I am the Digital Archives Trainee at Wigan Archives and Manchester Archives+ and the webmaster for GM1914. This blog was originally published on the Archives+ blog but has been updated and modified for GM1914.
As part of my role at Archives+ I have been working with the Greater Manchester Sound Archive Collection helping to digitise oral histories which are about the First World War. One of the recordings I have been dealing with is an interview with Richard Hart, born 1892 in Standish, Greater Manchester, who fought at the Somme and was also part of the British force in Ireland following the Easter Rising in 1916. It is really amazing to hear first-hand accounts of events that happened exactly 100 years ago.
The first thing I noticed about the recording was that there is a very loud clock ticking in the background throughout the interview. While this was almost certainly unintentional it really adds an atmosphere of foreboding while the horrors of war are described. Background noise is a quirk of many of the recordings I have worked with and can completely change a recording for better or worse depending on what the background noise is ranging from a door slamming to the ice cream van going past.
The interview which was recorded in 1981 starts with Richard describing his memories of men being recruited for the Boer War while playing marbles which is a really interesting story and goes to show just how far back oral histories can take the listener.
Richard then talks about joining the army as soon as war breaks out and actually being turned away on the first day because there were apparently too many men trying to sign up! He was able to join the next week though and ended up joining the Royal Engineers having studied Engineering at school.
Richard describes a posting of his as part of the Royal Engineers which was in Ireland after the Easter Rising of 1916. He speaks at length about how the Irish people were positive towards him and his fellow soldiers and would tell him that their problem was with the police rather than the army.
Richard also enlightens us about how much he was paid while remaining as a Sapper throughout the First World War. This gives a really interesting insight into the life of a soldier and whether they would have been fairly compensated for the great sacrifices they were forced to make if that could ever be possible.
Richard goes on to talk about the Somme which started 100 years ago this year on the 1st July and Manchester hosted the national commemoration earlier this month-http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/battle-of-somme-centenary-manchester-11552350. He describes in detail his experience of the Somme and listening to the clip you find yourself able to picture the horror and chaos of war much clearer than by just reading a book which shows the real power of oral history. He concludes that what he remembers most about the battle is the piles of bodies which is a very poignant ending.
Overall, it is a fascinating interview that helps the listener to gain a real sense of what it was like to be a soldier in the First World War. For anyone who wants to listen to the whole interview with Richard, which includes memories from his schooling and later life working in the pits then you can do so on the link below.
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Look out for more blogs on GM1914 using oral histories soon.