A colleague who is familiar with our project recommended a blog today that he thought would be of interest – Socks for the Boys! By Alison Twells records the World War II diary of her great aunt Norah Hodgkinson. I was surprised when I reviewed my research that only 4 out of my 18 stories relate to either of the two world wars, certainly when making site visits, the war memorial along with the church and church yard was a key focus, and the discovery of so many airbases in Northamptonshire has meant that we could perhaps have produced an entire publication based solely on military inhabitants. I will be interested to compare T’s final tally of war related stories with my own. I was also disappointed to discover that only 6 out of my 18 individuals are women, I was hoping for a more balanced representation; but it does mean that we were correct to reject one of our initial ideas, which was to produce a woman-only based publication!
Socks for the Boys! is rich with Norah’s wartime memories, and alongside the actual diary entries there is often an imagined story that relates to specific facts – in one of her posts Twells does start to question this particular aspect of the writing:
The issue of how far we use our imaginations in writing history is very topical in the history blog world at the moment. Helen Rogers and Matt Houlbrooke have both written recently about their own use of styles of writing more commonly associated with fiction than academic history. So I want to explore here not only why I feel compelled to ‘fictionalise’ at times, but also to explore what ‘to fictionalise’ really means?
Read the full post at :
In addition to the diary there are also references to related works, and whilst I have only got part way through the entries, there is another key reference to a book by anthropologist Daniel Miller – The Comfort of Things – the book examines a London street and 30 of its households, it records the things and objects that are important to the inhabitants and their relationship with specific objects.
Reading a review of the book I was interested to see that someone had referred to the book as a series of ‘portraits’ – I like the use of this term and think it applicable to what we are doing – I have been referring to our research as ‘stories’ but I don’t think this is really appropriate – as it could be misconstrued as something ‘imagined’ – which they are not.
This thread of the ‘imagined’ is interesting – I feel somewhat contradictory in wanting our ‘portraits’ to be highlighted as real-life, when the visual language I have been exploring utilises found photographic imagery to represent specific individuals. The dilemma is that in a few instances I have found actual photographs of the named individual to use, so will a mix of the two sit comfortably together – or should they all be ‘imagined visual portraits’? (above: is the imagined Lady Villiers and the real Thomas Cook).
After almost six months of researching the 18 villages of the north section, I feel disappointed that this aspect of the project is almost over. Following the Malaga meeting with T, I spent time re-visiting stories that I had initially rejected; some I approached from a different angle, the workhouse at Duddington for example, whilst others I accepted had sufficient information to form a story – only Great Oxenden and Harringworth remain unresolved. Whilst we had agreed that gaps would be acceptable, having got this far, I feel encouraged to continue with research to find the two missing stories. The difficulty is not always in finding the individual person, but in the story itself having some merit – either visually or in terms of social history.
A weekend away enabled us to discuss things face to face (rather than relying on email or FaceTime) this is much easier when sharing and reviewing information which involves physical objects and images.
P: Firstly we reviewed each others individual stories so far; since T’s recent blog posts which were very inspiring – I had felt pressurised to fill any ‘gaps’ – so I had made a concerted effort in the last week to doggedly further my investigation, mostly through the internet, but this led to another form of research which resulted in emailing a vicar, a boxing expert and a American descendent of an USA air officer to help with the detail of some potential stories. The responses (some ongoing) were all very fruitful – and in hindsight this could have been undertaken much earlier on in the process. Through talking with T she made me realise that I have enough information to work with already – however short or limited the story itself. Her rationale was that a postcard is after all just a snapshot of a moment in time, therefore as we are using this as a vehicle for the book pages our aim is to provide a glimpse into the social history of each place, however brief!
T: Having a sustained time period to discuss found individuals and their stories provided the grateful opportunity to discuss, question, reflect and identify a new ‘to do’ list of further research in response to my own 18 towns and the visual research P presented. Inspired by P’s correspondence with individuals to extend her research I too have contacted a vicar and B&B landlady this week! The range of imagery P has already considered forms a coherent body of work and very much supported me to have confidence in and clarify my own visual arts practice. In response to this I have spent some time this week gathering visual imagery to make use of including bicycles and mules!
P: Further conversation was based around the design process and some of the detailing. For example – the production of each postcard page should in some way have a sense of individuality – i.e embellished or over-printed etc and we looked at the stitching samples to ensure parity between the two book halves. We discussed the possibility of using either found imagery or our own site photography to produce a postage stamp for the cards. We felt that the most productive way forward would be to start designing, making and printing the stories and pages that are already resolved whilst continuing with research; this is made possible by the fact that each page is a singular A6 card that can be produced in isolation. It is hoped that this method will enable us to keep the project momentum going and offer a sense of progression!
T: Having time to continue our conversations provided the opportunity to further confirm the making process through sketchbook visuals in addition to establishing new dates for meeting and making days. I have spend some time this week reading to clarify stories and am now beginning to work on editing text so that the written side of the postcards can be produced.
First research into Staverton has led to an Elizabeth Darby who bequeathed a fire engine to the village in 1720 following a fire which destroyed 22 houses, haystacks, stables and grain stores from the original village behind the church. Who was Elizabeth? and why a fire engine?
I found this image of a fire engine within the Information & History section of the Staverton Parish Website. Allegedly the fire engine was kept in the village until recently when it was moved to Daventry museum.
The altered Medieval village sign pays tribute to RAF Chipping Warden which significantly changed the village for 5 years from 1941-1946. An airfield, hospital and series of Nissan huts were built just northwest of the village. The hospital is now a school, one of the Nissan huts is the football club’s hut and the the aerodrome is part of an industrial estate. An account from Domesday Reloaded records that the hospital became a school in the early 1950’s and notes that the single story building has long corridors and wards turned into classrooms.
First research into RAF Chipping Warden led me to names of individuals who were based there and stories of war time raids. One in particular listed the last flight of a Wellington Bomber which crashed south east of the airfield killing all but one of her crew. LP286 was returning home and overshot the airfield due to engine problems. The crew were remembered with honour and were all aged early to mid twenties:
Flight Sergeant WJ Hillier -Pilot
Sergeant H Mairs -navigator
Sergeant AG Grant- Air Bomber
Sergeant JB Egan – Wireless Operator
Sergeant P McGowen- Air gunner
Sergeant PV Birch- Air gunner (only survivor)
The story continues with an account of a meeting with a witness to the crash. At the time the witness attended the old primary school by the church in the centre of the old village. The man recalled the plane flying over with smoke trailing from the starboard engine and that following the crash the children were sent home. The witness continued with memories of the excitement of planes flying, and as a small child having no awareness to the true horror of the crash.
In response to sharing working practices with P I have begun to piece together the different strands of my research in order to collate the visual and written data to document the 18 towns within my section of the walk. Literally piecing together through cutting, sticking, writing and drawing adding layers and linking elements within my sketchbook has enabled me to search out an image, an individual and their story. I still have gaps but am slowly beginning to see how each story fits with it’s neighbour and where there is a gap my research is becoming more purposeful.
Several stories and their corresponding images need to be further refined before they are posted, however this process of re-assessing and re-looking has led to the uncovering of a greater level of detail and some ideas around the visual imagery to best represent the found stories.
Research this week has been through use of the internet which whilst has made effective use of my time (commuting to and from work) may need to be further expanded by returning to make additional site visits.
The diary begins at Braunstone Turn, after the boats had unloaded supplies in Birmingham post Christmas and were on their way to load coal north of Coventry, and continues until October 1943 documenting the day to day lives of Evelyn, Audrey and Annie as they worked Sun and Dippper together as Idle Women.
Evelyn had trained as an artist at the Royal College of Art and was working at the Camouflage Department of the War Ministry when she read an advertisement in The Times placed on behalf of the Department of War Transport calling for women volunteers to become boatmen for a minimum weekly wage of £3. It noted only women of robust constitution and good health should enter this employment! The women were issued with a National Service badge form the Inland Waterways inscribed with the letters IW sitting on waves. This led to the nickname Idle Women. The young women who had volunteered to replace canal boatmen who had gone off to war were proud to use the term Idle Women. After a few weeks training the women found themselves operating a powered motorboat towing an unpowered butty. Each pair of boats carried up to 50 tons of essential supplies along the canals.
Evelyn’s diary includes descriptions of the changing landscape, friendships made along the way and the longs working hours and daily routines the girls established as they lived and worked together as boatmen.