By Dr Dina Gusejnova, Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Sheffield
During World War II, the Isle of Man was chosen as the chief location in the British Isles to house people identified as so-called ‘enemy aliens’, which included civilians of different categories, age groups, gender, and nationalities, including merchant marines. They were accommodated in boarding houses which had been requisitioned for this purpose. Much has been written about the history of internment in the Manx context in the past decades, particularly, about the way the experience of internment has been remembered by the internees. However, strangely, and despite the availability of wide-ranging research by Manx cultural heritage curators, the Manx experience of internment – particularly, as an aspect of wartime childhood which, in many cases, was defined by the encounters with internees -- has not attracted wider public or scholarly interest yet. How did Manx children experience the arrival of the so-called ‘enemy aliens’? Had any friendships developed, and if not, what were the obstacles? Did the children of those who had lived through the war have any recollections of this strange episode of history? How formative was the memory of internment for the Manx residents? Was there any impact on Manx educational or cultural institutions, or did the worlds of the internees remain strictly separated from those of the locals? Did any locals read the camp newspapers circulating among internees, and conversely, did they pass on any news or rumours to the internees? Finding answers to these questions is vital, as historians are getting increasingly interested in civilian perspectives on the history of war.
On Thursday 4 May 2017, Ramsey Grammar School proposes to host its second Tell Me Day, a time when twenty to thirty students invite possible interviewees to share the memories of their childhood in the light of internment. This year’s day, directed by Andrew Wilkinson, Head of History at Ramsey Grammar School, will also include a collaboration with Yvonne Cresswell, Curator of Social History at Manx National Heritage, John Cannan of Ramsey Heritage, and Dr Dina Gusejnova, Lecturer in Modern History from University of Sheffield. It will be followed by a day of creative writing for young people under the guidance of Alan Craig Wilson, the director of the Young Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction. Dr Gusejnova is currently engaged in a research project which combines the history of ideas with the social history of internment, and has a special interest in promoting collaborations with local oral historians, particularly, young people. In 2016, she has also produced a radio programme which features the theme of internment for Radio 4.
Following the success of the first Tell Me Day, we would like to invite anyone who wishes to share their own or their parents’ memories of childhood at the time of the Second World War to join us at Ramsey Grammar School on Thursday 4 May. We would also be interested to hear from any internees or their children about their experiences. Our hope is to create a common pool of memories, which can include anything from recollections of games or toys, schools, or impressions of the arrival of internees, to the ways in which people may have stayed in touch after the war’s end. In conclusion, we will produce a short film, an exhibition, and hopefully, also inspire some creative writing from the students.
If you are available on Thursday 4 May 2017 and are willing to spare some of your time, please get in touch with Andrew Wilkinson at Ramsey Grammar School on Telephone 811100 or email [email protected]
We will arrange suitable transport for you to the site of Mooragh Internment Camp, where some of the recordings will take place.