Oxford University discovers rare WW2 stories and objects

5 July 2023

Their Finest Hour is a nationwide project safeguarding the memories of the Second World War for future generations through mass digitisation of WW2 stories and objects.

Photos of a rupee that saved the life of a soldier in Burma, a tie belonging to Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, photos stolen from the Reich Chancellery in the final days of the war, and even a hat worn by Benito Mussolini are some of the startling discoveries submitted to an Oxford University project to digitally archive as many stories and objects from the Second World War as possible.

Oxford University is supporting a nationwide project under the name ‘Their Finest Hour’ and the project team have already collected a remarkable range of stories and objects covering both the extraordinary and the seemingly ‘ordinary’. Many war medals, ration cards, pocket manuals, photographs, letters and memoirs have also been submitted to the archive so far.

Dr Stuart Lee, project director, said: 'Very few families in Britain and across the Commonwealth were untouched by the war. Many of those affected have since passed their stories and objects onto their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, all of whom now act as custodians of their relatives’ remarkable legacy. The photographs, letters, diaries, medals and other artefacts symbolise the experiences of the wartime generation, and it is vital to preserve and value this heritage before it is lost to history.

'We’re delighted to be able to create an archive of memories of the Second World War. We know from previous projects that people have so many wonderful objects, photos, and anecdotes which have been passed down from family members which are at risk of getting lost or being forgotten. Our aim is to empower local communities to digitally preserve these stories and objects before they are lost to posterity. I encourage everyone with material they think might be relevant to bring it to one of our digital collection days, or submit it online.'

Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and based out of the Faculty of English at Oxford University, ‘Their Finest Hour’ has been working with hundreds of volunteers to organise up to 100 free events throughout 2023. The events, called ‘Digital Collection Days’, give members of the public in all regions of the UK the opportunity to bring along any war-related stories and mementos in their possession to be recorded and digitised (i.e. photographed) by volunteers. Those who cannot attend a Digital Collection Day in person can submit their stories and photos of objects via the project website - theirfinesthour.org - from the comfort of their own home.

Once the stories and objects have been collected and digitised, they will be made available to the public through a large, free-to-use Online Archive, which will be launched on 6 June 2024 to complement events nationwide commemorating the 80th anniversary of D-Day. The archive and its contents will be free to reuse, enabling the stories and experiences of the past to move into research and education today.

Digital Collection Days have already been held in, among other places, Oxford, York, Belfast and Dover, and many more are planned in libraries, schools, colleges, universities, museums, churches, mosques and temples all over the UK. Events are planned in major cities such as London, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Cardiff, as well as towns and villages including Leamington Spa, Porthcawl, Worthing and Fort William.

Events are also being run in collaboration with Bletchley Park, Coventry Cathedral, the Museum of Liverpool, the National Library of Scotland, the UK Punjab Heritage Association, the National Sikh Museum, and the National Museum of the Royal Navy.

Notes to Editors

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact: Alexander Buxton, Head of Strategic Communications: alexander.buxton@admin.ox.ac.uk

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