People’s Voices in a People’s War: Aberystwyth 1939-1945
Following the success of the project, Aberystwyth at War: Experience, Impact, Legacy, 1914-1919, the Department of History and Welsh History was awarded a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to run a follow-up project on the Second World War, People’s Voices in a People’s War: Aberystwyth 1939-1945, with contributory funding from the Aberystwyth War Memorials Fund. Like the previous project, this project also enabled students to work with community volunteers to explore, interpret and preserve the stories of the Aberystwyth community as it was during wartime eighty years ago.
People’s Voices in a People’s War: Aberystwyth 1939-45 ran from May 2020 to July 2022. It explored the impact of the Second World War on the people and communities of Aberystwyth through the collaborative efforts of volunteers, local archives, the university, local history societies, local primary schools, and performance and arts groups. These groups engaged with wartime records, oral histories, letters, newspapers, photographs, music, war memorials and personal histories held at our partner organizations the National Library of Wales (NLW), Ceredigion Archives and Ceredigion Museum, the archives of Aberystwyth University, and in public places across the area. Over fifty students and local volunteers captured and interpreted these community histories in activities, displays, exhibitions, performance and accessible online resources.
The key aim of our project was to enable local people to engage with their heritage, to access and interpret this heritage, and to share their knowledge and learning in both traditional and non-traditional ways. Our project activities therefore included training workshops, guided access to local archives, community art, performance, and display, for as wide a range of local volunteers (including students) as possible. We collaborated with local heritage, art and community organizations to pool resources and jointly programme events. We offered people of all ages and backgrounds the opportunity to take part in free activities and events, skills building workshops, volunteering, and group discovery of the past, to help people connect directly with the impact and legacy of the Second World War.
The project also offered our students a unique opportunity to participate in an active community research project, and to take part in activities that brought the university and the local community together, either as volunteers or on one of four work placements. Our student volunteers were able to access new archives, to research their own topics, to post their own blogs, and to gain important individual and teamwork experience skills.
Key project outputs
The project sponsored and participated in a range of community events over its duration, including the following:
- Two research training workshops for volunteers at Ceredigion Archives.
- Two researching training workshops at the NLW.
- Two digital archiving training courses for volunteers, with Agored Cymru accreditation.
- An exhibition of wartime photographs of Aberystwyth and area during the war, including pictures of evacuated children, servicemen, Land Girls, and VE-Day celebrations, at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Nov-Dec 2021.
- Two war-themed film double-bills at Y Drwm, NLW: Green Mountain, Black Mountain, (1942) and The Half-Way House (1944) in November 2021, and The Silent Village (1942) and Went the Day Well? (1943) in April 2022.
- An original theatre performance, This Small Heaven, written by Anna Sherratt, performed by Aberystwyth Youth Theatre at Aberystwyth Arts Centre, January 2022, and based on the recorded memories of Rosemary Jagger, a student at Chelsea College of Physical Education evacuated to Borth during the Second World War and donated to the project by Rosemary’s daughter, Alison Pierse.
- A Second-World War-themed Tea Dance at the Penparcau Hub, in March 2022, followed by a VE-Day Anniversary event at the Hub on Sunday 8 May 2022.
- Three schools’ workshops with Year 5 pupils from Ysgol Gymunedol Talybont Community Primary School talking about and role-playing the evacuation of English children to the area and their integration into local primary schools, March-June 2022.
- Four guided tours of the ‘Secret Cave’ beneath the NLW that housed treasures from the British Library during the Second World War, in April 2022.
- Two interactive guided tours of Second World War-era Aberystwyth, conducted by project volunteers, in May 2022.
- Community art workshops at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre, May-July 2022.
- A Second World War-themed Big Band concert at the Ceredigion Museum Coliseum Theatre, featuring the Aberystwyth Silver Band and members of the Ceredigion Schools Music Service youth ensembles, in June 2022.
- The AberWW2 ‘Dig for Victory’ Allotment: a heritage vegetable garden following wartime Ministry of Agriculture guidelines (March 2022 to present).
In June 2020 we launched a Project Blog to publicise our volunteers’ research on Aberystwyth life in the Second World War. This was one of our most visible successes, with a new post added almost every week for the entire duration of the project. Topics addressed included: the Aberystwyth radar station; RAF trainees and the graffiti they left in local hotels; the local Home Guard and ARP; the local Women’s Land Army; schoolchildren and student evacuees; Aberystwyth conscientious objectors and pacifists; policing and crime in the town; food and rationing; ‘Digging for Victory’; Irish neutrals; Jewish connections with Aberystwyth; the church; the law; HMS Tanatside and the NLW’s ‘Secret Cave’. A number of blogposts detailed the wartime experiences of local individuals, including Richard George Read; Evan Desmond Davies; Colin and Edna Morgan; the Hughes brothers; George Loyn; Rosemary Jagger; David William Davies and Gertrude James; Enid Jones; and Glanville Griffiths.
Online digital map
Over the course of the project a number of volunteers compiled a database of Aberystwyth locations related to its wartime history. This database was then used to generate a digital map of Aberystwyth and surrounding area that provides unique insights into the town and its residents during the war years. The map provides a model of what can be done with relatively simple computer technology to make history visible and alive to communities and rooted in the very streets they walk down every day.
Links and documents
Project Interactive Map – link to follow
Full project report
Professor Siân Nicholas, Project Lead, ‘People’s Voices in a People’s War’, email@example.com.
Kate Sullivan, Project Co-Ordinator and Engagement Officer, ‘People’s Voices in a People’s War’