What’s it like to be a war widow in Britain? While fallen members of the Armed Forces are commemorated as heroes, there is little known about the daily struggles, lives and experiences of the wives and families left behind. War Widows’ Stories raises awareness of the everyday lives of war widows past and present and is run in collaboration between the War Widows’ Association of Great Britain (WWA), Dr Ailbhe McDaid (Busteed Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Liverpool) and me.
For the past year, Dr McDaid, several volunteers and I have conducted oral history interviews with war widows and their children all over the country. The project - officially launched live on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour on Armistice Day 2016 - went live during Remembrance Week with the first fourteen interviews published online and in print, as transcripts and as sound recordings. Dr McDaid and I also hosted a celebration of the project’s achievements to date and the event, held at the Royal British Legion headquarters in London, marked this important milestone by introducing these first stories of loss, sadness, love and resilience to an audience comprised of members of the public, academics, war widows and their families, and representatives of the Imperial War Museum and the Ministry of Defence.
The event was attended by the trustees of the War Widows’ Association of Great Britain, which acts as gatekeeper and official partner to the project. Its Chair, Mrs Mary Moreland, commented on the importance of War Widows’ Stories for the Association and its members: “War widows often live in the shadows of veterans and heroes, but they are amazing and unique. They all have impressive stories in their own right, and these deserve to be told. widowhood. The War Widows’ Stories project is important because it ensures that these otherwise forgotten women are given the recognition they deserve.”
Even during Remembrance Week these women remain war’s forgotten women. Most people are unaware of the shocking circumstances war widows have had to face in Britain and of the challenges they still encounter today. Our interviews capture war widows’ life stories, and they feature tragedy and sadness as much as they contain memories of happiness, love, and fulfilled lives. These interviews will help raise public awareness of war widows’ experiences and dispel prevalent myths. War Widows’ Stories constitutes an important step toward improving the support services available to war widows today.
Group Captain Mark Heffron, Head of Welfare Policy at the Ministry of Defence, remarked on the significance of the event: “This was a thought-provoking and powerful occasion, to which I had the honour to be invited. Meeting those who had given and conducted the interviews was both moving and inspiring, and it showed a resolve to support all those who suffer as a loss of loved ones through war. Dr Nadine Muller and Ailbhe McDaid led the evening in the most fitting manner and demonstrated the power of these stories. We can all learn from the memories, experiences and feelings of our war widows. At this time of year, we cannot and will not forget those who gave their lives in war, nor the sacrifice made by their widows in keeping alive all for which their husbands stood.”
This project would not be possible without the generous support of the War Widows’ Association and its members. We are grateful, too, to the Royal British Legion for hosting this moving celebration. This is only the beginning of the project and we remain committed to recording war widows’ stories and raising awareness of their lives past and present.
To order a hardcopy of the first volume of War Widows’ Stories, please visit the LJMU Online Shop. You can find out more about the project as well as listen to and download digital versions of the interviews on the War Widows’ Stories website at warwidowsstories.org.uk. The project is funded by a Sharing Heritage award from the Heritage Lottery Fund.