Category Archives: Archives

Interviewing in the Creuse

By Lindsey Dodd / / @DrLindseyD

In May and June 2017, a number of local newspapers in central France carried a story about my research, under the headline ‘Thousands of children evacuated to the Creuse away from the bombs between 1942 and 1945.’ The articles, illustrated with photographs from the Archives municipales de Boulogne-Billancourt showing excited children leaving on trains from Paris, commented ‘a British historian is looking for the former ‘little refugees’ and members of families who welcomed them’.

The response was nothing like an avalanche, and indeed, I had not expected one, but slowly emails started arriving, a few phone calls and a letter.

Research base for 10 days: Guéret, Creuse

At first I was struck by the number of people who were simply pleased to get in touch to tell me of a family member – now deceased – who had gone through this experience. They were not people to interview, not having much more than scraps of information, but they thought it worth contacting me nevertheless. Then I received a few written accounts, some photographs and several email exchanges. But I was also contacted by several of the petits réfugiés themselves, now sprightly octogenarians looking forward to sharing their experiences with me when I visited the Creuse in 2017. My appeal also reached individuals resident in Paris and elsewhere – a newspaper spotted by a friend or neighbour, passed on and passed on again, resulting in several interviewees whom I would meet on other visits to Paris.

Having the possibility only of ten days in the Creuse in July, the opportunities were limited to who was available and when. Over the course of that trip, I visited the Archives départementales de la Creuse twice to examine the fiches d’évacuation (evacuation forms) of various evacuee children. I also interviewed fifteen people, comprising child evacuees, children from host families, other local children who got to know the evacuees, child refugees (not part of the evacuation convoys, but who fled to this region for safety and better living conditions), as well as a couple of close family members of a deceased former evacuee. Along with four interviews collected in Paris (two child evacuees, a Jewish child refugee and a teacher who accompanied the evacuees),  and another interview I have been given, I now have a small corpus of twenty interviews dealing with child displacement from the Paris region (mostly) to the Creuse (mostly). More than one of the interviewees had written memoirs or even semi-fictionalised accounts of their experiences; many had photographs and other documentation which they shared with me.

Dodd on the road near Bourganeuf

Apart from the enormous generosity of all of those who agreed to meet with me and talk about such personal expereinces, the trip, under the beautiful Limousin sun, inspired the following reflections: Continue reading Interviewing in the Creuse

Children’s disrupted wartime lives – recovered in the archives

Lindsey DoddBy Lindsey Dodd

During October and November 2016 I travelled around France, collecting historical source material about children’s lives in France during the Second World War. The source material is quite unusual: I have been seeking out and listening to filmed and audio oral history-type interviews with older French people about their wartime childhoods which have been collected by or recorded by various archives over the past 30 years.

In the summer, I wrote to around 150 French archives and institutions in order to try to locate the kind of material I needed. On the basis of the responses I received, I planned two trips which made geographical sense and took account of the quantity of material each archive claimed to have. The first trip was based in the Paris region, the second took in the eastern part of the country.

I have been able to collect a wide range of stories and experiences of wartime childhoods. I visited eight archives, took buses, planes, metros and trains, slept in innumerable beds, got drenched in the rain, ate sandwiches on park benches, and transcribed 150,000 words of interview material. I’ve listened to the stories of 70 people who were children during the war; I have another 35 remaining to work on, plus 35 oral histories I recorded myself for another project, which are ripe for re-use. Placed alongside a number of unpublished written accounts and memoirs, I can pull together a corpus of over 150 people for my study.

Archives municipales de Beaune
Archives municipales de Beaune

The people range in age from one Thérèse born in 1926 to another Thérèse born in 1941. The interviewees were children of factory workers, factory owners, level crossing guards, mechanics, farmers, teachers, accountants, among other things, born into middling or poorer families, in cities, towns and villages from Paris to Sète, Brittany to Bresse. Some of their parents were in the resistance. Some of their parents were deported. Some were tortured. Some were killed. Some of their parents did sneaky things like hiding wine barrels in the funeral hearse, most bartering produce in order to survive – but none claimed their parents collaborated or worked the black market. Continue reading Children’s disrupted wartime lives – recovered in the archives