Start with people
- Begin with the person you are researching, his service mates, friends and family who were around when he enlisted and with friends and family who were around after he returned. People who remember the Second World War will be at least in their 70s. Don’t delay. They may not be alive to answer questions tomorrow, whereas books, documents, photos etc will still be accessible. Be considerate of your interviewee; his/her time, health, commitments and interests are valuable.
- Should you communicate by phone, email, letter or personal interview? Can you record your interview or do you take notes?
- Be prepared. Have a list of questions but be ready for digressions. They are often most valuable. Concentrate on getting the stories and who was present. You will only get these from personal recollection. If possible find out where the event occurred and (roughly) when. But remember these details are often forgotten with time and may be found in documents.
- Take prompts - e.g. photos, mementos.
- The journal of the R.S.L., ‘Mufti’, the journal of the Ex-POW and Relatives Association Victoria, ‘News Bulletin’ and the journal of the Ex-POW Association of Australia, ‘Barbed Wire and Bamboo’, will publish enquiries. Responses will probably enable you to make connections with men from other units.
Broadening your references
- Time and place are most important when tracking a person. Look for books which cover events at the same time and place as your subject, whether or not they are about his own unit.
- Some events are specific. They pinpoint which group your subject was with. Tracking a group or an officer is often the way to track your subject.
- Start with a book which you find easy to read. Leave books which are heavy going until you have a better grasp of the overall picture.
- Look at the bibliography in each book you encounter for further references.
- Diaries kept at the time and accounts written close to the time of the events are less likely to have flaws due to memory loss. Memory loss is most likely with regard to dates, less likely with regard to places and people and least likely with regard to events which occurred.
- Viewpoints and conditions of officers and ordinary ranks may differ. Viewpoints of different nationalities may also differ.
- British, Americans and Dutch served with Australians. Books written by them quite often mention Australians.
- Reading books from a range of viewpoints gives a broader understanding of events. Remember you weren’t there, so don’t be judgemental.
- Check at home for photos, letters, newspaper cuttings, annotations in old books, etc.
Keeping track of your subject
- Keep a record of your subject’s movements on the computer by date.
- The first date will be the date he enlisted. The last will be the date he was discharged. You can insert all the other dates of his movements as you come across them. You may also choose to insert dates of significant military events e.g. the fall of Singapore.
- Note your sources as they indicate the reliability, or otherwise, of your data.