This program, one of the most successful outreach programs in which RUSI is involved, started some 7 years ago, when RUSI member, Dr. Reg Roy, donated his extensive interview collection to the university. Under the auspices of the then Lt Gov of British Columbia, the Hon. Iona Campagnolo, RUSI members celebrated the creation of an inspired partnership between this Institute and the University of Victoria’s (UVIC) History Department. Through this partnership, the university is able to meet its objective to integrate high quality research methods and the teaching of oral history; whereas RUSI is able to promote and support essential links with the community, by conveying to the younger generation, through the voices of our veterans and their families, some part of our living history. In 2006, the Lt Gov again presided at a ceremony to recognize the contribution of students and veterans who had contributed to the program, presenting each with a “Certificate of Appreciation”.
Last month, RUSI members were introduced to the 10 students enrolled in this year’s Military Oral History course. The value of the program remains evident with the high calibre of these students, their obvious enthusiasm for the program, and the overall importance of interviewing a veteran who has been ‘in the field’, or can provide other insights that cannot be found in text books.
Over the years since its inception, RUSI has helped to provide over 70 students this special opportunity to record the personal histories of well over 150 veterans. Each year, several students’ essays are posted on the RUSI website, and all interviews are held as part of UVIC’s Special Collection archives. In addition, RUSI donates an annual grant of $1000. This annual grant has enabled the university to purchase tape recorders, digital voice recorders and digital video cameras for use by the students in the interviews.
The success of the program depends to a large degree on the willingness of RUSI members, as well as non-RUSI members, to meet with the students and share their stories and experiences. On behalf of the Institute, I would like to thank the many people who do volunteer their time in this way.
To ensure that interesting and doable topics are selected, with suitable matches with veterans to be interviewed, the program was ably assisted this past year by the three Service coordinators – Maj (Ret’d) Gary Del Villano for Army topics, LCol (Ret’d) Lorne Holland for RCAF topics and Capt (N) (Ret’d) Wilf Lund for RCN topics.
RUSI has supported this program in many other different ways over the years; such as participation at two Military Oral History Conferences sponsored by UVIC; supplemental financial support to the BC Regiment’s Museum Society to assist them in a Military History Studies Conference, or signing letters of reference to support the Head of the History Department, Dr. David Zimmerman, and the current instructor, Dr. Jim Wood, in their efforts to expand the program more generally.
The UVIC program is at a crossroads. The university is under severe budget constraints and can no longer meet the costs associated with this course. The current Sessional Instructor, Dr. Jim Wood, a military historian who has played a significant role over the past three years in enhancing the program, cannot be rehired due to lack of funds. We have now held several discussions about the future of the program with Dr. Zimmerman of the Department of History.
Until the funding question can be resolved, we will take steps necessary to assist those students who wish to continue their studies in this field and to interview veterans. RUSI Directors also plan to discuss the financial situation with other military associations, as it is clearly in our collective interest to record and archive the histories of veterans while we still have the opportunity. RUSI members will be kept informed about our progress.