War Widows’ Stories: A Celebration

After launching War Widows’ Stories a year ago and travelling all over the country to conduct oral history interviews with widows and their children, on 10th November 2017 we hosted a celebration of the project’s achievements to date, its volunteers, and its supporters. The event, held at the Royal British Legion headquarters in London, marked an important milestone: the publication of the first fourteen stories in print and online.  The evening was a chance for us to introduce this first volume of interviews to members of the public, academics, war widows and their families, and representatives of the Imperial War Museum and the Ministry of Defence.

Mark Heffron (third from right), Mary Moreland (second from right), and David Whimpenny (right) with War Widows’ Assocation trustees, War Widows’ Stories volunteers Rita Armin (third from left), Glenda Spacey (left), and Ruth Maxwell (fourth from left), and the project leaders, Dr Nadine Muller (back middle) and Dr Ailbhe McDaid (second from left).

Even during Remembrance Week, war widows remain war’s forgotten women. Most people are unaware of the shocking circumstances they have had to face in Britain, or of the challenges they still encounter today. Next to explaining the project’s background and methods, we were pleased to be able to give a preview of the common themes of the interviews so far and play poignant clips that represent this first body of stories of loss, sadness, love, and resilience.  You can find our PowerPoint presentation here.

There were tears, laughter, discussion, and reflection. The evening clearly highlighted the importance of the War Widows’ Stories project to war widows and their families, to members of the public who were unaware of the issues war widows face, to cultural organisations who to date largely ignore war widows’ stories, and to government and third sector organisations responsible for the support and welfare of veterans and armed forces families.

We were privileged to have among our attendees several of our interviewers and interviewees and their families, including Christina Claypole. We interviewed Christina and her mother, Christiane Kirton, in June 2017, but sadly Christiane did not live to see her or her daughter’s story published.

Throughout our first year, we have been generously supported by our gatekeeper, the War Widows’ Association of Great Britain, whose trustees and members turned out in force to help us mark this special occasion. Mrs Mary Moreland explained the value of War Widows’ Stories from the Association’s point of view: “War widows often live in the shadows of veterans and heroes, but they are amazing and unique,” she said. “They all have impressive stories in their own right, and these deserve to be told. The War Widows’ Stories project is important because it ensures that these otherwise forgotten women are given the recognition they deserve.”

We were also honoured to have in attendance Group Captain Mark Heffron, Head of Welfare Policy at the Ministry of Defence. He reflected: “This was a thought-provoking and powerful occasion, to which I had the honour to be invited. Meeting those who had given and conducted the interviews was both moving and inspiring, and it showed a resolve to support all those who suffer as a loss of loved ones through war. Dr Nadine Muller and Ailbhe McDaid led the evening in the most fitting manner and demonstrated the power of these stories. We can all learn from the memories, experiences and feelings of our war widows. At this time of year, we cannot and will not forget those who gave their lives in war, nor the sacrifice made by their widows in keeping alive all for which their husbands stood.”

Our interviews capture war widows’ stories in interviews that feature tragedy and sadness as much as they contain memories of happiness, love, and fulfilled lives. These interviews will help raise public awareness of war widows’ experiences and dispel prevalent myths. The project constitutes an important step toward improving the support services available to war widows today.

We are grateful to the Royal British Legion for hosting this moving celebration. This is only the beginning of the project, and we remain committed to recording war widows’ stories and raising awareness of their lives past and present.

To order a hardcopy of the first volume of War Widows’ Stories, please visit the LJMU Online Shop, or to download an electronic copy of the publication, simply click here. You can also listen to all War Widows’ Stories interviews in full as podcasts or listen to a selection of soundbites.

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