Tuesday 4 February 2020

Military Veteran Recordings

Recordings of parents, grandparents and others born a long time ago are invaluable in learning about family history and history in general. While not always entirely accurate due to fading memories, they allow, firstly, preservation of the voices of those now gone from our lives and, secondly, glimpses into actual events by people who were there.

I will be giving talks at the Family Tree Live event in April. In addition to activities and presentations about family history, the event will also celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE Day, which tool place on 8 May 1945. Many of the speakers and exhibitors will focus on the military.

In this post, though, I want to deal with sources that I came across several years ago, but for whatever reason have never used in a blog post.

There are a few websites on which you can hear individuals speak about their experiences during the major wars of the 20th century, as well as other military activities. These are actual recordings of soldiers or their family members talking about actual events. Most have transcripts available with the recordings.

One site is called The Memory Project, which “houses more than 2,800 testimonials and over 10,000 images from veterans of the First World War, Second World War, the Korean War and peacekeeping missions. While the archive no longer accepts submissions, it remains the largest of its kind in Canada.” The group also provides speakers for schools and communities. Information and recordings are available in both English and French.

Veterans Affairs Canada hosts a First World War Audio Archive where, again, you can “[l]isten to Veterans as they recall their life and times during the war years.” The site also has a substantial amount of information about other aspects of the war and Canadians’ involvement. The Veterans Affairs site itself is the place to go to learn about all of Canada’s military activities, in English and in French.

For the United States, “[t]he Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.”

The US Library of Congress has a department, Recorded Sound Research Center, where audio and visual material is stored and accessible by the public. One such library is the Marine Corps Combat Recordings.

The Imperial War Museum, in the United Kingdom, has a Sound Archive which “holds over 33,000 recordings relating to conflict since 1914. This consists of the largest oral history collection of its type in the world, with contributions from both service personnel and non-combatants as well as significant holdings of speeches, sound effects, broadcasts, poetry and music.”

Family historians may find any or all these sites of interest. Members of their own family might even be featured. In addition to the audio recordings, they also contain substantial information about past war records.