Second World War stories
This project uncovers the experiences of those in South Gloucestershire during the Second World War.
Watch these moving stories of 10 people’s experiences of the war.
Born in 1917, Jim remembers his father returning from the First World War. Jim grew up in Filton and became a dispatch rider for the First Calvary Division of the Royal Army Service Corp, carrying messages between units based in Palestine, North Africa and the Siege of Tobruk. Later, Jim became a mechanic and worked with the Sudanese Army.
Brother and sister, Ken Evans and Molly Rogers, tell how each of their eleven siblings were in services during the war.
Roland was born on 21 October 1928 and grew up in Kingswood. He remembers the Bristol Blitz, nights in air raid shelters and joining the National Fire Service as a bugler. Roland’s National Service after the war involved mine clearance duty.
Born in Berlin on 7 January 1925 to German Jewish parents, Hella witnessed Kristallnacht and escaped on Kindertransport. She reads the Red Cross letter from her mother saying goodbye before going to a concentration camp. Hella’s mother and grandmother were both killed. Hella became the first non-British nurse at Southmead Hospital.
Born on 2 November 1922, Marjorie was working at Newman’s factory in Yate the day war broke out. She tells stories of catching a German spy at Yate cinema, the dramatic bombings of Parnall’s factory in Yate and joining the WAAF despite being underage.
Rose was born on 14 August 1929 and grew up on a small holding in Elberton. She met Richard Kuhn, a German Prisoner of War, at the nearby camp. Rose married Richard despite negative feelings from her family and community.
Eric grew up at the White Hart Inn in Olveston. He was ten years old when war broke out. He tells stories of dodging enemy planes, mock invasions, collecting a gas-attack warning rattle, simple rural life, evacuees and the impact of the war on agriculture.
Joan was born on 28 November 1919 and lived with her Grandparents at the Swan Inn, Yate. She wanted to go to university but was discouraged. When war broke, Joan jumped at the chance to join the WAAF and was stationed in Calshot. She tells stories about handing out warm clothing to soldiers after the evacuation of Dunkirk and how she became an Officer.
Molly was born 17 February 1920 and was a young women looking after her younger siblings in Patchway. She survived three narrow escapes when the houses she was in were bombed, including the daylight raid on Bristol Airplane Company in Filton. Molly volunteered for the St Johns Ambulance and did war work at the Bristol Air frame training school.
Iris was thirteen years old the day after war broke out. She remembers rolling bandages for the front line when still a school girl in Thornbury. She was conscripted for war work, armature winding at Newman’s in Yate, she visited a blinded soldier at Tortworth American Hospital and met a Henry Arnold, a young soldier from Cornwall who was part of the 6th Maritime Regiment, billeted in Thornbury.
We would like to thank all those who so generously shared their memories with us and our thoughts are with the families of those who are no longer with us.
How the Second World War affected South Gloucestershire
We gathered memories of those who were living in South Gloucestershire during the war, which went on display in a public exhibition. This travelling exhibition showed how the war affected the area, including war time industry, those away on the front line, the home front, civil defence, evacuees and prisoners of war.
Through reminiscence sessions and community events we spoke to a number of people about their memories and experiences which you can read here.
Resources for schools
During the project we held workshops for primary schools, helping children understand what life was really like for those living through the Second World War.
You can use these presentation slides and notes for schools to help your pupils or youth group understand more about the war. It can be used as a whole or broken into lessons looking at different aspects of the war.
Resources for those working with older people
We also held reminiscence sessions in care homes and older people’s settings which proved hugely successful as a way of encouraging people to talk and understand each other’s pasts.
This guide to reminiscence sessions, includes a number of ideas to run your own.
We have added the stories of over 450 people who died in the Second World War to the South Gloucestershire War Memorials website.
We would like express our thanks to our volunteer researchers, especially Sarah Hands, for this huge undertaking to honour those who gave their lives during the war.
About this project
South Gloucestershire Council Cultural Services was awarded funding by the National Lottery Heritage Fund for this 18 month project.
The project explored the impact of the Second World War on the area. We wanted to celebrate and document the lives of ordinary people who lived through the most rapid period of change in the last century.
- delivered 60 reminiscence sessions to 31 residential care homes with 688 people participating
- visited 19 primary schools and delivered 32 sessions to 960 children and staff
- for 20 of the sessions, we shared a presentation about the impact of the war on South Gloucestershire, showed our short films, carried out fun and educational activities with the children and took handling objects for discussion
- for 12 of the sessions, a living history volunteer visited the children, telling their own stories of the war and showing photographs
- organised 2 evacuation days with Avon Valley Railway, which saw 5 schools and 237 children and adults dress up, go on a steam train and learn about the lives of children in the war and what it was like to be evacuated
- produced an exhibition highlighting how the war affected South Gloucestershire, travelling to 15 different locations and reaching 138,695 people
- created 18 community events which were attended by 1421 people – they took part in sing-alongs, sharing their family’s stories, viewed the touring exhibition and films, listened to choirs and bands with songs and music from the era, took part in activities, poetry readings and chatted over tea and cake and spam sandwiches
- delivered a commemoration day at Aerospace Bristol where we showed our short films, ran activities for children and adults, local museums exhibited, highlighting their own Second World collections, memories were collected on our memory washing line, actors came dressed as civil defence volunteers and a band played music from the era – 426 people participated
- produced 10 short films on the experiences of people in South Gloucestershire during the war – these films have been shown at local heritage centres, community events, care homes and school sessions and will be available as a legacy for the project
- captured 414 biographies of the people researched and uploaded to South Gloucestershire Council’s war memorial website
- delivered a training session on recording oral histories to 12 volunteers from museums and care homes
Volunteers gave 198 days to the project. In total 142,439 people and counting have been reached by this project
What people said about the project
“I have learned things about the residents that they have not spoken about before”, Care worker – reminiscence session
“They discussed lots and compared stories with each other. The group really came together”, Care assistant – reminiscence session
“It was very interesting. I learned what life was like back then. Eric (the Living History Volunteer) was much better than a film. Great artifacts”, year 6 pupil, Shield Road Primary School – school session
“The session was very good. The children were able to put the history into context and see how it may have directly affected them and the area. Could have been longer the children enjoyed it so much”, Filton Hill School Teacher – school session
“Today has given the children first-hand experience through role play and asking questions to people who were evacuees at the time”, Raysfield Junior School teacher – evacuation day
“Learning about what happened where we live and recognising the places was really interesting”, participant at community event
“Very interesting interactive event that’s great for everyone – kids as well. Good to have things for them to do and to get involved”, participant at commemoration event
South Gloucestershire Museums
We would like to thank all the South Gloucestershire museums who helped develop and deliver this project, sharing their collections with us to build a picture of life in South Gloucestershire during the Second World War. View the details of the museums in South Gloucestershire and their fantastic collections.
Searchlights over South Gloucestershire
Brass Works Theatre and writer Adrian Harris have been funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund to develop a project to commemorate the Second World War. Searchlights over South Gloucestershire is a dramatic interpretation of real life experiences gathered from oral histories, letters and diaries of people living in the area during the Second world War and retold on Twitter. Follow the lives of three fictional families as they do their bit for the war effort, visit the Brass Works Theatre website.
Know Your Place
Details of the war memorials and other links to the Second World War can be found on the Know Your Place website.
Heads and Tales
In 2010, Lesley Ann Gittings was commissioned by Heads and Tales to write a story for Filton based on real wartime events. You can follow her audio story and walking tour on the Heads and Tales website.
WW2 People’s War
Find more stories from the area with this BBC World War Two Memories website.