A week in archives and interviewing OE WW2 veterans

The past week has been full of special moments. Over two days I interviewed a former general manager of Barclays Bank who won the Military Cross in the North African campaign in December 1942, for demolition work. I interviewed him about his pre-war experiences including a school exchange trip to Bremen in 1936 Nazi Germany; his training in the Royal Engineers; landing at Algiers and carrying out work with 564 Field Regiment Royal Engineers in the North African Campaign to his journey through Italy from landing at Taranto to building bridges and bomb disposal work as part of the British Eighth Army’s campaign against German forces along the Adriatic coast of Italy between 1943 and 1945.

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This week also saw a visit to the Royal Fusilier archive in the Tower of London and a most poignant discovery among a collection relating to the 9th battalion Royal Fusiliers in which a number of Old Emanuels (OEs) fought in the Second World War. Having looked through a collection of photos, finding images of OEs, I saw a small image attached to a larger photo. When I took a closer look the name W. L. Page was inscribed on a cross on the grave of a serviceman recently buried. William “Bill” Page was one of four brothers who attended Emanuel in the 1930s. At the outbreak of war Bill was a Conscientious Objector but later joined and reached the rank of Lieutenant in 9th Btn Royal Fusiliers and was killed on Boxing Day 1944. Why had this one photo been taken among the numbers who were buried in Forli War Cemetery? One cannot possibly now know, but certainly, having already gathered a large collection of materials about the Page brothers, it was a unique moment discovering this photo.

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On Saturday 1 June I interviewed an OE who served in the Indian Army and who fought against the Japanese forces in Burma. He discussed his experiences of keeping a number of tanks operational in the Far Eastern theatre; coming in close proximity with a Japanese sniper and conditions under which the Indian Army were fighting in the capture of Japanese garrisons in Burma.

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In addition to these I was at the British Library on Friday 31 May in what proved to be an amazing and unique experience, reading the letters from the father of one Emanuel boy to his son whilst the son was serving on the front lines in France, Italy, Palestine and Egypt. The collection is very significant but more will be revealed in 2014.

If this wasn’t enough excitement for one week then a visit to the Battersea Reference Library and two phone calls from relatives of OEs has produced a wealth of materials. Firstly I discovered the 15th name of an Emanuel boy not included on the original First World War memorial. In addition we now have two significant collections relating to OEs who were made POWs in Europe in the Second World War and also a collection of materials relating to the brother of one of the men I interviewed who served in the Fleet Air Arm in the Pacific, including log books, letters, photos and diaries.

Each week I discover new and exciting materials, illuminating the life of Old Emanuels, who served in every theatre and service in two world wars.

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