Ask someone about the Channel Islands, and apart from the few who perhaps went there during Easter Holidays with their families, many will look a little confused, or perhaps cite them as the tax haven of choice for UK millionaires. Despite them being as much a part of Britain as the Isle of Man is, their proximity to France means their prominence in UK history is almost non-existent. This is unfortunate due to their interesting and extensive past, most significantly of which was the occupation of all four islands, Sark, Alderney, Guernsey and Jersey, by the Nazis during the Second World War. This means that despite the overall euphoria of post-war Britain that comes with being the little island standing last and alone against the might of Germany, Hitler did actually manage to place the jackboots of his soldiers firmly on the ground of his enemy.
For me, this is hugely fascinating. To have a population of British citizens on British sovereign territory under the rule of Nazi authority, in the same way as their neighbours in France were for all those long years, is stunning to think of. It is incredible to think this given the way the history of the Second World War is presented in countless books, films, television and radio programmes and countless other media. It hasn’t been purposefully covered up from these outlets at all – on the contrary, the plight of the Channel Islanders was covered during the War itself regularly, as I discovered when investigating the topic during my undergraduate dissertation, which looked into the Jersey and British newspaper coverage during the war. There has also been within the last few decades or so books and articles published which cover the Nazi occupation across the Islands, with historians such as Madeline Bunting, Charles Cruikshank and Gillian Carr leading the research in this area.
Oral history often investigates uncovered and neglected stories and lives, of which the Channel Islands are most definitely able to fall into this category. Although there have been interviews conducted for the work mentioned above, there has yet to be extensive oral research conducted pursuing the memories and lives of those who lived through the Occupation, of their experiences and own interpretations, rather than just their chronology of the war. It would be incredibly insightful to examine the patterns of remembrance that occur with the men and women interviewed on this period of their lives, especially as there are mythologies tied into the Channel Islands that are independent of those myths attached to the Second World War alone. These include the concepts of resistance from the Nazis which is a difficult topic even now to address, as well as the potentially uncomfortable suspicion of fraternisation and collaboration which have surrounded the Channel Islands since their liberation in 1945. An extensive oral history of say Jersey or Guernsey, the largest and second largest islands respectively, would contribute greatly to their own local history for future generations and interpretations, but also to the overall view of Britain during the Second World War. Associated with this of course are the benefiting effects oral testimonies will give to the historic record which other sources could simply not provide, due to the personal and deep-rooted nature of the issues concerning collaboration/fraternisation and also resistance. It would also be beneficial to conduct this important and influential research sooner rather than later due to, as is the unfortunate case with Second World War oral testimonies, the increasing age of the concerned populace.
This comes along a little late, but nevertheless better late than never I suppose. I feel like my concerns are probably bigger than my hopes at the moment since I am still unsure about who I will be interviewing for this assignment. I have not yet received a solid response but still hoping to create an interview based in the field of terrorism. I actually came across something very interesting quite recently which I wasn’t aware of. We have all of course heard of the 7/7 bombing attacks at King’s Cross in London in summer 2005 I actually remember it quite well because a couple of days after the attacks it happened I was traveling to London for the very first time, what a strange welcome that was!
Anyway, something, or someone rather, I hadn’t heard of before is Sajda Mughal. She was actually present during the attacks and compared to the 52 victims who were unfortunately killed, she survived, witnessed, and decided to dedicate her life to persuading extremist to swear off violence. At the time of the attack, Sajda was 22 and gave up her career to form the JAN trust, a women’s charity that helps women from ethnic minorities, including refugees and asylum-seekers, to integrate society. Besides helping those women, she also aims to stop young people from being radicalized.
When reading her story I knew it would be difficult and delicate to create an interview either with her or with other women part of this charity. Quite frankly, I am not an expert on Islam, not close to being one actually, but I know that if I decide to do an interview in this direction I would be rather thrilled to interview someone like Sajda and not only understand what it must feel like to experiment something such as terrorism, but also understand her stance, and those of other Muslim women in a society such as Britain, in which hundreds of young people have already left to join the Jihad in Syria.
As a whole I am having extremely mixed feelings about this interview. On the one hand I am considerably stressed not having received a formal response, and on the other, I am really looking forward to this interview and to be able to look back at it thinking that this was perhaps one of the most enriching and exciting experience of my academic life so far.
Tucked half way up Barking Road in Newham is the office of the Roma Support Group. Surrounded by a cultural and religious mish-mash of mosques, Christian Churches and Caribbean fruit sellers, this is where the Roma of East London come for help making sense of their new lives in the UK. It’s also the location for my first meeting with Sylvia and Tania, the two ladies who are responsible for keeping the advice centre going.
As we chat over a cup of tea, Sylvia tells me about what she calls the ‘carrier bag’ problems the Roma bring to them. She describes how many will arrive with a plastic bag full of letters and junk mail, ignorant of their contents but hopeful that someone will read and explain them. It’s a reminder of how difficult it is to function in a society when you don’t understand the language and struggle with literacy.
My tutor Graham then reminds me of the Roma’s strong oral tradition, passing their stories from generation to generation through speech, music and song. In many ways, this was the first type of ‘oral history’ and one that has enabled Roma culture and their past to survive.
It appears to have instilled a sense of identity and belonging in a group that isn’t a homogenous nation and doesn’t have a state of its own. Both are areas I would like to explore further in my interview. Another is how, or if, the barrage of bad press the Roma receive from certain sections of the UK media is undermining that identity.
Tania and Sylvia tell me they notice the development of an inter-generational tension within Roma families in the UK. They say the younger generation can be reluctant to describe themselves as Roma because they believe it carries a stigma and is a barrier to their progress. Cultural traditions and past-times are also a battleground as a new generation increasingly adopts the values and lifestyle of the country they’ve grown up in.
It’s clear from our conversations that the interview itself will present a number of challenges. Language and trust are top of the list. After much discussion, Tania says she will try to arrange for me to speak to Dudek, a musician, in his 40s, originally from Poland. He came to the UK ten years ago as an asylum seeker. However, she warns me to keep my questions short and simple, as his English is competent but patchy.
I’m relieved that I don’t have to conduct my first interview through an interpreter but I have roped Graham into a little extra work. The hierarchy of the Roma community is such that Sylvia thinks the group’s President Rosa should be interviewed first. That interview must be conducted through an interpreter. Graham kindly offers to take on the task.
From Factory to Farm – one Land Girl’s story.
The ‘land girls’ have been described as the forgotten veterans of the Second World War. These women, members of the Women’s Land Army, were recruited to help increase the amount of food grown in war time Britain.
The Women’s Land Army was first created during the First World War, and then re-established shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, in June 1939. It was disbanded again in 1950.
At its peak in 1943 over 80,000 women from all backgrounds were ‘land girls’. (Imperial War Museum, 2013)
I am going to interview Dorothy, aged 82, who was a land girl in 1948 aged 17 (despite the minimum age for joining up being 17 and a half). She left her family and her job in a mill in urban Yorkshire to be part of the Women’s Land Army in rural East Suffolk.
I am interested in the history of women during the Second World War and the period of austerity which followed – specifically the employment opportunities afforded to women as a result of the war, the ways in which it also presented a chance for some women to leave the constraints (social and financial) of their parents and gender relationships in the aftermath of war.
I hope that my interview with Dorothy will give me an opportunity to explore these themes. In addition, as the number of land girls alive today diminishes all the time, I believe it is important to record and give a voice to their experiences.
This week the Home Secretary promised yet again to “get tough” on immigration. Theresa May’s Bill is designed to reassure a public who are warned daily, by the press, of an impending ‘invasion’ of Roma migrants to the UK. It’s a well-rehearsed dialogue that has been at the forefront of political debate since the E.U. opened its internal borders in the late 1990s. More than 15 years on, the script remains the same. We hear from the press. We hear from Government ministers. Occasionally, a few members of the British public are asked to give their thoughts. But, where are the Roma? Their’s is the ‘hidden voice’ in this debate and that is why I’ve chosen to interview a member of the Roma community in the UK for my Oral History task.
I hope it will give me a glimpse beneath the stereotypical image. Why have they chosen to come to the UK? How did they travel here? And, how long did they intend to stay? Many of the older generation experienced life under Communism and persecution after it. Their stories have not been told because their countries denied them citizenship and forced them to move on. Where is home for them now?
I would like to explore the question of identity, including its public denial by some Roma. Also, how, and if, that sense of identity survives attempts to assimilate and integrate them into a new host country.
The average Roma lives to just 50 years of age so it is important to capture their memories now before the voice of the late Twentieth Century Roma is lost forever.