Oral histories of war and conflict

The Hiroshima Genbaku Dome after the bombing
The Hiroshima Genbaku Dome after the bombing, 1945.

About the collection

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. We would also recommend searching the extensive collections of oral histories of war and conflict held in the Imperial War Museum.

What is available online?

An in-depth interview with an interview with Joseph Rotblat, nuclear physicist and recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace for his efforts towards nuclear disarmament, is available via British Library Sounds.

 The Jewish survivors of the Holocaust collection gives access to over 260 full life story recordings from two important collections.  The Living Memory of the Jewish Community) collected the personal testimonies of the Jewish Holocaust recorded with Jewish survivors now living in Britain and from the children of survivors. The Holocaust Survivors' Centre Testimony Recording Project ,  is a National Life Stories collaborative project with the Holocaust Survivors' Centre, a Jewish social centre in north London for survivors who were in Europe during the Second World War or who came to the UK as refugees.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

First-hand war accounts

Walter Gregory: Spanish Civil War memories 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 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 offer a brief monologue describing the experiences of a private in the 2nd/5th Battalion Gloucester Regiment between August 1914 and November 1918.

The Sally Kimber Wartime Kent recordings 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.

The NLSC: General collection , in addition to the interview with Joseph Rotblat, contains an interview with Lord Hartley Shawcross, the chief British prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal.

The NSA: General 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).

International Conflicts

Bosnian Conflict Videos comprise of mainly off- air recordings from CNN, Bosnian, Yugoslavian and other television news coverage of the Bosnia Conflict.

Hiroshima survivor  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  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 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 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 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 are recordings on the subjects of pacifism and nuclear war, probably made in the late 1960s.

Further information

Search the online Sound and Moving Image catalogue to retrieve detailed information for every oral history interview.  All recordings without access restrictions can be accessed in the Reading Rooms via the Listening and Viewing Service.

See the collection guide to Oral History and webpages for National Life Stories: the oral history charitable trust based at the British Library.  

Contact us

Oral History
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom