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 Placed alongside a number of unpublished written accounts and memoirs, I can pull together a corpus of over 150 people for my study.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