Tag Archive | oral history

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)

An Expanding City – Birmingham stories

The expanding city is the 4th gallery in the suite of new Birmingham history galleries and looks at the period between 1909 and 1945. The gallery is divided into two sections, the first, A Vision of Birmingham, looks at the development of the suburban Birmingham during the early 20th century, and the second, Birmingham at War, focuses on the experiences of Birmingham people during the first and second world wars.


Within the expanding city, I was able to select some fantastic objects with great stories including: cream pots once used by dairy farmers in Moseley during the 1920s, and a 1914 Birmingham Battalion badge issued to men who volunteered for the Birmingham Pals at the beginning of the first world war; but for me the highlight was the opportunity to use recordings of people sharing their personal experiences.


Cream Pot, Cold Bath Farm, Moseley


Lapel Badge, Birmingham Battalion, 1914

The Museum has collected oral testimonies since the early 1980s, and has amassed an archive of over 1000 recordings with Birmingham people on topics as diverse as working life, migration, war, and the Bull Ring markets. Today we consider collecting oral histories a vital part of developing our Birmingham history collections, and where possible we will conduct an interview when acquiring a contemporary object.

‘Now it’s forgotten sometimes how during the war there were lots of refugees that came into Britain. They came from all parts of Europe, but many of them came from Austria, Czechoslovakia, there was in fact what they call a Czech army. A special group of men who joined the British Army of Czechoslovakians and other foreigners of a like, who wanted to fight fascism’.  Lilly Moody 

Enabling to someone tell their own story is very powerful, which is why the use of oral histories was key to developing these galleries.  Most of the displays are supported by a sound post where you can listen to a range of topics including: working at Cadbury’s, moving into a suburban council house during the 1930s, and volunteering for the Caribbean Regiment during the second world war. 


The Museum has particularly strong oral history collections relating the two world wars, and we wanted to make the most of these interviews in the new galleries. The central feature of Birmingham at War is an installation which features interviews with over 30 Birmingham people.


Jo-Ann Curtis, Curator (History)

Curatorial tours for an Expanding City

Throughout 2013 there are a number of curator-led tours of the Birmingham history galleries. The following tours will focus specifically on An Expanding City or may feature it as part of a wider gallery tour.

Tickets are available from reception and cost £2 per person. Tours begin at 1:00 in the Round Room.

  • 7 May – Cadbury’s Angels: Experience of Women Workers in the Early 20th Century by Jo-Ann Curtis
  • 18 June – From paintings to postcards: snap shots of Birmingham through its history by Jo-Ann Curtis
  • 2 July – Faith and Social Conscience: some examples of faith in action from Birmingham’s history by Henrietta Lockhart
  • 17 September – Birmingham at War: Industry during wartime, by Jo-Ann Curtis
  • 15 October – Birmingham: a city made by migration, by Henrietta Lockhart

Collecting stories for ‘Birmingham, its People, its History’: Peter Dolan

Staff at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery have spent the last year collecting oral histories and objects from Birmingham people. One of the people interviewed was the late Peter Dolan, a Big Issue seller who had become a familiar face in Birmingham city centre.

Peter had been selling the magazine in England and Ireland for over 10 years. He came to the museum in July 2011 to record his oral history; he spoke to museum staff about his early life and his experience of selling the Big Issue in Birmingham. Peter’s oral history along with his jacket and seller’s I.D. badge will go on display as part of the new galleries ‘Birmingham, its People, its History’ which opens on 12 October 2012.

Read In Memory of Peter Dolan on the Big Issue website.


Photo: (C) Andrew Jackson www.writtenbylight.com

We want your tales of the Bullring!

Do you recall Birmingham’s Bullring in the 1960s?

Have you witnessed its dramatic transformation in recent years?

We would love to hear your stories! Find us outside the Jane Norman store in the Upper East Mall at the Bullring between 11am and 4pm this Friday March 23rd.

We are recording oral history about Birmingham for the Your Birmingham gallery – one of the new Birmingham History Galleries that will open at BMAG later this year. Your story could be one of the ones to be recorded and heard by people in the gallery!


We have had a great response from the public when we have asked for their Birmingham memories, so we hope that many will share their stories about the Bullring too!