I had never heard of the Imperial War Museum (IWM) until someone mentioned it to me today (THANK YOU). It is fabulous!!

As more of a cultural/social historian of Southeast Asia, I’m not particularly interested in wars, and I’m not particularly interested in the experiences of Europeans/Americans in colonial/World War II Southeast Asia (although I think it is fine if other people are), and this is what the majority of the material that the Imperial War Museum holds is about.

singsurrender

However, if historians of Southeast Asia look around the IWM web site, they will be able to hear the voices of people other than the colonial elite. Indeed, you can literally “hear voices,” because the IWM recorded interviews with many people who experienced World War II in Southeast Asia, and on the IWM web site we can now listen to many of those interviews (and the sound quality for the most part is fabulous).

Lim Shu Pao, for instance makes fascinating comments about her father’s opium den and race relations in pre-war Rangoon.

Elizabeth Choy has equally interesting things to say about growing up in British North Borneo and then going to work in Singapore where she was arrested and tortured during the war.

Finally, people like Jean Patricia “Pat” Whyte, who grew up in the Naga Hills and went on to serve in the Women’s Auxiliary Service Burma, likewise has fascinating things to say about the times she lived through and the relations between people during the colonial era.

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There are many more interviews on this site. Most of the interviews are with British soldiers, but again, for historians who are interested in something other than the “British experience,” glimpses and insights can be found in all of their interviews (which admittedly are totally fascinating on their own).

Thank you IWM for digitizing these materials!! It is so wonderful to be able to access the memories of people who experienced the past and to literally be able to hear their voices.

I’m not sure if there is a heaven for historians. And if there is, I’m probably not going to be allowed to enter it. But having discovered the IWM web site, I feel like I have already died and gone to “historians’ heaven.”