Library community project reveals Tales of Wartime Things… and other Hillingdon stories

By Richard Moss | 19 October 2010
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a montage of objects including a map, a teddy bear and a national identity card
© Hillingdon Libraries
For the people who remember them directly, the Battle of Britain, the Blitz and other experiences of life during World War Two mean many different things.

Now Hillingdon residents who experienced the wartime years first hand have been exploring these differing memories as part of a project for Battle of Britain month at Hillingdon Libraries.

They were invited to bring in artefacts from the period and recall the personal memories the items evoke for them. The responses, filmed and recorded by researchers at Brunel University, now form the basis of a fascinating documentary film called Tales of Wartime Things.

As you might expect, the project has unearthed some extraordinary experiences.

a photo of a finger tracing a line in red across a map of Europe
© Hillingdon Libraries
One Hillingdon resident's meaningful object is a map charting an epic journey through Prisoner of War camps in Europe via North Africa and Gibraltar back home to Liverpool and London.

The map charts the five-year struggle for survival of "Mr Sellars", who was called up in 1939 and captured in a military hospital following the fall of France in 1940.

"When I was relieved from hospital, I was sent to North Germany and Southern Poland where I was kept as a prisoner," he remembers. "In 1943 I thought I'd try and make an escape, and I made my way to Riga to try and get a boat to Sweden, which was the only neutral country left."

Having been recaptured and returned to prison he tried to escape once more, in 1944, before finally succeeding in 1945, when the Russian army was advancing towards Germany.

"I crossed the German lines and then the Russian lines and made my way to Kiev, where I gave myself up to the Russian authorities. Other people had done the same thing. We were sent towards Moscow, and then towards Odessa because an English ship had arrived there."

His five-year journey spanned 4,000 miles by land and 5,000 by sea.

a drawing of a milkman delivering milk through the wreckage of houses - the front of pamphlet called here comes the milk!
© Hillingdon Libraries
Another poignant object that tells a dramatic story is an Express Dairy Magazine, which was given to thousands of wartime customers. It was added by former employee Yvonne Stagg, who as a 16-year-old was a junior clerk at the Express Dairy at the beginning of the war.

"Every customer got one, and I had one because I thought it was our story," she says. "Nobody knows how hard we worked. I look at this, and it's like yesterday – I can't believe it's 70-odd years.

"Whatever happened – bombs, air raids, et cetera – we carried on. It was quite an adventure really. They supplied canteens, they even went down to the Underground stations, took milk down. They delivered it to the houses that had been bombed. People hadn't got windows or doors sometimes, but they had their milk."

Visitors can find out more about the objects and their stories at a screening at Uxbridge Library on October 20 and see some of the featured objects in a one-off exhibition.

Tales of Wartime Things can also be accessed via a special website: The website also allows people who may have similar memories to leave their own tales, contributing to a growing network of shared histories.

Screening takes place at 7.30pm on Wednesday October 20 2010, at Uxbridge Library, 14-15 High Street, Uxbridge, Middlesex. Call 01895 250600.
More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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