A Huddersfield University project is looking for people to share memories of World War Two.
The Mixing It project is being organised by Dr Janette Martin from the university’s history department.
She said: “I’m actively looking for non-British born people willing to share their memories of World War Two. Did a member of your family fight alongside the British in the Second World War or arrive as a war worker, prisoner-of-war or refugee? Our research project at the University of Huddersfield is recording the histories of the different national groups which spent time in the north of England during World War Two as part of a project investigating the diversity of Britain’s wartime population.
“We are hoping to interview ex-service personnel, war workers and refugees but, as most are very elderly, we are also interested in speaking with their descendants. Besides recording memories and family stories the project team is looking for photographs, diaries and memorabilia. Information gathered by this project will feed into an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester. The exhibition opens in September.”
Dr Martin added: “Non British allies were welcomed with open arms during the war but afterwards attitudes hardened. They were accepted in uniform but less so in the immediate post war years. There’s the finding of the Gallup Poll held in June 1946 which showed that 30% of those interviewed favoured allowing Poles to remain in Britain, but 56% favoured deporting them.”
One of the highest profile overseas fighter in the war was Porokuru (Johnny) Pohe who was the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s first Maori pilot. During the Second World War he flew in the RAF’s No 51 Squadron based at Snaith in the East Riding from October 1942. He was nicknamed ‘Lucky Johnny’, successfully completing 22 missions flying Whitley bombers.
His luck ran out in September 1943 on a raid over Germany when his Halifax was hit by flak and caught fire and he had to ditch the plane off the French coast. He was captured and sent to Stalag Luft III where he wrote to his parents: “I am quite all right, but very disappointed that my career should end in a POW camp.”
Johnny was involved in what was subsequently known as the Great Escape which was the subject of numerous books and the Hollywood film starring Steve McQueen. He was one of the 76 allied airmen who escaped, but after six days was caught. When recaptured, 50 escapees were executed by the Gestapo and, sadly, Johnny was one of them.
Anyone who can help should contact Janette Martin by email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 01484 472452.
Alternatively write to Dr Janette Martin, ‘Mixing It’ project, History Department, School of Music, Humanities and Media, Queensgate, University of Huddersfield, HD1 3DH.