This man is capturing the memories of World War II veterans while he still can

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Bravo! This is citizen history at its finest. Because of his work, historians in the future will have a wealth of first hand accounts of the Second World War to pull from. As some one who has lost both of my WW2 vet grandfathers, I’m glad that this is happening.


Oral history efforts like this are incredibly important. One of the reasons that right-wing populism has been able to crawl out from under the paving stones again is that the weight of the memories of those who lived through the fascist period in Europe has been critically lightened by time and mortality. Preserving them gives proponents of liberal democracy an authoritative reference point.

I hope that Sharma is extending what must be a personally rewarding project to include non-combat military veterans. The front-line soldiers, sailors and pilots have exciting stories to tell, but the war was also won by support and logistics troops.


With some exceptions.


It is also the reason we should talk to older relatives while they are still alive. Even recently while watching some documentary with my mom who’s in her mid 80s, on food waste (and the fact that bananas as well as other fruits have to have a particular shape to sell) she mentioned as a child seeing bananas at a confectionery store and throwing a tantrum until her mom bought her one, because she had never tasted it while growing in Europe in the 30s.


Keep in mind that this project is only for combat veterans and is therefore missing a significant segment of World War II veterans. There is a similar project which was established a number of years ago that is collecting information on all World War II veterans, Including women and those men who did not serve in combat.


Good on him.


A common story you hear from people who were kids during the Depression and the war is about being thrilled to get an orange as a gift for Christmas or a birthday. It’s difficult for those of us fortunate enough to have grown up in the West during the postwar economic anomaly (RIP) and a time of unprecedented global trade to appreciate that it wasn’t always like this (which leaves those who don’t study history unprepared for it to be that way again).


My mother served as a Wren (a member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service) in WW2 in Liverpool. A few years ago we persuaded her to write down her memories of those days, and my sister sent them, along with a lot of family photographs, news clippings, etc to an online publisher, which created a very nice hardcover book. We ordered a copy for every family member. I’m really glad we did, and I would encourage anyone to do the same.

Mom worked at Derby House in Liverpool, the naval command center for the Battle of the Atlantic. (It’s now a museum. ) She has lots of stories about her time there, and seeing Churchill and the king when they visited. She was not in combat, but the city endured ferocious bombing attacks — her family was bombed out of their home.

My wife’s older relatives have plenty of stories of life in Nazi-occupied Holland, which was grim indeed. Their history also deserves to be preserved.


My Grandmother used to like talking about her childhood in the 1930’s.

They spent a few years surviving on nothing but chokos and snared rabbits. Which was handy for me, as it guaranteed that I would never be served choko (yuck) at her house.


Just a point of clarification. Florence Green served for about two months during WW1 as an officer’s mess steward. The last surviving combat veteran was Claude Choules, who died in 2011.

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I’m still wary of universally calling everyone who served as a hero.
My granddad saw his service as a job, A difficult and unpleasant job, and one had little say over (he was conscripted). He never saw what he did as being particularly different from anyone else who spent their five years as a very small cog in a massive machine.


Another story of my mom’s was at the age of 4 or5 when her grandfather who worked for the railways, took her out with him to cut hay by the tracks (a side benefit of his employment) and she decided to put a bunch of stones on the track just to see how the train crushes them, but instead the train stopped and gave her grandfather heck for letting it happen. She felt really bad for him.

The hay was for the goat they kept for milk. The take away for me was how this patch of grass was something valuable for them, something we wouldn’t even think about today.


We had a WWII veteran of D-Day come to speak to my JROTC unit in the mid 1980’s. He’d lied about his age to join the Army, so was a whopping, but still strapping, 16 years old when he jumped out of a plane as a member of the 82nd Airborne division in June, 1944. He did the presentation in his original distinctive slash-pocketed Airborne combat uniform and demonstrated his original “cricket clicker”, which apparently many folks from his unit lost in the drop, and a German gravity knife he had captured.

He seemed an old, but fit man in my teen-aged memories. As I sit back and do the math more than 30 years later, he must have only been in his late 50’s, just a decade or so older than I am now. We recorded his presentation on an enormous VHS camera we had, but I am certain that any tape of it must be lost to time now.

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Heroism can often be described as doing an unpleasant, thankless but necessary task. Even, perhaps especially, if you have no choice in the matter.

Massive machines are brought to a grinding halt when a small cog fails.

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I have to really strongly disagree with that, sorry.

Heroism is special. Calling every dogface that did a good job a hero is just as denigrating to real heroism as calling cops who shoot unarmed men heroes.

To me, heroism has always been the physical expression of bravery in knowing service of a good greater than one’s own survival or welfare.

If you feel no fear, you aren’t brave, so you can’t be a hero. If your actions are self-serving, you aren’t a hero, so if you’re doing the job for money or being forced to do it you can’t be a hero.

It’s not the size of the job, it’s the conquering of personal fear to serve a goal larger than the personal.

I wish my grandfather had been more willing to talk about his wartime experience. All I could ever get from him was a description of being forced to patrol a parking lot in the freezing cold while officers inside were having a party. I gather from my grandmother (who he met in London) that he did a lot more than that, but he never once spoke of it to me.

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