My Military Voices project partner collects me from home at 9.45 a.m. and we set off in his car bound for Somewhere in Bognor Regis.
We are in somewhat reflective mood
for today may mark the last of the interviews we have conducted with veterans of various conflicts from World War 2 onwards. We will miss our Jolly Jaunts to Places Unknown, accepting cups of tea or coffee offered by our interviewees while we struggle to find
a good place to set up our audio recorder and a convenient perch for the tablet on which we will film our victim. Sorry, subject.
Sometimes we find ourselves in a comfy sitting room which looks ideal for helping
our veteran feel at ease - until one of us notices the grandfather clock standing stately in a corner where it will interrupt our recording with a booming chime on each and every quarter of an hour. Other times our quiet surroundings are suddenly interrupted
by a lawnmower starting up in the back garden or a lorry chuntering past the house on the road outside.
Some of those we interview have a wife, a daughter, or carer living with them. Most of these will absent
themselves while we are recording our interview, others like to sit in on proceedings, butting in every so often to exhort: "Tell them about...." Even those who busy themselves in the kitchen while we are at work have a habit of vacuuming the carpet in the
hall (sending vibrations through our audio recorder) or popping a curious head round the door,misled way through, to ask if we'd like a biscuit to go with the cup of coffee we have still not managed to drink.
I sound as if I'm complaining, I'm really not. I love the insights we gain into the lives of these amazing men and women who served their country in all manner of theatres of war and survived, not just to tell the tale - quite literally - but to enjoy happy,
fulfilled lives. If that happy, fulfilled life includes the regular booming of a grandfather clock, then that is just fine by me.
Today we are interviewing a former officer in the Indian Army. His wife wants
to know if Peter and I are a couple. Peter's reaction of mild horror at the very thought is a little sobering. I thought we rubbed along so well, too. He recovers his equanimity sufficiently to add that I am "very patient." Which sounds less than a fulsome
compliment, I fear.
When we were paired up, Peter and I, at our first project training session, we were told that if we didn't "get on" we could always ask for a change of partner. We were pretty sure that
would not be necessary as we felt we would get along like a house on fire.
And so it has proved to be. We are unfailingly courteous about ensuring that we take turns in (i) interviewing and (ii) Tackling The
Technicals. We never take it for granted that one of us will do the time consuming follow-up work of summarising each recorded interview but enquire solicitously after each other's current circumstances before agreeing who will do what. We agree on important
matters such as not arriving too early, or late, for our appointments and, being grateful for Peter's willingness to drive us here, there and everywhere, I never comment on the way he almost always takes the longest route to our destination, regardless of
the pleas from his satnav.
I rather think we may be our project manager Emma's Star Volunteers because she is always asking us if we could handle "just one more" interview. Let's face it, we must be doing
something right, don't you think?
In the beginning we were told that we would probably be asked to undertake two interviews, giving each of us a chance to play at being the Questioner. Over the last several months
we have been charged with no fewer than eight interviews between us though one, sadly, was a "no show" as our veteran had been taken into hospital.
That's the thing, you see. Several of those we have interviewed
are in their nineties. They are, to a man or woman, articulate, clear-minded, inspiring people - but they won't be around forever. Their stories really must be collected before the curtain falls on living memories.
Today's interviewee said he had never sat down with his son to tell him about his military career. It''s a common cry. Indeed, how I bewail the fact that I never took the time to interview my dear Dad about his desert war as a member of the Eighth Army.
What a story he would have told!
All our interviewees will receive a CD on which their interview has been recorded. They will be able to play it for their children and grandchildren who will be able to listen
to their voices for years to come. I rather think the sound of a loved one's voice telling a story of derring do years before the listener was born will be even more powerful than the written word.
for added effect, don't you know? - the regular chiming of a grandfather's clock marking the hours of a Life Well Lived.