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From 'his pal Jack': the Personal Memory of Veterans

Northumbria University

Ann-Marie Foster is working on a PhD thesis entitled 'The Ephemera of Remembrance in the Wake of War and Disaster, c.1899-1939', at Northumbria University, funded by the AHRC Heritage Consortium. Her research interests are family memory, objects and their history, and how sudden death is remembered.  During the summer of 2016 she undertook a British Library PhD placement in which she catalogued and publicised a portion of their First World War ephemera collection. "Every March, on the anniversary of Lt. Cpt. Dodgeson’s death, ‘his pal Jack’ posted an obituary in the local newspaper’s ‘Roll of Honour’ until he suddenly stopped in 1929. Whereas the public memory of veterans has received much attention, the personal memory of veterans of the First World War is much more difficult to access. However, it is not impossible. Veterans (such as ‘Jack’) left traces in local newspapers, in Rolls of Honour, in local archives and through the telling and retelling of stories of the conflict. 

This paper explores veteran’s personal reactions to and memories of war, to the loss of their comrades and their recollection of events in later life. Both the immediate aftermath of the war (into the 1920s) and the end of life experience (primarily the 1970s and 1980s) will be focused on. The aftermath of the conflict cemented remembrance practices, gave ex-soldiers spaces to mentally negotiate their experiences, and allowed them to grieve for their fallen friends. Mirroring this, the experience of elderly veterans half a century later reinforced their memories of the First World War: conversations began anew and emerging friendships with other veterans could be built on this shared comradeship of the past. Taking the example of the North East of England as paradigmatic, by considering the personal memory of the veteran, the paper contends that we can begin to explore the complex relationship between experience, loss, and the self as defined by warfare."