Student at Essex University, Olivia Smith, was lucky enough to obtain an internship at the Western Front Association. The Western Front Association (WFA) in a non-profit organisation which insist on furthering interest in World War I, also known as the First World War, the Great War, or the War to End All Wars in 1914-1918. The WFA aims to perpetuate the memory, courage and comradeship of those on all sides who served their countries in France and Flanders and their own countries during the Great War. In this interview, she not only shares her experience, but portrays her thoughts and feelings on her experience with the WFA.
What it entailed?
“So, it wasn’t the usual process for an internship I took initiative. In August I went over to Belgium with my Dad for the centenary events commemorating the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele). Upon the main event, we were escorted to the main Passchendaele museum grounds in Zonnenbeke and there I was so inspired as to how people there were able to be a part of such a historical event. After the commemorations at Tyne Cott, we went back to the Passchendaele museum grounds and there I went around the tents exploring the historical companies who were there.
One was the Commonwealth War Grave Commission of which I simply enquired as to who I could speak in regards to internships.Unfortunately, they hadn’t at the time set up that area within their business. We moved onto the Western Front Association (WFA) tent, it was very busy, but I enquired to those who were working there about internships and they pointed me into the direction of Andy Tonge ,European Officer, who was busy at the time. I took a business card and exchanged emails coming away with some hope.
Once I had gotten home I immediately emailed Andy and expressed my desire to work within a historical event that focusses on public History, and teaching History to the masses through new modern forms. A few days later I received an email and at first, a phone call had been arranged to discuss what I could do. I had been told I was put forward on the main WFA meeting agenda so I knew it was serious. From the phone call, I knew exactly what was done, they had created this internship for me. Following this, was a meeting in London which confirmed the details? ”
What did your internship entail?
“The internship itself was first discussed on the phone call/meeting was that a relationship whereby the WFA provide me with something that can benefit myself as a young Historian, look good on my CV ,but also something that the WFA can benefit from. What Andy had proposed that I design a booklet about a piece of land the WFA owns on the Somme. This piece of land is called ‘The Butte De Warlencourt’, situated along the road between Albert and Bapume it is the furthest place that the British and Commonwealth forces reached during the 1916 Somme offensive.
I am (still in the process) to create a booklet containing this historical information, to then
A) have it published by the WFA and be an accredited Historian
B) have extracted from the booklet to go up around the site of The Butte De Warlencourt, so when tourists, schools etc. visit they will have information boards (of my work) to read up on.”
How you found it and what were you ‘day-to-day’ jobs/task?
“What was required of me was to dig deep, look into the History of the Butte, before 1914, during the start of the war, The Somme, and the events that followed. For me, this involved three days in the Imperial War Museum sifting through regimental diaries, personal letters, diaries, photos to piece together what it was like around the Butte during the First World War. Some of the accounts were amazing, just reading through certain diaries really puts you in their shoes and their experiences. This mainly got underway around September time, and I was doing the research and putting together the text for the booklet whilst I was still at home and working as a waitress; my luck of doing split shifts meant I had the daytime free to work.”
“I want to go into areas of Public History that communicate and most importantly educate History to the masses…”
Does this experience fit it in with your future career?
“This type of work certainly fits in with the idea of my future career. I’ve realised that in our modern world we have to change the way we teach History, so I want to go into areas of Public History that communicate and most importantly educate History to the masses- whether this is through media etc. I am determined to find a way.”
Did you enjoy your time working there?
“I am still working with the WFA, this is something that will carry on until next summer. However, I am also a member so that means I can join the WFA over in Ypres for the final centenary months next year, and for as long as I may wish. Many people told me when I was in Ypres two weekends ago, that I am the new generation of Historians who will be taking over, and I think it is important to keep History alive.”
Would you recommend this internship?
“I would highly recommend taking that initiative and asking, I believe I was lucky, however it has inspired me to always take that choice and ask because you really do not know until you ask.”
How were the people you worked with?
Andy Tonge was just amazing, he gave/gives me a lot of advice if required, and it is all very independent quite like doing a dissertation through choice, so I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting all the people behind the scenes of the WFA yet. Although, going over to Ypres did help in obtaining new contacts, and meeting new people who would benefit from my historical career.”
How do you feel about your experience?
“Lucky. That is probably the best way to describe it. Not many opportunities like this come up and this really is something that I believe can kick-start my career.”
What have you learned through this internship?
“I’ve learned to view History differently in a way. To really focus in on the micro-history, as that’s where the interesting stories lie. It is very similar my required task, as to what a certain assignment could be like so I’ve tried to not to make it seem so unknown by treating it like a piece of coursework.”
What was one of the best moments of your experience?
“Standing in a trench in Shrewsbury Forrest, nearly knee-deep in watery mud (thank god I always carry my Hunters in my car as you don’t know when they would be required), exploring where the German front line was on 31st July 1917. That and bringing back to life the soldiers who fought during the “Great War”, as the unquiet histories really should be brought back to life.”
Who should I contact if I want an internship in the Western Front Association?
“Andy Tonge (firstname.lastname@example.org) or just email the WFA, they are a very welcoming historical association”.
How did the university help you with your endeavors?
“The History Department was fantastic in the fact that they helped with fees when I went over to Belgium, so as a student that really took off some stress and made the opportunity for me to go over for the 99th Armistice more possible.”