Overview

The Military Oral History Program

Purpose

The Military Oral History (MOH) Program is a unique collaboration between the RUSI-VI and UVic that was developed to:

  • Educate students on the history of defence and security activities of Canada through a combination of research on specific military operations along with incorporating oral interviews of veterans who took part in these operations or activities;
  • Collect, expand and preserve experiences of Canadian military veterans through permanent archiving of oral interviews;
  • Provide ready public access to archives of veterans’ oral interviews to the public and to researchers and authors through on-line access at the UVic MOH Special Collection;
  • Invite students and selected veterans to an RUSI-VI lunch in Feb if each year in order to meet one another prior to interviews taking place in early March of each year;
  • Offer a one year membership gratis to the professor and students of the Military Oral History Program so that they may take advantage of speakers who present topics at luncheons.

Goals

These are;

  1. To conduct for students the MOH Program during the winter semester at the University of Victoria (UVic) Department of History. This course teaches up to 10 students each calendar year on aspects of Canadian history as it applies to defence and security.
  2. To provide opportunities for students enrolled in the MOH Program by conducting individual oral history interviews with veterans from the navy, army, air force, police and civilians associated with defence and security activities in order to record and retain their personal experiences. These interviews along with research of specific topics are used by students as primary sources in writing a course paper that demonstrates their understanding and grasp of the subject. In addition to carrying out research, students learn and practice interview techniques in preparation for the oral recordings of veterans. A successful course paper awards the student a credit toward their university degree.
  3. To record and catalogue the interviews undertaken by the students so as to augment the existing collection of military oral history interviews This will allow access to every interview of veterans that are archived in the Special Collection of the University of Victoria Library.
  4. To ensure the long term goal of the RUSI-VI to maintain the UVic MOH Program and the MOH Special Collection as a valuable Canadian repository and research centre for military oral interviews, and to make them accessible to researchers, historians and the general public.

Roles

  1. The UVic Department of History will:
    • Arrange for the teaching of a winter seminar course on oral history.
    • Provide opportunities for undergraduate students to conduct oral history interviews of veterans.
    • Support fund raising for the program.
    • Provide logistical support for the program, i.e.: tape recorders, batteries, etc.
  2. UVic Special Collections will:
    • House the oral history interviews.
    • Provide technical support for cataloging and making oral history interviews available to the general public.
    • Support fund raising for the program, specifically $5,000 for the Collection infrastructure for one year.
  3. The Royal United Services Institute, Vancouver Island Chapter will:
    • Identify, coordinate and support the provision of veterans locally and across Canada who are to be interviewed by students;
    • Cooperate with the course professor in identifying topics and arranging interviews with veterans;
    • Provide suggestions for potential guest speakers to be used in history courses;
    • Support fund raising to secure and maintain the MOH Program;
    • Host veterans and students at a RUSI-VI lunch annually in Feb of each year.

Synopsis of the Initial Semester Course

The semester course is based on an UVic history course that was initiated in the 1970s by Professor Emeritus Dr Reginald Roy who had served in action with the infantry in WW2. The existing MOH Program is the result of a trial project in 2004 under the direction of Dr David Zimmerman of the History Department UVic and supported by the RUSI-VI, specifically Col John Eggenberger, CD, PhD (Ret’d). During the first winter semester, five students from a senior undergraduate course selected essay topics, and then were matched with RUSI-VI veterans who had been involved in the specific operations.

The topics and veterans interviewed in the trial project were:

  • Normandy, The breakout – Former B.C. Lt. Gov. R. Rogers
  • RCAF Bombing operations over Europe – F/L (Ret’d) G. Wright
  • Cyprus, the early days – BGen (Ret’d) L Gollner
  • Naval air Operations – Col (Ret’d) S. Brygadyr
  • Korea – Kapyong – LCol (Ret’d) John Bishop.

At that time, a total of five hours of seminars in one hour increments were developed by Dr. Reginald Roy and Col John Eggenberger, CD, PhD (Ret’d) who was President of RUSI-VI. This education enabled the students to conduct a competent interview of up to two hours, capture the interview on a tape recorder, and then use the material as a primary source along with extensive research in order to submit a course paper for evaluation on the selected topic.

Archives and Special Collections:

Within the University of Victoria Library Special Collections resides a Canadian Military Oral History Collection that is composed of Tape Recordings and the later technology of Digital Voice Recorder interviews resulting in over 700 interviews. Each year this Collection grows and provides more historic material that would otherwise be lost. These voice recordings cover such major operations as World Wars One and Two, UN Operations such as the Korean War, numerous Peacekeeping Missions and latterly to difficult operations under combat conditions such as Counter-Insurgency Operations in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

Hundreds of recordings by Dr. Reginald Roy and his students from the 1970s and 1980s are among the earliest holdings, covering principally the World Wars. Summaries of the interviews can be found by searching the Canadian Military Oral History collection by Subject. Dr. Roy also contributed 63 tapes of lectures given to his classes on Canadian Foreign Affairs and Military Strategic Studies. The largest number of these interviews is the Major General George R. Pearkes Victoria Cross Collection. In addition to his wartime experiences in WW1, Gen Pearkes was a former Defence Minister of Canada.

The collection also contains materials donated by historian Hal Lawrence. These comprise more than 180 recordings that he did of Canadian naval personnel.
It took thirty years to record approximately 400 reels of tape in these collections. They are now held as digital recordings in the UVic Special Collection.

Many of the interviews were made by Dr. Roy’s students working part-time and funded by the federal Department of National Defence (DND). Each interview is to be seen not as an assembly of facts; it is rather a product of collaboration between the interviewer and the interviewee. What is said on each tape must be heard in the context of not just the veteran interviewee, but also of the student interviewer and the topic on which they collaborated and that the student researched.

The UVic Special Collection has been reviewed by historians and researchers from across Canada and abroad. Some examples are:

  • Barris, Ted, Victory at Vimy –“To my equal surprise, I unearthed an additional bonanza of firsthand material on Vimy….the Military Oral History Program at the University of Victoria.
  • R.H. Roy – book on Pearkes and D.Day and others.
  • Zuehlke, Mark. Three books on WW II military operations: Ortona, Gothic Line, Canadian Military Atlas.
  • C.H. Johnson, 2002 writing a battle study of Operation Totalize, August. 1944.
  • Canada, A Peoples History – extensive use.
  • Geoffrey W. Hayes – University of Waterloo.
  • Kevin Shackleton – Locating the Battle Amiens.
  • LCol Angelo N. Caravaggio – thesis on Major-General Kitching.
  • M. Desmond Paine – History of the Saskatoon Light Infantry.
  • Dr. David Bercuson – The Patricias: A Century of Service A history of the P.P.C.L.I..
  • Dr. J.L. Granatstein – Canada’s Army: Waging War and Keeping the Peace.

Often there are very touching requests for copies of interviews from spouses, children and descendants of the veterans of all ranks who were interviewed.

RUSI VI Support – MOH Program

In 2004, RUSI-VI formed a liaison group to supply certain oversight to the Program and provided assistance by proposing to UVic potential topics and then identifying up to 30 veterans for interviews by students each semester year.

The liaison was subsequently replaced by the RUSI-VI Board of Directors, who established an MOH Team consisting of a Director appointed by the Board and assisted by Navy, Army, Air Force, Police and Civilian Representatives that provided specific expertise in their respective fields of endeavour. Considerable thought and work is devoted to making sure that the relationship between the students and the veterans are positive. Meetings and administration are conducted by the MOH Team to ensure goals and course needs are met in an efficient and timely fashion. The RUSI VI will continue to provide its support in order to ensure that the MOH Program continues indefinitely as an important addition to Canada’s history.

UVic Development and External Relations

An account with the UVic Development and External Relations department was authorized when the program was established. In this account donations will be deposited. Tax receipts for all donations will be issued by the University of Victoria as appropriate. The name of the initiative is “The University of Victoria – Royal United Military Institute, Vancouver Island Military Oral History Program”.

Dr. David Zimmerman, Professor of Military History at UVic will manage the MOH Program, and is authorized to disburse funds from the account in support of the Program.

Please make a financial donation to the University of Victoria to support this program; a pledge form is available online. (Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader.)

Summary of Implementation Plan

Funds are required for the MOH Program on an annually. These funds will include those required to conduct the semester course, provide collection and cataloguing of oral history materials, and those required to defray the costs of operating the oral history section of the Special Collections, which is located in the McPherson Library of UVic.

Responsible Persons

Dr. David Zimmerman, Professor, Military History University of Victoria.

Maj (Ret’d) Gary Del Villano, Royal United Military Institute of Vancouver Island.

Heather Dean, Head of Special Collections, University of Victoria.

Katherine Blake, Development Officer, Faculty of Humanities and UVic Libraries, University of Victoria.

UVic Library, Special Collections Websites

Military history
These digital collections feature military history materials held by UVic Libraries.

Canadian Military Oral History Collections Guide

Canadian Military Oral Histories Collection Database