Wednesday, 18 September 2013

A volunteer's perspective

Last week Hull City Archives were awarded the Archives and Records Association Volunteering Award for 2013 for its Second World War project. At the ceremony one of the volunteers, Mike Covell, spoke about what it meant to him and what it meant to him and with his permission we have repeated it here in full:  

My name is Mike Covell and I am a volunteer with the Hull History Centre’s WWII project. As far back as the days of a separate local studies department, archival unit, and Hull university archival unit I was researching Hull’s history, so when the Hull History Centre opened I made sure I was one of the first to visit, and certainly one of the first to write a review of what the centre had to offer and keeps on offering.

Since it opened in 2010 I have taken part in several courses, researched here, and even lectured at the centre. So when I heard about the WWII project I got very excited to say the least. I had seen an advertisement in The Hull Daily Mail for volunteers and on one of my next research trips I registered my interest with the staff so that I could become part of what I believe is a very important project.

My family and I had always had an interest in WWII after it was revealed my late grandfather was photographed with his family in their home after a particularly horrific raid in Hull. As the photographer passed down the street, through the mountains or rubble, he saw my family and asked how they were. My grandfather did not answer, but instead smiled, threw his thumb up, and created a piece of local history. His photograph was used as propaganda for the war effort, and to this day still gets used in books and in the local press. With this in mind, and bearing in mind what he went through, I wanted to join the WWII project.

For me the project is an important project for several reasons. It helps us to remember the past. It secures the past for future generations, and it gives us new skills and experiences that we can take forward.

Since the project began we have learned how to correctly catalogue information, how to number the information so that it is easily found and accessible, and how to clean, store, and transcribe this information so that it is available to future generations.

Every time we have a session it is a learning experience. We have uncovered families that changed their names to avoid retribution from German sounding names to names such as “Smith” and “Jones.” We have seen firsthand the destruction caused on the various air raids, and we have learned of the tragedies and heroic stories that occurred on our very streets, stories that up until now had been largely forgotten.

During a recent session transcribing WWII documents at the Hull History Centre I was blown away by the great number of cards in just one of the piles I had in front of me. I kept asking myself about the importance of the cards and the names upon them. What really hit home is that these ladies and gentlemen who gave so much between 1939 and 1945 in this “North East Coastal Town” and received very little for it, but they all had one thing in common. They were all volunteers. 

With this in mind the least we can do as volunteers is to carry on what we do and remember them for what they did.

Mike Covell 

Hull History Centre volunteer on the WW2 Project

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