This past week I have been working with the Greater Manchester Sound Archive collection and trying to find oral histories about WWI. 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.
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 will be hosting the national commemoration later this year – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-34868249. 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 get a real sense of what it was like to be a soldier in the First World War. I will be working with more oral history clips relating to the First World War over the next few months and will blog about what I find. 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.
You can also follow us on soundcloud by heading over here there are lots of great clips to listen to and more are being added all the time!