Discover VE Day and World War II…On Our Shelves!

As today marks the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day we take a look at some of the resources we hold within our collections.

Throughout the course of the war, the Athenaeum did its bit. The railings were taken to be melted down and used in industry, there was a fire watch station on the roof, although the Directors did draw the line at having heavy machinery placed on their lawn!

The Athenaeum held copies of the pamphlets published by His Majesty’s Stationery Office along with photographs from the Ministry of Information which could be put up for display, showing some of the heroism of the Allies and the progress of the war. When the Americans came the Athenaeum helped them trace their North Devonian and British ancestors. However, visitors to the area were not permitted to consult the Ordnance Survey maps we held.

Collection of World War Two Pamphlets

Being an archive and museum, as well as a library meant, the Athenaeum kept many of these resources. We still regularly use the maps that were put under restriction during both wars. We also have the pamphlets, including the iconic Make Do and Mend and the rather useful Meet the U.S. Army pamphlets.

Amongst the images produced by the Ministry of Information are two images of London and Berlin taken on VE Day itself. The crowds in Trafalgar Square and a bombed-out section of Berlin.

We also kept copies of the local newspapers and national magazines. We hold both the North Devon Journal and the North Devon Herald. The papers (which originally had two opposing political views) were bought by the same man, who merged them together in 1940 to become the North Devon Journal-Herald. The paper wrote about the celebrations large and small, most of which consisted of Church bells ringing and services of thanks being given. We also hold copies of the Illustrated London News which contains more national and international coverage of the war and the VE Day celebrations. They were kept in the Times Room alongside copies of The Times in our old building until our move in 1988.

The Times Room in the old North Devon Athenaeum Building

Over the years, since the end of the war we have collected other items including several books written both during and after the war, original documents and ephemera. Many of these hold stories about local experiences of the war.

The Chivenor Collection covers the history of RAF Chivenor during the war, including the night a German aircraft landed there and their crucial involvement in D-Day.

Part of the offensive to liberate Italy, we hold Regimental histories for both The Devonshire Regiment and the Yeomanry.  There are also research notes in the John Rowe Collection about the role our local regiments took in the war as well as more general information about equipment and the battles they were involved with.

In 1995 the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon undertook an oral history project and produced several booklets of reminiscences from local people. The stories cover rationing, life growing up in Wartime Britain and servicemen and women’s experiences at home and abroad. They are a wonderful source of stories which have been preserved for the future.

To find out more about what we hold one our shelves visit our catalogue.

…Barum Athena

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