P.hD Study – An Introduction

Hi, I’m Evelyn a P.hD researcher within the Department of Social Sciences at the University of Wolverhampton. I’m exploring the role of the Quaker Unit of humanitarian aid workers called the Friends Ambulance Unit [FAU] active during and after both World Wars.

 

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 The Quaker memorial site, National Memorial Arboretum Alrewas, Staffordshire. For more information please see the memorial trust page at http://www.qsmt.org.uk

 

I started my research in November 2015 as a part-time student and am hoping to begin teaching in September 2016. As I am half german on my mother’s side, I am particularly looking forward to delving into the archives and discovering first-hand accounts of life in war-torn Berlin, an experience my mother never spoke about. Additionally, I hope to use this blog as an online progress report and repository for future papers and presentations. And finally, if I can inspire just one person to commit to post-graduate study after reading of my exploits my humble efforts will not have been in vain – thank you for your interest and don’t hesitate to ask any questions regarding my work or the University experience.

Second World War Research Group (SSRG) Annual Conference, 13-14 June 2019

 

So here I am again giving a paper on the FAU in comparative perspective and chairing a panel on Smaller Powers at War. It was lovely to catch up with some fellow PhD students who I had assumed had already finished/graduated, but as it turned out all of them were still plodding along just like me. This can easily happen especially as a mature student – life can get in the way and studying has to go on the backburner. However, it looks as if we are all back on track and after putting the world to rights we were able to enjoy the conference and the wide variety of papers ranging from ‘The First Mass Transport into Auschwitz’ to ‘The Use of Britain’s Fishing Fleet …’ – all of them had interesting and new facts to offer, with delegates attending from all over the globe, so it was only fair that we showed them some local hospitality. Firstly we headed to the Hogs Head and then dinner at the Novotel. Some of the younger delegates went into town from there, but I can’t comment on what they may have got up to, after all, what happens at conference stays at conference!

 

Day two began with a thought-provoking keynote address by a previous PhD student of Gary Sheffield’s, Jenny Macleod of Hull University. She managed to convince us all that as WW2 researchers we need to be preparing now for the 2039 anniversary of the start of WW2 so that by then there will be a substantial amount of academic work in place … fail to prepare, etc., etc. This was followed by the final panels of the conference with Dr. Macleod going on to chair the closing Roundtable which summed up the conference and highlighted the variety of topics covered during the two days. And then it was over. Always sad to say goodbye to new found friends, but hopefully, it won’t be long before the next conference, the next batch of new research and another good catch up.

Living History- Holocaust Survivor Kitty Hart-Moxon

What a memorable day! Today I had the great honour of meeting Holocaust survivor, Kitty Hart-Moxon, OBE (born December 1, 1926).

Kitty was just 12 when the Germans invaded her hometown of Bielsko in Poland and as a result, her family fled to the city of Lublin. However, within weeks the Nazis occupied the city and everyone who was registered as a Jew was forced into a ghetto. Kitty and her mother managed to obtain some non-Jewish documents from a priest and entered Germany as workers, only for their true identity to be discovered. As a result, the pair were arrested and found guilty of entering the country illegally with documents that did not belong to them. Instead of receiving the death penalty, they were sentenced to Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp where Kitty’s jobs included digging ditches, working in the latrines and sorting through the clothes of murdered victims. There she survived for two years and was also imprisoned at other camps and forced onto death marches across Germany. Shortly after her liberation in April 1945 by American soldiers and a year working with the Quakers in the DP camps, Kitty moved to England with her mother, where she married and dedicated her life to raising awareness of the Holocaust. She has written two autobiographies entitled I am Alive (1961) and Return to Auschwitz (1981).

Even at 92 Kitty’s memory is as sharp as ever and she gladly went into great detail explaining her journey and survival under Nazi rule. Not only did she explain the unimaginable horror of those years, but also provided us with a delicious tea, homemade cake and strawberries. A true inspiration and living proof to those who seek to deny or revise the Holocaust – this happened and Kitty was there!

 

Above, Kitty has preserved her mother’s and her own camp tattoo for posterity for all those who doubt the horrors of Auschwitz. And finally, receiving her OBE for her great work in Holocaust education and for ensuring these things can never happen again – we must never forget.

PhD Journey, mid-way activities

So, I thought it was about time I added something to my blog as I’ve been busy collating data from my research trips and trying to organise my thoughts into chapters – not at all interesting to anyone else. However, recently I’ve been offered opportunities to become involved in events to encourage new applicants or existing students to continue their studies at our fabulous University (totally unbiased opinion).

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to give a presentation of my work to the University branch at Stafford as part of an initiative to encourage interest in the WW2 Masters course. The point was to show that a war module does not just cover military matters but modern-day research includes many aspects of conflict studies previously unexplored. The audience was very engaged and asked interesting questions. It was an encouraging experience and doing such presentations not only gets your work out to a wider audience but focuses your mind as you have to keep up to date with all aspects of your topic in order to answer any question the audience might raise.

 

It also helps to attend colleagues’ lectures for tips on how to get your research over to an audience. As my supervisor is constantly lecturing at our various campuses I decided to join Dieter at our Telford branch as I had never seen it before. Everyone was very welcoming and the paper was enthusiastically received. In fact, many of the audience had attended previous talks and were very impressed and keen to chat afterwards. A great success all around.

 

Additionally, not long after this outing, I was working away at home when a friend messaged me saying she had just seen me in Tettenhall Wood and also in Penn. I was somewhat confused as I hadn’t been out all day. However, it soon transpired that I was in Tettenhall Wood, on the side of a phone box! The Uni had asked if they could use my picture on some open day brochures which they did, but I didn’t know about this!

 

I was also lucky enough to have my quotation chosen to be added to the Molyneux Underpass refurbishment earlier in the year – this really is the University of opportunity!

And finally, I had volunteered to do some tutoring for the first group of WW2 MA students which I enjoyed very much. They were a great bunch and when they were due to graduate, several asked if I would be there too. I enquired about getting a ticket and was asked if I would like to be part of the platform party, i.e. on the stage! Of course, I jumped at the chance – never in a million years when I first came to the University did I imagine I would ever be with the academics and officials on the stage. I felt very honoured and it was great to see the MA students who had started their course lacking in confidence stride up to receive their well-earned certificates. Later, we met the graduates’ families and a few carried on the celebrations at the Hogs Head. After all, it was an achievement to be proud of and a few will be carrying on to PhD so there’ll be plenty more ceremonies to attend in the future. Hopefully, one of them will be mine!

 

 

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MA Graduates Simon, Rebecca and Don with their proud module leader Dieter

 

A Spreadsheet too Far …

And so, after months of collecting data from Friends House, my supervisor suggested an SPSS statistics course which in theory would help me present my research. Many times I expressed my misgivings as I’ve never even filled out a spreadsheet, but my supervisor was determined and my place was duly booked and paid for.

I’ve been dreading this day for many weeks, but at 7.24 this morning I boarded the train and off I went to face my statistical fears at the Imperial College, London.

Often, when I’m concerned about giving a presentation or taking a seminar, it turns out to be much better than I had feared, but this workshop met exactly with my expectations – I was out of my depth as soon as I logged in and couldn’t believe this was an introductory course. I spoke to the lecturer a couple of times, and initially, he didn’t seem concerned that I was close to tears and seriously considering heading off home. But then I thought about the money Wolverhampton University had paid for me to be there, so I decided to stick it out and just do the best I could.

I found out that my fellow students were already in IT jobs and were just brushing up on their existing skills, so I felt a little encouraged to know that I was not just being pathetic. Additionally, everyone I told about my impending day pulled a face and said as if with one voice, “I did SPSS and could never get the hang of it” ( this from ‘A’ level students and retired teachers!). Even the lecturer told me he didn’t use it in his everyday work as there were better programmes available. And yet, there I was, practising with entering data, variables, and making graphs and charts. I didn’t attempt the practice hypotheses as that really was beyond me, but the handouts were very detailed and easy to follow so I hope I will be able to use the programme to collate and compare my own findings – eventually.

 

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Tutor, Joseph Eliahoo, Imperial College, London

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Trying to look enthusiastic but desperate for this torture to be over!

 

Having accepted my limitations, and raced home as fast as ‘Virgin’ would take me, I’ve actually booked myself onto an “Introduction to Statistics” workshop at Wolverhampton which will be local and free. It’s a little bit back to front, but I hope it will give me the confidence to get to grips with SPSS and produce some exciting and accurate representations of my research. And next time my supervisor pushes me to attempt something I know in my heart I just can’t do, I hope to have the courage of my convictions to just say ‘no’.

As a codicil to my SPSS day, my Uni workshop was much more of a success. Dr. Wilson explained the basics which I really needed, and now I know where to turn if I have any doubts about my own choice of data presentation or analysis – I also got some tips from my fellow students. All in all a really useful day and a big thumbs up for the Uni expertise – looking forward to the follow-up session.

In memory of David Cesarani

 

When my supervisor told me about this conference two years ago, it seemed like a lifetime away – but all of a sudden it became a last-minute deadline and an intense, stressful few weeks over Christmas, trying to write and prepare my first conference paper. It seemed like a hopeless task with so many other commitments but somehow it came together, and although the surges of panic kept washing over me, I managed to resist the urge to run away and remembered the topic of my paper. If ordinary, decent people could endure and survive years of persecution and Orwellian control under the Nazi regime, what were my worries? That really put my fears into perspective.

 

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Made it! Plenary welcome by David Feldman of the Pears Institute for the study of Antisemitism, Birbeck University, London

 

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My first conference as a speaker

The welcome continued with speeches by my supervisor, Professor Dieter Steinert from the University of Wolverhampton, and Suzanne Bardgett from the Imperial War Museums, UK, all of which made us feel as though our humble offerings were actually quite important, contributing new ways of looking at those dreadful war years, and adding under-researched topics to the world of Holocaust studies.

 

 

 

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Dieter gives the welcome speech in memory of his good friend, David

 

 

 

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The late Professor Cesarani

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David Cesarani was the leading British-based historian of the modern Jewish experience. He was also a notable commentator and broadcaster on the Jewish past and present and took a prominent role in Holocaust education in Britain and abroad. He is also greatly missed by his friends and colleagues, many of whom were with us at the conference.

 

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Taking it all in

 

 

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Professor Tim Cole, University of Bristol, Uk and Dr.Christine Schmidt, deputy director and head of research at the Wiener Library, UK

Tim’s Keynote speech, ” ‘Please mind the gap’, integrated histories and geographies of the Holocaust and Holocaust memory” gave us all pause for thought.

And then it was my turn … Panel 3, ‘Survivors in post-war Germany’, uh-oh!

 

 

 

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A 20 minute paper with questions at the end actually goes by really quickly. I was amazed to find such interest in my topic, especially from Dr.Toby Haggith from the Imperial War Museums, London. Apparently, not only did he himself attend a Quaker school and had never heard of my Quakers in Nazi Germany, but he is also involved in a new exhibition which will involve Quaker history (he took my card). All in all, it seemed to go really well, allowing me to relax and enjoy the rest of the conference with its variety of excellently researched topics.

Below: Two of the Panels chaired by Dan Stone, Professor of Modern History and Director of the Holocaust Research Institute at RHUL.                           fullsizeoutput_f19 fullsizeoutput_f1c

Not only are conference days filled with exciting new papers and research ideas, but the social side of these events is also important. Chatting with academics and researchers from around the world is very rewarding. It certainly leaves us with the impression that the world of academia is one large family. The food wasn’t bad either!

And then, of course, there was the reception at the Embassy. Networking in sumptuous surroundings with delicious Austrian wine and nibbles:

And finally, after three days of intense concentration and socialising, it was time to say our goodbyes amongst promises of keeping in touch and meeting up again for the seventh International Multidisciplinary conference – starting my research now!

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Mince pies and trivia – it was historical!

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And so, despite the heavy snow, the FOSS Christmas Quiz was on! As I arrived wearing my Christmas jumper as instructed, I was greeted by the organisers, Karin and Edda and a solitary student – “hmm, thought I, I’m in with a chance here”. However, slowly but surely people flooded in having bravely faced the icy conditions. Karin was somewhat crestfallen as she had decided that a snowball fight in the courtyard would be a better option in view of the numbers. Thankfully, after an influx of studious-looking types, including the head of the History department and assorted boffins, the quiz was reinstated and we were organised into groups.

 

 

Edda did a brilliant job of hosting a good variety of questions, and despite not being in a group containing senior lecturers, in my humble VL way our team managed a respectable second place. Third place went to the team headed by David, but I expect he was just going easy on us and didn’t want to overshadow proceedings with his extensive expertise!

The mince pies and other goodies were also most welcome, as was the cool University coffee mugs we were awarded as prizes. Strangely though, Karin would not let us have a WLV’s pencil – maybe next year? All in all, a lovely Christmas get together under difficult circumstances – a great way to start our Christmas week of festive fun.

Love To Learn, Live To Teach

Having recently changed my methodology to include qualitative as well as quantitative research, I decided to attend the Doctoral College Symposium on “Research Methods and your Research Presence”. I was impressed by the diversity and number of PhD students who attended and was very pleased to meet up again with Edda, now a PhD student in the History department.

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Although I attended a similar symposium last year, this one reminded me how I should be organising my thesis and the importance of clearly explaining my methodology. It even gave me some new ideas for looking at my existing research in different ways. Despite being in my second year, I found Ben and Debras’ advice very inspiring and knowing that Ben also supervises the occasional Viva shows he knows what they are looking for.

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And having been buoyed up by the Doctoral College, I’ve now started teaching! Well VL work to be precise. I’ve always wanted to take seminars and although my group has been quite small, we’ve decided to keep the class together from now on to ensure there are enough students to get a really good debate going. I can’t wait till next week and am very grateful to the students for putting up with me. Like Edda, I’m actually a migrant from the English department, but War Studies has been an interest of mine for years and I hope I am contributing to the students’ knowledge base in some small way.

I’m off to London tomorrow to complete my current archival work. Much as I’m loving my additional responsibilities (I’m also a PGR representative for home and part-time students), I mustn’t forget to prioritise my PhD work – it’s slow progress but every step is one in the right direction.

Result! I’ve got my Powerpoint to work!!

International Day of Peace

Today I was invited by my good friend John Babb to join a group of Quakers at the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas near Lichfield, Staffordshire. The plan was to meet some of the other Quaker trustees from the Quaker Service Trust and then attend a meeting for worship at the Quaker Service Memorial. Unfortunately, the torrential rain meant a last minute change of plans and the meeting was held at the on-site chapel instead.

Quaker worship consists of quietly sitting together (usually in a circle but not today), contemplating God and life whilst listening to any observations any member wishes to make. No one is in charge and you only know the meeting has ended when the members shake hands with each other. It may seem strange to members of other faiths, but Quakers believe every individual relates to God in their own way – it’s surprisingly peaceful and calming.

“Let your life speak, answering that of God in everyone”  George Fox, 1624 – 1691.

The Quaker members were very friendly and interested in my FAU project, offering suggestions of where I might find papers or veterans to talk to. Everyone seems to know everyone else as they meet up at Quaker functions and meeting houses all over the country. We did decide to walk over to the memorial, and by the time we had waded through the mud, the rain had subsided leaving the golden stone of the memorial almost glowing.

Trustee Claire pointed out some details about the memorial I hadn’t noticed before, such as the seventeen brass stars on the ground representing the seventeen FAU members who lost their lives whilst serving in their humanitarian capacity during WW2. I was then treated to tea and cake whilst Claire and I chatted about my project and arranged to meet up soon to discuss my work further.

As Peace days go, this was a lovely way to mark a day that should really be observed nationally, yet I haven’t seen much about it in the press. With all the problems in the world today: terrorism, nuclear armament, and genocide to mention just a few, promoting education, friendship and kindness can only be a positive thing – seems logical to me!

 

War and Peace … studies

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Despite researching the Quakers who are and have always been very much against war, I find myself fascinated by all aspects of the European theatre of both World Wars. Hence when I heard there was a three-day conference at the University on El Alamein and the desert campaigns of WW2 my interest was piqued.

 

 

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Conference organizers Professor John Buckley (foreground) with Phil McCarty furthest away from the camera.

 

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Sadly, due to a previously arranged research trip to London, I was only able to attend a couple of the Keynote lectures, one by Professor Niall Barr on the desert campaigns, and today’s by Dr. Peter Lieb on the Desert Foxes. Both were honest appraisals of campaigns that are generally defined by the personalities of Montgomery and Rommel. Current research reveals that there is much more to the story than that!

I was pleased to note that such conferences are no longer glorifications of war, but rather an examination of primary sources untouched by revisionism. The speakers were not only knowledgeable but their delivery ensured that even someone like myself with a superficial awareness of military tactics could understand the lectures, whilst simultaneously engaging the many military experts in the room.

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I’m looking forward to the next war studies conference, but in the meantime I continue with my trips to Friends House, searching through the records of those who administered aid to the victims of such campaigns. Despite refusing to take up arms and take another’s life, members of the Friends Ambulance did their bit. My project may not be as glamorous as the exploits of Monty and Rommel, but even the main players need the stagehands in any theatre, and I aim to give the peace loving Quakers the credit they deserve.

Fail to prepare … making the most of your research trip

Not having made any research visits since last summer, I soon found out I had lost the knack somewhat. Knowing that I had a family trip to Hamburg coming up, I took the opportunity of checking online to see if there was any archival material available in Hamburg that might be of interest. A few references to Quaker work came up, so feeling super organised I printed them off in case an opportunity arose during my three-day visit. On the last day of our trip, I badgered my other half into accompanying me to the State archives. Twenty Euros later we arrived and found a lovely English speaking Librarian who was only too happy to order my documents, but sadly it would be at least two hours before they would be available. Hence a wasted opportunity as airport check-in was beckoning together with another twenty Euro taxi ride! Hopefully, I’ll be able to go back to Germany soon and I’ll definitely remember to pre-order – all I need to do then is find someone to translate them for me …

 

Next, a more successful few days at Friends House, London. This time I had been in conversation with the archivist requesting access to material not generally available. I was a bit nervous as she hadn’t let me know whether my request had been approved. However, I needn’t have worried, she came out to meet me and after a brief discussion couldn’t have been more helpful. All went well and I even managed to find time for a visit to the nearby Wiener Library in Russell Square. This is the oldest institution devoted to the study of the Holocaust, and they hold papers and documents relating to those persecuted by the Nazis during WW2. The only downside is their IT system is hopelessly complicated. As I’m writing a paper on survivors of Nazi persecution, on my next visit I will definitely need to book an IT appointment or two, but it certainly helps that all the archivists and librarians are very kind and helpful.

 

And finally, having identified a few FAU documents at Leeds University I decided I needed a day trip up North. Not being used to public transport, the train and bus rides were quite stressful and totally out of my comfort zone. I was also starting to feel quite lonely and fed up. This negativity was not helped by the fact that although I had emailed the night before requesting documents, I had totally forgotten to book an actual archive appointment so my request had not been acted upon! Hence, I had to wait around for my documents to arrive, and when they did come, they were not as useful as I had hoped. Often they were duplicates of those already accessed at Friends House, and at one point they couldn’t find the archived document at all. Eventually, I took the opportunity to scroll through Leeds Uni’s online journals and did find some useful articles which I succeeded in printing out, having mastered their printing system which was quite an achievement in itself. It probably wasn’t the most productive archival visit ever, but visiting other Universities is always interesting, and the central library was hugely impressive.

 

Overall, it’s difficult to tell from a document reference whether it will be at all useful to your studies or not. As researchers, we are always hoping to find a “smoking gun” or that long lost piece of evidence which will make headlines. Hence, unless you check it out, you’ll never know. Sometimes research visits are in vain, but get the most out of them by being prepared. Take ID, preferably a passport as you will have to register to use the archives. Check for online databases and identify references which might be of interest before you go. Book an appointment with your chosen library to ensure one to one attention. You will then have to book your travel and possible hotel accommodation. Also, keep your supervisor up to date with your plans – remember, they have been through all this themselves and can offer some useful advice. Mine tells me I have to be patient with research, and he’s absolutely right. I don’t intend to fail, so I’d better not fail to prepare from now on.