How did you become a volunteer at RAF London?
I’m part of a Battlefields Trust group working on a project connected with the First Blitz – the Zeppelin and subsequent Gotha bomber raids on Britain during the Great War. Adam Shepherd hosted a meeting at London and he invited me to continue work he had started on the Collections Management System (CMS), identifying and tagging any item in the collection with a connection to the First Blitz. Through a process of methodically searching under a variety of keywords I managed to increase the number from around 200 to about 850. It was a couple of months after starting work here that I was formally recruited as a museum volunteer.
What typically do the archive team volunteers do?
The volunteers in the Archives and Library provide support to the full-time staff in several ways. For instance, one helps with answering enquiries from the public while another volunteer and I are working on cataloguing various parts of the collection, in order to make them more accessible for research. We also help staff at the Archive Viewing Sessions at the Museum, so we do also get to meet the public occasionally.
What is your role within the team and how long have you been doing it?
I’ve been working on creating descriptive indexes for collections of the personal papers of former Royal Flying Corps /Royal Navy Air Service and RAF personnel. Most material relates to the First World War but some of them went on to serve between the wars and even into the Second World War, so it can give a very interesting view of the changes that took place over time. It’s difficult to be exact due to the rather unusual route to becoming a volunteer, I’ve been here around about eighteen months now.
What aspects do you enjoy most about volunteering at the Museum?
One of the benefits of working behind the scenes is the privileged access one has to some of the ‘treasures’ – I recently had the chance to examine a secret sketchbook that had been made to record the ‘Great Escape’ from StalagLuft VII. One really fun aspect of the work is that you never know what you are going to find inside a file, envelope or album and then occasionally you Stumble on something that is significant. I call these “Forrest Gump moments” [from when he talks about surprises in chocolate boxes]; they’re not frequent but equally not impossibly rare.
How has working at the Museum helped you?
Some of the personnel whose records I’ve been trawling through were, at some point, employed on Home Defence duties so their records have been very useful in my research for the First Blitz project. As a ‘Cold War warrior’ I used to be very familiar with Warsaw Pact equipment; now I’m finding my First World War recognition skills are improving rapidly.
What would you say to someone who is considering volunteering? Go for it! The ‘permanent staff’ in the Archive and Library Team are very friendly and helpful, and treat me and the other volunteers as integral members of the team. It is clear that our efforts are regarded as valued contributions to the department’s overall activities