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Oral history: war, conflict and trauma

Several oral history collections held at the British Library Sound Archive relate to war and the traumatic experiences associated with conflict. Unique records of the experiences of those involved in conflict are also held, as well as conscientious objectors and those involved in the science and technology behind war and conflict, as well as exploring the international perspective of war.

For collections relating to the Holocaust see Jewish experience in Britain and Holocaust Testimonies.

First-hand war accounts

  • Walter Gregory: Spanish Civil War memories (catalogue no: C697) are the personal reminiscences of the Spanish Civil War from a Nottingham veteran of the International Brigade. Wounded three times, he also served in the Navy during the Second World War.
  • The Kay Foster Gulf War recordings (catalogue no: C752) are the audio diaries of a major in the Royal Army Nursing Corps serving in the Gulf War 1990-1.
  • The F.H. Edwards First World War memories (catalogue no: C754) offer a brief monologue describing the experiences of a private in the 2nd/5th Battallion Gloucester Regiment between August 1914 and November 1918.
  • The Sally Kimber Wartime Kent recordings (catalogue no: C559) are a compilation of memories from Kent during the Second World War compiled for a BBC Radio Kent documentary.
  • An interview with Harry Rée, member of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the Second World War, is included in Leaders of National Life (C408).

International conflicts

  • Bosnian Conflict Videos (catalogue no: C705) comprise of mainly off-air recordings from CNN, Bosnian, Yugoslavian and other television news coverage of the Bosnia Conflict.
  • Hiroshima survivor (catalogue no: C358) is a 1957 talk in English given by Mrs Junko Kline, a survivor of atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, on 6 August 1945.
  • Hiroshima Witnesses Videos (catalogue no: C1050) is a collection of 15 extracts from a series of interviews with survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima at 8.15 am on 6th August, 1945, produced in 1986 by the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation.
  • Wartime stories, in particular reminiscences of evacuation and rationing, are also a main feature of the Millennium Memory Bank (C900) recordings. The recordings in the Millennium Memory Bank derived from the joint BBC and British Library project The Century Speaks: Millennium Oral History Project. This is one of the largest collections of oral history interviews ever to have been assembled - a unique and invaluable snapshot of how the British think of themselves and their past from the perspective of the beginning of a new millennium.

Anti-war and pacifist collections

  • The John Crabbe CND recordings (catalogue no: C879) are recordings made by John Crabbe, who, in the late 1950s, was active in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The collection includes recordings of Bertrand Russell, Canon L. John Collins, Cecil Day Lewis, and Vanessa Redgrave.
  • Women Conscientious Objectors (catalogue no: C880) collection comprises of life story interviews with British women conscientious objectors from the Second World War, recorded by Rena Feld in 1997-8, in association with Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre with funding from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.
  • The Doc Rowe pacifism recordings (catalogue no: C1144) are recordings on the subjects of pacifism and nuclear war, probably made in the late 1960s.

Related recordings

  • The NLSC: General (C464) collection also holds material relating to war and trauma, including an interview with Joseph Rotblat, nuclear physicist and recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace for his efforts towards nuclear disarmament, and Lord Hartley Shawcross, the chief British prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal.
  • The NSA: General (catalogue no: C465) collection also includes interviews that touch on the subject of war including those with Dame Jean Conan Doyle (member of the WRAF and intelligence officer during the Second World War).

Accessing the collections

To access oral history material:

  • Search for oral history recordings held at the British Library using the online Sound and Moving Image Catalogue (see useful advice on searching the oral history collections).
  • Onsite access to oral history recordings: The Listening and Viewing Service in St Pancras provides free public access to the oral history collections on an appointment basis. Many digital recordings are also available via SoundServer, a computerised listening facility located in the Humanities Reading Rooms.  SoundServer is also available at the British Library’s site in Boston Spa in Yorkshire.
  • Internet access to selected oral history recordings: The British Library Sounds website gives remote access to a selection of interviews from the Library’s oral history collections. Some recordings are currently only licensed to Higher and Further Education users in the UK, others are available for full public access.

Further information

Contact us

Oral History
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

T +44 (0)20 7412 7405 (Rob Perks, Lead Curator, Oral History  / Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7406 (Mary Stewart, Curator, Oral History / Deputy Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7404 (Elspeth Millar, Archivist, Oral History)