On May the 8th staff, students, alumni, friends and families from the University Centre at Blackburn College, together with children from Blackburn Children’s University and members of the 5th Rishton Brownies commemorated VE Day 2020 by taking part in a variety of activities at home. Everyone was asked to send us photos and videos of their activities and we have made a showreel to capture everything. People were invited to make bunting, sing a song, do a dance, bake cakes, write a poem and we had a great response. Thanks to everyone involved and we hope you enjoy our showreel and photographs from the event.
The event was held remotely in accordance with government guidelines on social distancing.
We are disappointed that due to the pandemic residents at EACHSTEP Care Home were unable to join us in our original plans for a VE Day party at UCBC or take part in the activities but we hope they enjoy watching the showreel and reading the letters sent to them from The Children’s University.
First year Joint Hons student Nicole Roe has been awarded U.K. Youth’s Bronze Youth Achievement Award for her work with Blackburn Children’s University. Nicole is studying English Literature and History at the University Centre at Blackburn College and is participating in the Heritage Lottery Funded Project, ‘WWII East Lancs Childhoods: Sharing Stories, Making Memories’. Nicole organised a ‘design your own planet’ task at an event to commemorate the moon landings, and in November she delivered a ‘Dig for Victory’ activity for the children during the event ‘A Wartime Childhood’. Nicole also worked with the children and residents at EACHSTEP care home where they made bunting, poppies and played games prior to the coronavirus pandemic and the national lockdown.
To achieve this award, I had to choose two activities and challenges of my own, so I decided to help organise and take part in Children’s University events. I had to record every meeting and activity in order to create a portfolio of evidence to account for 30 hours preparation and activity time.
I believe it is important to take part in activities such as the Youth Achievement Awards and Children’s University as it allows you to gain confidence when it comes to helping organise events. It also enhances your skills of communication and problem solving. Participating in such activities allows us to gain vital skills for our future, but also helps the children by giving them the ability to gain a broad range of skills, showing them that learning can be fun. It encourages children to see that their education and future is important.’
Project leads Sandra Nichol and Dr Val Jessop said ‘Nicole has worked hard for this award and deserves to have her achievement recognised. She is an important participant in the Sharing Stories project’.
Blackburn Children’s University manager Sara Burton said ‘Nicole has been a vital part of the team both in the preparation and running of the events for Children’s University. The time and effort she puts in is fantastic and, she works well with both the children and adults. She uses her initiative, listens carefully to any instructions and fits in well with all the others that are involved. Nicole has great dedication and we are keen to continue working with her on our future activities’.
All events and interviews currently being shared on smallstories.blackburn.ac.uk took place prior to the nation’s COVID-19 lockdown and social distancing measures were followed. All future events have been postponed until they are safe to be held.
Children’s University members were asked to write a letter to the residents at Eachstep Care Home. Here are a couple of letters: one from Humaira in year 1 at St Silas Primary School and another from Jemima and Alisha, two sisters at Wensley Fold Primary School.
All activities took place remotely and in accordance with government guidelines on COVID 19.
The 5th Rishton Brownies have been holding their weekly meetings online for the past 5 weeks. The Brownies are aged 7 to 10 years old and do a variety of activities while working towards different badges. Their meetings have been slightly different since the lockdown and, last week, they decided to record some messages for the care home residents at Eachstep following the postponement of project activities due to the pandemic. The children wanted to pass on positive comments to the residents to let them know they care.
All activities took place remotely and in accordance with UK government guidelines on COVID 19.
Blackburn College University Centre is teaming up with Blackburn Children’s University to take part in a Stay at Home VE Day Party.
The stay at home party will take place on Friday 8th May 2020 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE Day, as part of the Heritage Lottery Funded WWII East Lancashire Childhoods: Sharing Stories, Making Memories project.
The event will see staff and students from the University Centre at Blackburn College and children from Blackburn Children’s University have picnics or afternoon tea in their homes or gardens, make bunting and flags, bake buns and write poetry.
Participants will be asked to share their VE Day moments by sending in photographs and short videos.
Project Leads Sandra Nichol, Lecturer in BA (Joint Honours) Pathways, and Dr Valerie Jessop, Programme Leader BA (Joint Honours), Lecturer in English Language and Linguistics, said: “We are looking forward to seeing all the photographs and videos of people commemorating the event in their own homes. These will be used to create a digital record of people’s activities and will be posted on our project website.”
Sara Burton, Blackburn Children’s University Manager, said: “This is a little bit different than what we had planned, but we still wanted to commemorate this momentous event. Children from Blackburn Children’s University have already been completing various challenges like painting pebbles red, white and blue, writing letters and making poppies.
“For VE Day we will be encouraging our members to make bunting, party hats and even have a picnic at home. I can’t wait to see the pictures and videos of how they are all commemorating this event.”
The Sharing Stories, Making Memories project is an inter-generational community arts project which commemorates the events of WWII. For more information visit smallstories.blackburn.ac.uk.
The project’s original VE Day 75th anniversary commemoration was initially set to take place at the College’s University Centre but was cancelled due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Early in February 2020, Sandra Nichol and Val Jessop (Project Leads) met with residents of EACHSTEP care home to enjoy a memorabilia afternoon.
Residents were shown some of the staff’s personal artefacts from WWII, in addition to a box of items kindly loaned by Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery. This helped the residents to reminisce about their experiences of childhood during war time.
The event was photographed by Photography students from the University Centre at Blackburn College School of Art and Society as part of their work-based learning.
All events and interviews currently being shared on smallstories.blackburn.ac.uk had taken place prior to the nation’s COVID-19 lockdown and social distancing measures. All future events have been postponed until they are safe to be held.
Here are some quotes from residents about the day.
Showing gas masks to female residents:
“I used to stick me lunch in mine and put it on me arm. Just carried it like that.”
When the sirens went off:
“They said ‘now there’s going to be a big noise y’know, so don’t be frightened’, but I mean I cried me eyes out, being a girl and I was only small, about 5 or 6.”
“When the sirens went off you’d have everything ready, your gas mask, and a lunch…and they used to open the cellar and we just used to go charging down y’know. They’d bring us something to eat. We used to go nearly every night. Me mother used to say ‘put your coats on ‘cos the sirens’ll be going in a minute’.”
“There was enough to survive on. It was a very healthy diet (laughs) for weight loss (laughs).”
“We went to Bury market just to buy sweets. You could buy as many as you wanted to buy. Everything was rationed. Didn’t matter what it was, it was all rationed ‘cos when the convoys of course were being destroyed, they were struggling to get food in so every patch of land was a plot. Every possible area, parks, everywhere, had something growing.”
“We played marbles mostly, indoors. You got a box of marbles for Christmas. Everybody else was the same, so you didn’t get upset about it.”
A vast transit camp of military tents 15 miles outside Manila in the Philippines just 18 days after the ending of the war in the Pacific. A sultry heat touching 30⁰C (86⁰F). The distinctive voice of songstress Gracie Fields drifting through the canvas, singing on a concert stage ‘to the boys close by’. A 22-year-old Lancashire lad composing the letter home to his parents he had ‘been waiting years to write’ . . .
Welcome to the second post on the blog, Lest We Forget. As part of the WWII East Lancashire Childhoods project the blog aims to examine how family memorabilia combined with shared recollections can help foster a better understanding of the generations associated with World War Two.
In composing this latest blog entry I found myself undecided as to how best proceed in recounting my own experience of family memorabilia and World War Two. In particular, my late father’s small ‘archive’ of material relating to his time as a prisoner of war in the Far East.
My original plan was to work briefly through an overview of dad’s collection of letters, documents and ephemera in as near to chronological order as possible as a means of highlighting the nature of family memorabilia, official sources and memory in the telling of history. And that is something I will do . . . on the next blog.
But for today, I want to jump out of sequence with that ‘archive’ because my original intention faltered as one powerful, recurring image came to mind again and again, prompted by perhaps the most distinctive-looking of the letters dad had been able to send home to Lancashire after the fall of Hong Kong on Christmas Day, 1941.
The letter is postmarked September 20, 1945.
It is just 21 centimetres by 16. About 200 words long. Written in a very neat, careful, deliberate hand. Small lettering in black ink on red-ruled, lightweight paper now faded by the passage of time. It is well crafted, well ordered. For a young man whose basic schooling had been interrupted by a variety of circumstances it shows clear signs of careful composition. It is a letter that had been several years in the making, mentally and emotionally.
Indeed, my dad’s letter to his father and stepmother opens on that very point.
“This is the letter I have been waiting years to write and I know you have been waiting just as long to receive it. A Free Man. Right through to the last I still retained good health also my spirit.”
He goes on to briefly recount a journey he and his comrades made by British destroyer-class warship from his final prison camp in northern Japan and then by air to the island of Okinawa and then on to Manila. He mentions the gradual arrival in Manila of “pals” from his regiment, scattered to different prison camps after the surrender of the colony four years earlier and now being reunited for transport home . . . “but I am very sorry to say only a few came through this hell”. In an aside, he reveals, “As I write this letter I can hear Gracie Fields singing to the boys close by”. He ends with a touch of humour, with a postscript to his father, saying he “can’t come home just yet I’ve got no hair on my head”.
I don’t recall seeing the letter I feature here in his lifetime. I worked as a journalist and now class myself as a historian – both trades seemingly reliant upon a questioning, enquiring mind. But I never asked dad about the practicalities of his repatriation from the prison camps. The mechanics of trans-Pacific movement. How could that be? Over the years I asked him very little about his wartime experiences. Again. How could that be? Perhaps a sense of avoiding risking memories too painful for him to relive? A silent, uneasy arrangement with the past within the family? Or, on my part, just the casual arrogance and thoughtlessness of youth before raising my own family took precedence?
And so, on reading the letter I had to do my own research about the repatriation of the Allied POWs through Manila; about the transit camps; the camp set up by the Australians where my father recuperated briefly; the onward journey home to West Coast America and Canada, and beyond. I checked singer, film actress and comedienne Gracie Fields’ role as troop entertainer and her Pacific odyssey in September, 1945, including concerts in the Manila troop hospitals and camps. I had half wondered if dad’s letter had meant he was listening to Gracie on the radio, but no, she had been performing for the ex-POWS just a stroll away. How much richer would that episode have been in the recounting if I had simply asked my father to tell me his wartime stories? I wonder what it would have meant to him for me to ask. Properly, with time set aside just to talk.
And that is a point I think that this blog encapsulates. It is the need, while opportunity presents itself, for us to know more of the older generation around us. To know their memories of childhood in the war years and their impressions of their own ‘elders’ . . . that past World War Two adult generation, my father’s generation. How much better to have that conversation now instead of, in my case, with time as an intermediary as my father speaks to me by means of a letter written on a scrap of paper 75 years ago?
On that note, I pose again a question or challenge I set in the opening blog:
What’s stopping you checking what you might have in the house that might provide a link with the wartime years? Why not have a root around? It’s good to talk. Start a family chat. Who knows what you might turn up, what surprises a relative might deliver up of childhood memories of the 1940s, or stories passed down to them by their own parents and elderly relatives? Perhaps saving themfor posterity, either as an audio recording, video or as handwritten notes.It could be an enjoyable experience. Something for the family as a whole to combine in and enjoy.
In the next blog I will examine the issue of oral history. The methods and ideas behind that most immediate of historical sources. The advantages and some of the pitfalls. And I will resume my father’s story, following his ‘archive’ in chronological fashion, from the surrender of British forces in Hong Kong and the means of families finding word of those missing in the pandemonium of war.
Incidentally, I watched a fascinating Channel 4 documentary in which actor Mark Rylance investigated his grandfather’s experience of captivity in the Far East – also in Hong Kong, although he remained in the former colony and wasn’t shipped to Japan. My Grandfather’s War, series one, episode two, was available on catch-up TV when last I checked.
In addition, for those wanting to know more about the end of World War Two in Europe, on May 8, 1945, I found the Imperial War Museum website a fascinating starting point, with information, links and powerful imagery on the Home Front celebrations. It can be accessed here.
I closed the first blog in this series with one of my favourite quotes on the nature of History and thought I would make it a regular feature. So here’s another observation that encapsulates so much of what I consider to be the essence of good history. Eric John’s remark, below, from his study of early England, is relevant for all periods. It cautions against too easy an assumption that an understanding of the past can come without a recourse to empathy, consideration and an awareness of context.
“If a historian does not understand the bounds of the social space within which the events he is studying occurred, all he is doing is to paint a picture of his own society in fancy dress” – Eric John, Reassessing Anglo-Saxon England (MUP), 1996, p1
Richard Croasdale grew up in Blackburn during the Second World War and here he shares his memories and stories of being a child during World War Two. Richard talks about what life was like in the family home, at school and playing outdoors in the local area. He remembers the end of the war, when the lights came back on, as the ‘most fantastic night of my life’.