MEETING ONE

 

 

We first met Martin at MERL in 2013. He was speaking about the Evacuee Archive at a meeting for scholars interested in the new Collections-based doctoral programme that was being set up by the University of Reading, much of which is organised by, and delivered at, the museum.

 

We were there because of our interest in the programme, and to see whether any research connections might be made. It was late afternoon and the rather informal meeting took place around a large table in an upstairs room. All those present sat some distance apart from each other. Martin was dressed quite formally in dark, rich colours, with a warm jacket and silk waistcoat, and he sported a bow tie. He sat across the white table from us, the light from a window overlooking MERL’s gardens framing his silhouetted form. As he spoke, his warm energy and emotional investment in his work were almost palpable. There also seemed to be an underlying urgency in his tone when he referred to the archive. At that stage, we had no real context for identifying or understanding that sense of urgency and its level of intensity, but it had a deeply compelling and engaging quality.

 

 

It was through this meeting that we established a connection and a shared set of research interests. Though we come from different disciplinary backgrounds, and this has necessitated an ongoing process of negotiation, that connection has fuelled and sustained the development of War Child.

 

Martin Parsons was born in Reading on the 12th November 1951. His connections with the town remain strong and reach far into his family’s past. His paternal grandfather was a master-baker at Reading-based biscuit factory Huntley & Palmers. Martin’s father was a tin-printer at its sister factory Huntley, Boorne & Stevens, where Martin – the fifth generation of his family to be associated with Reading’s once booming biscuit industry - also worked as a student. The maternal side of the family hailed from Bristol.

 

We first met Martin at MERL in 2013. MERL is located in a handsome red brick building whose origins are also strongly associated with Huntley & Palmers. He was speaking about the Evacuee Archive at a meeting for scholars interested in the new Collections-based doctoral programme that was being set up by the University of Reading, much of which is organised by, and delivered at, the museum. We were there because of our interest in the programme, and to see whether any research connections might be made. It was late afternoon and the rather informal meeting took place around a large table in an upstairs room. All those present sat some distance apart from each other. Martin was dressed quite formally in dark, rich colours, with a warm jacket and silk waistcoat, and he sported a bow tie. He sat across the white table from us, the light from a window overlooking MERL’s gardens framing his silhouetted form. As he spoke, his warm energy and emotional investment in his work were almost palpable.

Picture: The Museum of English Rural Life

There also seemed to be an underlying urgency in his tone when he referred to the archive. At that stage, we had no real context for identifying or understanding that sense of urgency and its level of intensity, but it had a deeply compelling and engaging quality. It was through this meeting that we established a connection and a shared set of research interests. Though we come from different disciplinary backgrounds and this has necessitated an ongoing process of negotiation, that connection has fuelled and sustained the development of War Child.

ORIGINS OF THE ARCHIVE

MEETING TWO

 

 

Thinking back to our first extended discussion, which we conducted on a late, sunny summer’s afternoon sitting at a large wooden picnic table in the garden at MERL, surrounded by lavender and insects, we are most struck by the precision and fluency with which Martin spoke to us. Our interjections were infrequent, and yet everything we needed to know seemed to be presented to us with the proficiency of a confident and experienced public speaker.

 

Martin traced the trajectory of his research into child evacuation, providing us with an overview of the relevant contexts for his work. For us as non-specialists, there was much to discover, and yet it must be said that as he spoke our interest in his motivation, his dilemmas, his emotional obstacles, began to grow, and to outstrip our curiosity regarding the contents of the archive, without, of course, reducing our full appreciation of the historical importance of those contents.

 

At least, since we were speaking to the archive’s originator, this curiosity invariably became tightly intertwined with our sense of the archival materials that we ourselves had viewed and read in preparation for our work.

 

 

What was the significance of this sense of symbiosis for the research process, for the generation of an archive? How was it possible to bear such closeness, especially since the archive contained material relating to a context of geo-political conflict? Where had Martin’s energy and desire to accumulate such vast amounts of material come from? What were the qualities and conditions that had rendered all these connections and conversations possible over such a long period of time, that had facilitated the creation of a formal archival space located upstairs in the Victorian building that we were sitting next to? Openness, directness, doggedness, persistence, drive, need? Our conversation still flowing, we suddenly noticed that the museum staff were now in the process of politely closing the building, and glancing suggestively in our direction. We had completely lost track of time.