History and English students bring stories to life
In 2018, History and English students were granted exclusive access to PwC’s London-based archives and compiled a unique collection of letters sent and received by employers from Cooper Brothers & Co, a predecessor of PwC, during the First World War.
At the time of war, the letters Cooper Brothers & Co received from staff were combined in to a monthly newsletter names ‘Budget’ by a senior clerk, Samuel Squirrel. The History student involved have brought to life the stories of the former employees which were made into a book to mark the centenary of the First World War. The book, ‘Mr Squirrel’s Boy’s’ features nine men from Cooper Brothers & Co who went to fight on the war and sadly never returned. PwC hosted an event at their Leeds Central office on 9 November 2018. Both students and staff from the school attended this event to celebrate the launch of the book.
In addition to the research undertaken by our History students for the book, the collaboration with PwC also included a final year dissertation by BA (Hons) History graduate Christian Perry, who focussed on the Cooper Brothers & Co newsletter as the basis for his final year of study. In addition, students studying English with Creative Writing with us were inspired to write poetry from the wartime letters.
I liked the idea of doing the research and I think that that was a big thing that I got out of it. I know it was quite a small bit of research, but I still really enjoyed it and I thought that was a useful bit of experience to go forwards and also just working with other people and collaborating and bringing all this together into what it actually turned into, the book.
Callum was approach by or Senior Lecturer, Dr Henry Irving to get involved with the project, who was his module tutor for Public in the Past which he had particularly enjoyed.
Working on this project gave Callum the opportunity to work with new people and share knowledge. Mark Butterfield, currently studying for his PhD at the school, supported Callum as he was undertaking his research:
“I got to know these people and learn from them…. everyone was really welcoming, everyone was really happy to share their own knowledge and experience”
“Mark was really helpful for looking at some of the archives, and I had a bit of trouble with my chap looking at his military record…He helped me, I had a primary source, so I had Kenneth Ray Morrison’s military record, so there were bits on it that I didn’t really understand like he was on a suspects list and I didn’t know what that meant, Mark helped me understand what that meant.”
Callum was aware of PwC before he became involved with the project, but he felt it did open his eyes a little:
“I know they’re very good at what they do. I didn’t know that they had a Head Archivist, so I guess that’s quite a cool thing to know, that you could do that for a job as a history student. I’d never heard of companies having that role before.”
Looking to the future, Callum definitely feels this being involved with this project has given him an advantage and has been a great addition to his CV:
"I’m applying to do a masters and it’s an example of research because one of the masters courses I’m applying for is a research at Masters course… the research techniques I learnt helped me do the research for my dissertation which I did over the summer and I really enjoyed doing the research and I’d quite like to continue doing that”
I spoke to one of the employees there who was at the PwC launch of the book and he was a veteran, and I’m a veteran myself, and PwC have a Veteran’s wing which I wasn’t aware of…so there’s also a potential career pathway in that direction when you’ve made that sort of contact it’s always good to have alternatives to academia.
Mark first joined our school to study BA (Hons) History, since then his academic career has continued into master study with us and he is now completing his PhD researching the First World War, asylums and the aftermath of the First World War. Taking part in the project with PwC allowed him to bring his expertise to the group:
“I gave a hand to some of the students with some of the tools I’ve use on a regular basis, so things like Ancestry and Find My Past and things like that, those sort of online databases that are freely available but they sometimes need, you need to know what questions to ask the database, and little hints and tips to draw out the information that sort of thing, and how to link sources so you might be able to find the person’s name or their rank or which regiment they were in but that might not necessarily paint a broader picture unless you know the context to put it in to. It’s just adding a bit more depth to these names and the letters in the PwC book as well.“
A war veteran himself, Mark was aware of PwC before the project but not the extent to which they support veterans. Similarly, to Callum, Mark found the experience of working with new people studying at different levels a great learning experience:
“…we were straight in but sometimes that’s a good way to do it isn’t it I mean I got asked questions that made me think oh actually I don’t know the answer to that but it’s something that I should know. It was a learning experience for me as well as a teaching experience for the students. I think the range of different sources that anybody can find with a google search, there’s ample opportunity to do really good research by coming at it from a different angle… and they’re bringing their own skills and their own interests in…it was a great experience and I’d like to do it again.”
Attending the book launch at the PwC offices in Leeds, left Mark with a lasting impression:
“I got chatting to a guy who is interested in history and was asking me all sorts of questions about it and yeah it’s nice that it’s not just effectively the people that were directly involved with the project that the employees are interested as well.”