The Nazi invasion of poland
‘führer Directive no. 1 for the Conduct of the war’ was personally signed by adolf hitler and contained the official order to invade poland on 31 august 1939. this historically important declaration started wwii, and this particular document, ‘Copy number two’, was issued to the German naval high Command.
Interspersed with those there are examples of more personal documents that apply to a greater range of people. To cover rationing we chose Queen Mary’s ration book. Although the one we used belonged to Queen Mary, it was the same ration book that was issued to everyone in the UK. It’s a great reminder that rationing applied to everyone.
WHICH DOCUMENTS STAND OUT FOR YOU?
I like the Dunkirk evacuation plan. If you look at that image it’s a very hastily pencilscrawled plan on a random bit of paper.
Just looking at the way it was created tells you something about Dunkirk. For the vast majority of people involved, it was simply a case of coming up with a last-minute plan and doing what you could to get away. Looking at that particular document tells you that it’s not a tidy, carefully thought-up plan: its just a scrawl. After the evacuation the officer who had it just folded it up and put it in his pocket, but that’s how it survived. There were probably loads of others that were just simply thrown away.
WE LIVE IN A DIGITAL AGE WHERE PAPER DOCUMENTATION IS IN DECLINE. HOW IMPORTANT IS PAPER AS A MEDIUM FOR RECORDING HISTORY?
That’s a very good question. We all face a very great challenge in the future in terms of recording history. The way people look back on key events is already more in the way of film, video and photographs, which are more immediate. If you think about more recent conflicts like Afghanistan or even the Gulf, they are the chief media by which to study it.
Although there are paper records today they tend to be more official ones. In terms of things that the IWM looks after, like personal diaries and letters, I do fear that they will become fewer and fewer. I find it slightly sad in a way because a written document is a more personal connection. To handle a piece of paper that was on the beaches of Dunkirk, for example, is an important connection, and I think the danger is that you’ll lose that in the future.
German troops break the border barrier in the Polish town of Sopot, 1 September 1939