. I was aware of the airfields dotted around the Lough that operated during the war and that torpedoes were tested from a platform on the lough but that was about the extent of it… I have to say I was pretty blinkered.
Obviously the research we can carry out now thanks to the internet is amazing but back then, (and this is a bugbear of mine in relation to the history syllabus in schools in Northern Ireland) the lack of history taught in relation to who we were left a glaring hole in our education and development. Instead of being taught about the history of the Troubles, the wars that our relatives fought in etc. we were bombarded with learning about the Ancient Egyptians, the Vikings and the Battle of Hastings in 1066. All very interesting but missing the point that history should give us a grounding about who ‘we’ are.
So although I have no anecdotes or fascinating facts to anyone reading this I would say… go out and explore your own towns, villages and cities. History and its fascinating stories are there in front of you and just waiting to be rediscovered. As Eduardo Galeano said, ‘History never really says goodbye. History says, ‘See you later.’
What’s next for WarGen and how can our readers help?
SG – WarGen will just continue doing what we do and that is trying to find people willing to tell us their memories and search for those volunteers willing to go and record these memories. It is a fine balancing act and we are pretty thinly spread out over the UK. At present we have no volunteers covering any areas of Northern Ireland so it would be good to get folk willing to help out. It is a time critical project and the more volunteers we get the more success we are going to have in getting these amazing interviews recorded… without people getting invested in the objective we have nothing so if anyone out there is willing to be interviewed (civilian or veteran) or would perhaps like to become involved in WarGen you can contact me through the WarGen website at www.wargen.org or email me direct at [email protected] for further information. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to spread the word about WarGen.