Mrs. Hamilton was eleven years old when the Second World War broke out. Through an interview with her I am hoping to find out more not only more about her lived experiences, but more about the experiences of women and girls during the Second World War.
But this is not only the information I hope to learn from the interview. I hope to learn a new level of listening in order to better conduct the interview. I also hope to learn how to appropriately time questions so I don’t rush the interview.
I found it relatively easily to find a person to interview, so my main concerns come from the interview process itself. I’m very nervous because for reasons ranging from the fact that Mrs. Hamilton speaks very quietly and I want to make sure that the recorder will pick up her voice properly to more major concerns where I don’t want this to feel like an interrogation. In other words I’m concerned with finding a balance and landing in an interview space, rather than a visit or an interrogation.
The summer before I graduated with my undergraduate degree. I distinctly remember walking around a dig site during our field school excavation and thinking. “I wish we could just ask them what this structure was for—it’d be so interesting to know for certain.” It was the ‘for certain’ that got me. Later in a medieval history class I had the same questions: “If only I could ask them what it was really like to live in the fourteenth century.” Obviously, without a time machine such questions are now impossible to ask.
I’ve found myself (and heard others) asking similar questions about periods in time much closer to the present. My younger brother once asked me “I wonder what it was like to be a fighter pilot during the Second World War” in response to my question about a project he was working on. These are exactly the type of questions that oral history can help us answer. It can help us to preserve others’ lived experiences and extend their voices into the future. It can provide a window to help us understand what life was really like for people as historic events were taking place and how those events impacted their lives personally.
It is in this vein of preservation as well as my own interest in gender roles that I have selected the topic for my interview: women’s roles and how they shifted during and after the Second World War. I would like to interview a woman who lived through the war. I intend to pursue the interview as her life story while paying particular attention to how the war impacted her ideas about gender roles as well as shifts in those roles over time.
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.