Project Volunteers

Ellie Matthews

I began volunteering for the ‘Carved in Stone' project at Merton Heritage Centre in October last year as I wanted to contribute towards volunteering opportunities in the local area. I had recently finished an internship in East London and wanted to find something I could be part of during the days when I was not at work. I saw the project advertised in Wimbledon and knew it was exactly what I was looking for. As a Masters History graduate and not having grown up in the area, I gravitated towards finding out more about the local history of the borough.  

The main work I have completed whilst being a part of the volunteer team is researching the life stories of combatants. So far, I have focused on individuals from Mitcham and Wimbledon who died during the First World War. The stories I have gathered have been wide ranging, from individuals who served, were injured and died on hospital ships, to those who were later declared missing in action. Part of the research has involved identifying where in the local area these men lived. For me, this element makes the research seem far more tangible, knowing that these men lived and worked streets away from the roads I walk every day.

I have also been involved with establishing the Heritage e-newsletter. I had not done this type of work before, but I have enjoyed talking about the themes and subjects we could include in each edition and seeing the final product emailed out every month.

Being part of this project has been a great experience, not only is everyone friendly and always willing to help, but my involvement has made me feel more connected to the borough as a whole. I feel respect and gratitude to those individuals I am researching who died in the war and whose names are immortalised and carved in stone across the borough. I hope once these life stories become accessible on the project website, they are as interesting to the public as they have been to the volunteers who have helped to produce them.

Linda Beharry

 

I was a volunteer at Morden Library for two and half years and was occasionally asked to help at Heritage Centre events. This was very interesting and I found the Heritage team to be a friendly bunch. When I heard that they needed volunteers for "Carved in Stone," a two year project about Merton during World War One,   I immediately wanted to get on board.

I have been researching the role of suffragettes during 1914-18 (including prominent Merton women such as Rose Lamartine Yates and Dr Beatrice McGregor,) local conscientious objectors, Belgian refugees and combatants from the Mitcham area. One of the most rewarding aspects has been discovering things I had no idea about previously and as a result, changing some of my opinions about high profile figures in history, such as Emmeline Pankhurst. Also, I was unaware of the high volume of Belgian refugees welcomed to Britain during the conflict; the harsh treatment of conscientious objectors, or the acrimonious split between the Pankhursts and fellow suffragettes prompted by the war.

I have really enjoyed my research. Last year at our Morden War Story Day, I participated in a volunteer chat to members of the public about my work on Rose Lamartine Yates.  Some of the feedback that I received inspired me to do more in-depth research into the attitudes of the Suffragette movement towards the war and the split that resulted from opposing views.

Over the past year I have been trained in how to interview people and use camera equipment. I have attended a meeting with a representative from the Peace Pledge Union and learnt a good deal about researching conscientious objectors. I have also been on team visits to the National Archives, as well as attending a workshop on the wartime role of women.  These are opportunities and experiences I would not have had otherwise and so I relish my volunteering role with the Carved in Stone Project.

Mick Taylor

"Film. Camera.  Action" sums up my involvement in the Carved in Stone project. I joined Merton Heritage Centre almost four years ago, following the demise of a photographic charity I worked for in Kennington. Initially I volunteered on the Merton Memories photographic project. I had a keen interest in seeing how places have changed and it also gave me an opportunity to use some of the skills I had learnt whilst working.         I then moved on to the current Carved in Stone project, which has given me the chance to develop new skills.

At first I was researching local industries and their contribution to the war effort during 1914-18. Project volunteers were then trained in interviewing, using camera equipment and editing films. Once the team started to record and collect war stories from individuals and families, I was given the role of cameraman during special "War Story" days.  We recorded 17 interviews but the real work started when we had to edit the films.

Once the interviews were complete, two of my volunteer colleagues did an excellent job of transcribing the material. Without this, my editing of the film would have been very difficult. I now had to check each interview transcript, deciding which sections to use, what to cut and a suitable running order. I also looked for appropriate pictures to include and researched events such as battles so that relevant information could be added to the final film.

Having never used video software before, it proved a little frustrating at first. However once I started to get the hang of it, the work became easier. I have now produced 17 films and will shortly be starting on the eighteenth. Each recording has been different – but all the stories that people have told have been interesting and in some cases very moving. I have also learnt a lot more about the First World War.

These videos will be available to view on our Carved in Stone website after the launch in May 2016.

Hazel Gager

I retired in the summer of 2012 after 40 years as a legal secretary.  I was thinking of doing some sort of voluntary work when I saw an article in "My Merton" asking for volunteers to work on the Merton Memories project.  As I have always been interested in history and love old photos, I applied and started working on the project that autumn.  I enjoyed the work and found it very interesting, particularly as the other volunteers are a friendly, cheerful and helpful bunch!

For this reason when Merton Heritage Service started another project, "Carved in Stone," I also chose to work on that.

During the summer we staged a series of War Story Days, filming interviews with Merton residents whose relatives fought in World War One or supported the war effort.  I was one of the volunteers involved in transcribing these interviews. Whilst I found all the interviews interesting, two in particular stick in my mind because I found them both quite moving.  Although they were separate interviews, they were both about the same person.

In one story a man talked about his father, who like so many others, had rarely spoken to his family of his military service.  It was only during a trip back to the trenches and some of the First World War cemeteries that he eventually started talking about his experiences.  A family visit to the Menin Gate, a memorial to the British and Commonwealth soldiers killed at Ypres, also brought tears to the old soldier's eyes, particularly during the daily ceremony when the Last Post and Reveille were played.

During the second story the interviewee talked about his grandfather's experiences during World War One.  Having seen a television programme about the war, he finally told his family that he had been in charge of a gun carriage and the horses that pulled it.   He was particularly fond of a horse he called Stella, who seems to have been with him for some time.  No-one knows what happened to her or even if she survived.  Not all horses were as fortunate as "Joey" in the story "War Horse." We do know that thousands were lost during the war and very few were returned to this country.  I hope that Stella was one of the lucky ones.