The war on paper

The Im­pe­rial Mu­seum has pub­lished a new book that re­veals World War II through fa­mous doc­u­ments

History of War - - CONTENTS - WORDS TOM GARNER

A new book from the IWM re­veals WWII through fa­mous doc­u­ments

The War On Paper tells the story of the most de­struc­tive con­flict in his­tory through 20 key doc­u­ments held in the Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum’s ar­chives. Writ­ten by An­thony Richards, Head of Doc­u­ments and Sound at the IWM, the book con­tains fas­ci­nat­ing records, in­clud­ing Adolf Hitler’s or­ders to in­vade Poland, Win­ston Churchill’s draft for his fa­mous ‘End of the Be­gin­ning’ speech and the Ger­man sur­ren­der that was wit­nessed and signed by Field Mar­shal Bernard Mont­gomery. Speak­ing ex­clu­sively to his­tory of war, Richards dis­cusses why he wrote the book, his favourite doc­u­ments and the im­por­tance of paper in pre­serv­ing his­tory.

WHAT WAS THE IDEA BE­HIND WRIT­ING THE BOOK?

We wanted to tell the story of the Se­cond World War but in a slightly dif­fer­ent way. It struck me that the big ad­van­tage the Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum has is its rich and var­ied col­lec­tion. Ev­ery­thing is based on that and so we thought it would be re­ally nice to al­most let the doc­u­ments speak for them­selves.

When you read his­tory books they con­stantly use doc­u­ments as ev­i­dence. What peo­ple tend to do is take in­for­ma­tion from the doc­u­ments but they then al­most dis­card the doc­u­ment it­self. My idea was to treat the doc­u­ments as ob­jects in their own right. The book looks at their cre­ation, who used them and the con­text in which they were used.

WHAT CAN READ­ERS EX­PECT TO SEE?

It’s a very vis­ual book, and there are very high­qual­ity im­ages of 20 key doc­u­ments, which are snapshots of key themes, in­ci­dents and events of the Se­cond World War. Each chap­ter tells its own story, but when you look at them to­gether they give you the his­tory of the war.

My job is as an ar­chiv­ist so I deal with bits of paper, whether they’re di­aries, let­ters, mem­oirs etc. One of the most spe­cial things is be­ing able to han­dle the orig­i­nal doc­u­ments. We want to give peo­ple that sense of in­ter­act­ing with the orig­i­nal records with fac­sim­i­les and high-qual­ity im­ages.

HOW VALU­ABLE IS THE IWM’S WWII PAPER ARCHIVE?

It’s prob­a­bly fair to say that it’s one of the lead­ing ar­chives in the world for the study of both world wars. Ad­di­tion­ally, the story of how we ac­quired some doc­u­ments is of­ten just as in­ter­est­ing as the records them­selves.

Take the ex­am­ple of Hitler’s will. It is a very im­por­tant doc­u­ment in it­self, but the ac­tual story of how it was cre­ated in the bunker and how many copies were sent out with couri­ers who were sub­se­quently cap­tured is in­ter­est­ing in its own right.

WHAT RANGE OF DOC­U­MENTS AP­PEAR IN THE BOOK?

We try to cover the most ob­vi­ous and pop­u­lar themes from dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. For ex­am­ple, we have key ‘high level’ doc­u­ments like the An­glo-ger­man ac­cord be­fore the war. This was supremely ironic be­cause it be­came a mean­ing­less doc­u­ment when Hitler chose to ig­nore it. Then you’ve got Hitler’s or­ders to in­vade Poland, and right at the end there is the Lüneberg Heath sur­ren­der doc­u­ment. You’ve there­fore got the doc­u­ments that both started and ended the war.

Neville Cham­ber­lain bran­dishes the signed paper of the in­fa­mous An­glo-ger­man Dec­la­ra­tion on 30 Sep­tem­ber 1938

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