Birmingham and the First World War – oral histories

As part of Birmingham Museums First World War Centenary programme some of our first world war sound archive will be made available on-line.

The recordings were made in 1981 as part of a project called the Great War. A number of Birmingham men and women were interviewed about their experiences during the First World War. Their personal stories account for a whole range of experiences and include men and women who served on the Western Front as soldiers or in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, women who worked in munitions factories or who served as nurses in the city’s military hospitals, conscientious objectors, and experience of the war from a child’s perspective.

These interviews have been used over the years by researchers, and in exhibitions, most recently ‘Birmingham its people its history’. They have not previously been made available on-line. We will keep you updated via the blog when we upload new interviews over the coming months. Transcripts for the interviews will also be posted on the blog.

Highlights from this first batch of interviews include:

Lilly Duckham OBE

Lilly Duckham volunteered to serve in the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC). She was one of the first groups of women to serve overseas with the WAAC. Lilly was awarded an OBE for her service during the war.

Lilly Duckham in her Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps uniform c. 1917.

Lilly Duckham in her Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps uniform c. 1917.

Download Lily Duckham OBE transcript (pdf)

Marjorie Peers

Marjorie Peers was born in 1887. When war broke out Marjorie was apprentice clothes designer. She initially went into war work as a sail maker for a company in Bromsgrove Street. She also served in the WAAC.

Marjoree Peers

Marjorie Peers

Download Marjorie Peers transcript (pdf)

Elizabeth Cross

Elizabeth Cross was born in Small Heath. Cross discusses war on the Home Front from a child’s perspective. She discusses patriotic songs she sung at school, children’s games, as well as other popular songs, and seeing Belgium refugees in Birmingham. She also discusses the impact of Spanish flu epidemic after the war.

Download Elizabeth Cross transcript (pdf)

Max Berner

Max Berner was the son of Jewish immigrants from Latvia. He was born in Manchester but moved to Birmingham aged 3 months old. After leaving school Berner worked in the metal industry which led to him setting up his own scrap metal business at the beginning of the war. In March 1917 he enlisted with ‘H’ Special Company, Royal Engineers in the Poison Gas Section. He served in France and Belgium.

Download Max Berner transcript (pdf)

Jo-Ann Curtis,
Curator (History)

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