What Should Young People Know About The Second World War?
What should young people know about the Second World War? I ask each of the veterans that I interview for The Memory Project this question. While it inevitably prompts a formal response, in essence every interview is actually about this subject. Time and again, the general response is more nuanced than the material found in existing publications.
The memories of veterans were shaped by a variety of factors, demography included. For instance, many of the veterans I have spoken with were between the ages of 17 and 19 when they enlisted: they also tended to begin their service later in the war, particularly 1944 and 1945. A plurality of these individuals did not serve in combat. Indeed, my colleagues and I often have to make an effort to convince veterans who did not see combat that we are actually interested in their stories. Yet, it is these “non-combat” stories that provide the most illuminating perspectives on the conflict – after all, not everyone is interested only in operations and grand strategy. One of my most enjoyable interviews occurred earlier this month, when I spoke with a gentleman who served as a cook onboard the HMCS Haida. With apologies to Harry DeWolf, that gentleman and his comrades – two other cooks and a baker on a 259-man crew – likely did more to ensure morale aboard Canada’s most famous warship than anyone else. Stories such as this, especially when accompanied by tales of the Murmansk Run and Task Force 26, reveal additional details rarely discussed elsewhere, and the project provides a unique platform for veterans to share these details in their own voices.