LESSONS ABOUT HISTORY COME FROM THE PEOPLE who lived it in a new undergraduate course designed to record the stories of World War II veterans. Prof. Shawn Cafferky’s students, assisted by the local branch of the Royal United Services Institute, speak to veterans about their war years, write about and archive them for future use.
Gene Johnson, a student in the first session of History 394, produced a fascinating account of the experiences of four air force veterans—Arthur Kinnis, Norman Reid, Arthur Sager and Jim Lang—some of whom were either prisoners of war or evaded capture after being shot down.
Kinnis was held captive in a concentration camp and “occupied his time by thinking of the house he would one day build in Victoria,” Johnson reports. “He even drew scaled diagrams of it, sketching them in the same diaries used to record the toil of his daily existence at Buchenwald and Stalag Luft III.”
Johnson’s paper, and those of Cafferky’s other students, have been added to the McPherson Library’s Special Collections, which also holds the Reg Roy Military History Collection—named for the retired Vic College and UVic history professor who encouraged students to use oral history as a research tool.
“(The veterans) expressed the belief that their wartime experience had taught them a lot about themselves and their fellow man,” Johnson’s paper concludes. “This is perhaps oral history’s greatest value. Even if it does not teach us anything more about the ‘bigger pictures’ than we already know, it still teaches us something about ourselves, and about the resiliency of humankind.”
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