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Writing in the Sunshine. Writing in the Shadows.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Adventures in the Archives

We all have quirks. I like archives. A hobby I have taken to ridiculous lengths by embarking on a PhD in History.

Last week I spent a fascinating few days at the UK National Archive, at Kew, in London. Well, I found it fascinating, although I can see that not everyone would find that tattered and dusty files make their heart beat faster. But they do mine. I get a kick out of poring through documents that were typed/written in World War Two, when the world was a very different place. Typewriters and carbon copies for starters.

The index can be a bit of a mystery tour sometimes You order a file and take a gamble on what will be in it and whether it will be useful. I stumbled on something that is going to have a major impact on the thesis quite by accident, in a file I was looking at for a totally different topic. It was about air raid shelters in a file that was entitled Parades, Celebrations and Visits. Of course, it was the last item in the file, with no indication of what happened next. And the next number in the file series was for another part of the country. So - what did happen next? Will I ever find out? The hunt is on. I may need Sherlock, or Poirot.

I had my first visit to the second floor - I didn't know there was a second floor - that's where they keep the big/heavy stuff. I got a large and very heavy box, presented on a trolley, that contained wads of very well thumbed and dusty accounts. I finally found the piece I was looking for, and, of course, it was no use to me at all!

I also had a file with a mysterious envelope fixed to the back. With assistance from the staff I got it open safely and found that it contained photographs - supplied by the Chief Constable of Cardiff to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Home Security, showing bomb damage to air raid shelters. Another first - I got issued with a pair of rubber gloves to handle them. It is probably many years since anyone looked at those photo. Until me.

One of my files appeared to be quietly morphing into a werewolf - it was distinctly furry - on the outside. After a discussion with the staff we speculated that it was some sort of preservation that had been put on and was breaking down. The file was about 70 years old. Apparently there are a few more in the vaults that are doing the same.Of course it was nothing sinister. But if members of staff start to disappear down amongst the stacks ...

I did a bit of sleuthing too, into my father's war. The war diaries of the RAMC unit he was attached to, and their progress up Italy. Scary and illuminating. That's for a book that I hope to write someday. I didn't find his name in any of the documents, but I still have fingers crossed on that one.

So - that's the fun week I had last week, playing in the dusty archives.

It takes all sorts.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this experience, Evonne. It's wonderful when you search and find either what you hoped to find, or something different, but equally fascinating.