POLITICAL heavyweight Shirley Williams – Baroness of Crosby – was amongst people who told their stories and presented mementoes from the First World War at Somerville College.

Expert historians interviewed visitors at the Somerville Great War Roadshow to add their stories to a vast digital archive, Europeana 1914-1918, with the college also exhibiting memorabilia.

Also on display were pictures of the college’s Woodstock Road site during the war, depicting hospital staff and members of the armed forces who stayed there.

The college was used as a military hospital and housed, among others, the poets Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon.

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Baroness Crosby, a former secretary of state and joint founder of the breakaway Social Democratic Party, visited to inspect records made by her mother Vera Brittain that are now kept in the college archive. One of Mrs Brittain’s biographers, Mark Bostridge, accompanied Baroness Crosby as she looked through the collection.

Mr Bostridge, 50, said: “One of the most extraordinary things that has come out of the centenary commemorations is the discovery of just how much First World War memorabilia people have and how keen they are to share their experiences.

“For myself and Shirley the most interesting section was the display on Vera Brittain which Somerville had on display.

“They even had the original [publishing] contract for Testament of Youth. It is being released as a feature film in January.

Banbury Cake:

  • Shirley Williams, Baroness of Crosby, visits the college along with author Mark Bostridge        Picture: OX71206 David Fleming

“It seems extraordinary to me now that Vera Brittain thought to some extent that she would be forgotten. Her story has a kind of immortality to it and will be told for decades to come. Shirley was very moved by that.”

Vera Brittain (1893-1970) was a best-selling writer and pacifist, who wrote the memoir Testament of Youth, which recounted her First World War experiences.

Mrs Brittain had been an English undergraduate at Somerville in 1914, but at the end of her first year left to become a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse in London, Malta and France for the rest of the war.

She was to return to Somerville in 1919 and published Testament of Youth in 1933. After her death in 1970 a collection of her letters and research material, used by biographers Mr Bostridge and Paul Berry, was given to the college. Both have recently acted as consultants for the film version of Mrs Brittain’s famous book.

Europeana is an archive made up of films, national collections and mementos from the public.

Experts also took copies of medals, diaries, photographs and letters brought to the event on Saturday.

 

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