Britain’s stand against Hitler meant that the country saw the largest and most diverse inward migration in its history, as millions of people either fled the Nazis or came to join the fight against Germany and its allies. This remarkable influx was largely forgotten in the aftermath of World War Two, but historians at the University of Huddersfield – led by Professor Wendy Webster – have recovered and collated memories of the period and made them the basis of an exhibition.
Johnny Pohe – Maori RAF pilot
Professor Webster has conducted extensive archival research for Mixing It, which will also include a book to be published in 2016. Her research traces the rich and complex history of national and ethnic diversity in Britain during the Second World War. Although such diversity was unprecedented, it is largely absent from memories of war. The project looks at a range of wartime sexual, racial and cultural encounters between different national and ethnic groups. It explores the impact of diversity on British society and the contributions of different groups to wartime culture, focusing on the BBC and British cinema.
The project, backed by funding of £110,000 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, includes oral history interviews with ex-service personnel and Jewish Kindertransport refugees, who are among the last surviving witnesses to the fear and turmoil unleashed in Europe by Hitler and the Nazis.
Imperial War Museum North
They include the memories of two women who were parted from their German Jewish parents when they were sent to safety in the UK on the Kindertransport trains. There are also memories of the large numbers of Chinese seamen who were vital to the Merchant Navy as it braved U-boats to bring supplies to Britain.
There are photographs and text displays that tell remarkable stories, such as that of Johnny Pohe – a Maori RAF pilot who was murdered by the Gestapo after escaping his POW camp. There are pictures that illustrate the enormous diversity of people who came to Britain, including Dutch child refugees, Canadian sailors and aircrew, war workers from the West Indies, Indian pilots, Norwegian seamen and huge numbers of Polish service personnel.