Jaqui's Daily Blog

Capturing Military Voices

We are playing around - or, to be strictly accurate, practising - with audio and video equipment. Our trainer suggests that when we visit our victims - sorry, interviewees - we should set up all the equipment while enjoying a cup of tea. In this way our victims - sorry, interviewees - will not be unduly perturbed by Matters Technological and will forget all about the recording once the interview begins.

Over a short refreshment break, one of my fellow volunteers confesses that there is one thing that is really worrying her. Is it ensuring that the sound levels are just right, that the microphone is working, that the red flashing light has stopped flashing, so signalling that recording has started? No, none of the above, it seems. "Suppose we don't get offered a cup of tea?" she agonises. I hadn't thought of that.

We are at the local library for our day's training as members of the Interview Team for the new Military Voices Project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. We will be capturing, on tape and film, the stories of veterans from conflicts stretching from the Second World War to Iraq. In time, if you are interested, you will be able to buy a book, visit a travelling display, check out a website and see clips on YouTube. It is going to be Amazing. Especially if we can get the equipment to work, with or without an introductory cuppa.

It's a full-on day but it passes in a flash. It is an early start for me: the Pulse bus driver looks at me askance when he sees me at the bus stop well before the time when my bus pass qualifies me for free travel. He probably thinks that, like the Queen, I never carry money on my person.

On arrival, I have my photo taken for an ID badge. I stand in front of a blue display board and grin broadly, trying not to think too much about my windswept hair. We don't have an opportunity to check out our photos so it's a good thing I am not too vain. Hopefully I will be vaguely recognisable when I present my ID to my interviewee. Maybe I shouldn't have grinned quite so manically?

We are going to work in teams of two so I am introduced to Peter who is to be my Partner in Crime. We exchange information about our families, our interests, where we live, what kind of work we used to do, I think we will get along famously. If necessary, one of us can make the tea while the other one sets up...

To whet our appetite, we listen to short excerpts from recordings made back in the 1980s by a chap called Peter Baker, who interviewed more than thirty veterans of the First World War. The discovery of these recordings, hidden away in a loft somewhere and unheard for over thirty years, was the inspiration for this new project. We listen in absolute silence: the voices may quaver but the stories come through loud and strong, funny and poignant, shocking and surprising. We are all fired up and ready to go. We can't wait to find out who we will be interviewing.

We practice interviewing techniques with our partners. We have been instructed not to encourage our interviewees verbally but instead by nodding, smiling, looking astonished or sad as appropriate. Glancing round the room as we practise in our pairs, I can see lots of extravagant nodding going on. Honestly, we look like those nodding dogs you see in the rear windows of cars. We learn that when our interviewees stop talking, we should count to five, if not ten, to make sure that they are finished with that particular story and not simply drawing breath or reassembling their thoughts.

We watch as the project manager demonstrates how to set up the tablet. Peter, who has seen that I am carrying my I-Pad around with me, whispers that he assumes I am fully conversant with All Things Tablet-Related. I hardly like to spoil the start of a Beautiful Relationship by confessing that I owe it all to grandson Jack.

It will be the New Year before we receive details of our first veteran to be interviewed. I hope I won't have forgotten by then how to turn on the recorder, adjust the sound levels, set up the tablet and nod encouragingly.


Most of all, though, I want to be able to capture their thoughts, their fears and their dreams. I feel humbled that they are willing to allow us to hear their stories, that they trust us give them a voice.

I hope I won't let them down...

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Latest comments

23.04 | 20:15

lovely and heartwarming - an inspiration to us all x

09.03 | 12:07

Love this story told as ever beautifully.x

10.11 | 21:31

What a super account of a special event. I loved meeting you last night and seeing your creation come together. I’m so pleased you got so much from the activity

07.09 | 13:17

I have broad shoulders x

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