School of Cultural Studies and Humanities

Mapping the Second World War

History students recently took a range of sources about World War II veteran Fred Barber, kindly provided by his family, and turned it into a range of fascinating interactive maps which helped to bring Fred’s experience of the war to life.
Picture of Fred Barber in uniform

As part of the module Community History Workshop, and following on from previous projects carried out with the firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), access was given to a mini archive of information about Fred Barber, grandfather of a former PwC employee. Using the contents of this archive various additional aspects of Fred’s wartime life, such as food and relationships, were explored and mapped out in order to give a fresh perspective and provide a more rounded picture of Fred and his family’s experience of the conflict.

We spoke to two students involved in the project Emily Chadwick and Ethan Potts, both 2020 graduates who studied BA (Hons) History. 


Food and World War II

Emily focussed on the relationship between servicemen and food as part of the conflict, and used information of Fred’s experience, gathered from pieces of correspondence, “to give an intimate insight into the psychological and physical effects that food could have on a soldier”. With this the project took on a clearer form,

“[we took] extracts from Fred’s diaries and letters and used the locations to find photographs and video footage of troops in the same places. We did this with the specific intention of providing Fred’s family with a virtual experience that would demonstrate the conditions their grandfather had endured.”

Using their research, Emily and fellow student Billie and Louise created a story map which you can view here. The teams work shone a lot of light on Fred and his fellow soldiers’ relationship with food, highlighting how the whole story of the war was punctuated with the experience of what there was to eat. As their work concluded,

“soldiers’ meals would depict how their day would be; a good meal would lead to a good day in terms of well-being. Whilst wartime food usually generates thoughts of rations, it was so much more for the soldiers. It was a small aspect that played a huge role in their experiences.”


North Africa

Ethan focussed on Bradford-born Fred’s movement through North Africa. To be able to plot this, he first had to overcome the challenges created by the fact that many of the cities, regions and countries in that part of the world have changed borders and names over the last 75 years. Once Ethan was able to align the records with contemporary geography, he was able to visualise Fred’s movement through specialist software, Ethan said:

“some fifty-five locations were uncovered on Fred's journey around Britain during his training, his journey to the North African and Italian campaigns and his journey back on the eve of 1946”.

The map created by Ethan, along with Archie Perry and Luigi Asamoah cab be viewed here.


Fred Barber’s Story

In working on this project Emily, Ethan and their peers were able to apply skills already learnt on the course whilst also gaining experience in researching and how to present findings in a way that were both easy to digest and packed with historical information. As Emily commented, the work taught them a range of things, including working concisely to a brief as well as “how to present to an audience I have curated for, and how to efficiently research from archival materials”.

Upon completion of the research and story maps, including this one looking at Fred and his wife Doris’s wartime correspondence, students got the opportunity to present their findings back to Fred’s family, whose generosity had made the whole project possible. Working on bringing Fred’s story to life was for Emily “an amazing thing to be a part of” and sharing everything with the family made it truly worthwhile. This sentiment was shared by Ethan who found the work brought him “an enormous feeling of pride” resulting from the fact he was able to give an “'uncovered' piece of history to the Barber family”. For this he expressed a sense of “personal gratitude to both the Barber Family and Henry Irving [module leader]. Who inspired me throughout the project”.


Module Recognition

The Community History Workshop was recognised at Leeds Beckett University’s annual awards, Golden Robes, where it was nominated for the prize of best module. It was described by nominating students as “as the favourite module undertaken across their three years on the course”. 

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By School of Cultural Studies and Humanities
02 Aug 2021
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