What value can be placed on veteran's stories ?

Discussion in 'Veteran Accounts' started by Ron Goldstein, Apr 10, 2012.

  1. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Not for the first time, I’m starting a new thread simply because an earlier thread has become too toxic even for my palette.

    On the thread of which I speak, a forum member who writes under the nom-de-plume of Gooseman voiced strong doubts on the true value of any statements or reports that have been made by veterans both on this forum and presumably anywhere.

    His exact words were:
    Veterans are usually the worst of sources when it comes to unbiased reconstruction of things. They are much overrated as a source. I am saying that after many years study and incorporating the thoughts of many fellow researchers. Veterans are essential to fill in the tiny details, sketch certain emo-elements, but as it comes to battle-reconstruction their accounts can be mighty dangerous and inaccurate.
    Needless to say, as a veteran, I questioned his statement by saying “Really ?” and received back a prompt “Really” so……no ambiguity there!

    On considering the matter further, my first thoughts were that he was entitled to his opinion and, if I read him correctly, he was not going to change his mind whatever I had to say on the subject, but on having had some time to mull over his remarks I now consider that I would be failing in my duty if I were to allow them to go unchallenged, hence this new thread.

    I start by saying that I can only speak for myself, but qualify that by saying that as a long standing member of this forum I have yet to read postings by any of the other veterans on this site that did not strike me as being both 100% truthful and as accurate as memory of events would allow. If that is to be construed as “mighty dangerous and inaccurate” then we have indeed descended into cloud cuckoo land!

    Going back to my own personal recollections, in an effort to substantiate credence, I have made available all my Army records on my personal profile and in addition the Regimental Diaries of both of my units are readily available on this site.

    I have also posted an obscene amount of short stories on this forum and most of them are based on diaries kept at the time in question.

    Finally, whilst accepting the sensible practice of using nom-de-plumes on most forums, including this one, I would point out that just like some other veterans on this site I write under my real name which is usually a good marker of someone who has nothing to hide.

    When I went onto Gooseman’s website I looked for his actual identity (which would have allowed me to see some more of his writings) but I looked in vain. Perhaps he could tell me where I have gone wrong ?

    Ron

    ps
    Since first writing this intro I have re-visited Gooseman's website and found a lengthy Bio under "Author".
    I was much interested to see a chapter under "Veterans" that helps to explain his comments on this site.
     
  2. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    RON
    Can only agree with you about the truth inasmuch as we Veterans have NO problem in identifying ourselves- and in my case I am grateful to Diane for attaching my memories from a truthful point of view in the BBC series and also on this Forum.

    Having read Joe Broons account of his service - the truth continues but to-day all that -they now tell me is - relative - when we have a rather senior Churchman lecturing to College Graduates that "Unity is more important than Truth" - I fear for the short future left to all Veterans- as we have apparently lost out to the Goebels syndrome- but can Gooseman show an avatar like ours ?

    Cheers

    Cheers
     
  3. wowtank

    wowtank Very Senior Member

  4. PsyWar.Org

    PsyWar.Org Archive monkey

    Ron, yours and other veteran contributions to this site and elsewhere are indeed invaluable and very much appreciated by us who were not there. We cannot hope to understand what it was like without your recollections.

    But historical research almost has to be conducted on the same basis as a criminal trial. Witness testimony can prove decisive as long as it is collaborated with other evidence. Because, it is fair to say eye-witness statements can be unintentionally inaccurate. We are just not good at remembering vital details or in a position to know the complete picture.

    Therefore in historical research a veteran account can give that all important human factor and provide the atmosphere to the event that cannot be obtained from dry official paper records. However, it is still necessary to double check dates, places, strategy and other details that we humans easily forgot or get muddled up. On the flip side the documentary evidence can also be flawed and also requires verification.

    So in a historical context, like in a criminal trial, it is important to gather evidence from all available sources available, recognise their strengths and weaknesses and then try to assemble the best version of events from it. Relying on just one source of information is not good practice.

    Lee
     
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  5. wowtank

    wowtank Very Senior Member

    Ron, yours and other veteran contributions to this site and elsewhere are indeed invaluable and very much appreciated by us who were not there. We cannot hope to understand what it was like without your recollections.

    But historical research almost has to be conducted on the same basis as a criminal trial. Witness testimony can prove decisive as long as it is collaborated with other evidence. Because, it is fair to say eye-witness statements can be unintentionally inaccurate. We are just not good at remembering vital details or in a position to know the complete picture.

    Therefore in historical research a veteran account can give that all important human factor and provide the atmosphere to the event that cannot be obtained from dry official paper records. However, it is still necessary to double check dates, places, strategy and other details that we humans easily forgot or get muddled up. On the flip side the documentary evidence can also be flawed and also requires verification.

    So in a historical context, like in a criminal trial, it is important to gather evidence from all available sources available, recognise their strengths and weaknesses and then try to assemble the best version of events from it. Relying on just one source of information is not good practice.

    Lee


    Good point, when I was taught do to Historical investigation we did about six weeks on police detective techniques.
     
  6. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    Thanks for the thread, Ron. It's a very good idea, and a relief from the other thread.

    I've done some historical writing and research, and I have used all sorts of sources. These include official documents as well as written and oral accounts by those who were there. As a general rule, the closer to the event the fresher a man's memory is likely to be. It also depends very much on the man. Some people are naturally good observers, and others preserve their memories very well as they age. Many men, though, are not particularly observant even when young and my impression is that their memories are the more likely to falter and get muddled as they age. I've seen some pretty poor memoirs and others that were excellent, so there is no real hard and fast rule. The best thing to do, always, is to check what you get against as many sources and witnesses as possible. I found one case where an interview a brigadier gave in the 80's to the IWM contradicted some of the things he'd said and written in 1944. I gave more credence to the latter than the former, because it was closer to the event. Also, it was clear to me that in the 80's the brigadier did not want to cause pain to others or stray too deeply into controversial waters.

    The above is pretty standard procedure for any historian and there is nothing special about it. Age, personality, ego, and political and social pressures of various kinds can cause men to distort or omit, but 90% of the time I think that's unconscious. For the most part, I think veterans are doing their best to tell their stories as accurately as they can, allowing for the things I've mentioned. In that, they're like any other group of human beings. I found veterans' accounts indispensable to my own work. They told me things I didn't know and things I didn't find in the official records--yet when I learned them, those things explained much of what I'd found in official sources.

    Personal testimony can be unreliable, sure, but that is no excuse at all for ignoring it or dismissing it out of hand as unusable. No responsible historian or researcher would even dream of doing so. Speaking personally, I am extremely grateful to men like you and Tom, who are doing your best to tell what you know while you still can. And don't let certain ignorant parties discourage you, either.
     
  7. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Hot air manufacturer

    Veterans are essential to fill in the tiny details, sketch certain emo-elements, but as it comes to battle-reconstruction their accounts can be mighty dangerous and inaccurate.
    Big deal. Of course individual recollections are only parts of a bigger picture, this was recognised almost two hundred years ago by another Veteran: "The history of a battle is not unlike the history of a ball, etc., etc.", but being part of a bigger picture they contribute to the whole.

    Also, recollections as the ones implied in the posts above are to my knowledge grounded on written memories: diaries written shortly after the event for instance, so they can be pretty trusted to be faithful to the events as perceived by the witness/writer.

    Oral history can have it's failings, it would be interesting if people followed my recollections, but thankfully others have better brains than mine, and again they ground their story-telling to sources.

    But then of course these veteran memoirs surely have to bow out when real historians come on stage.

    Perhaps. But not always. I have and surely you all have read pieces from 'proper' and 'reputed' historians who have published the most appalling piles of bovine excreta. Due to bad research, selective sourcing, bias, political tendency, personal axes to grind, etc, etc. And yet they sell.

    Not that veteran memoirs are exempt from these defects, I recall for an instance Hans-Ulrich Rudel whose recollections astound us as how he didn't win the war by himself!

    But thankfully not all are like this extreme example, and I'm quite satisfied with stuff like this

    Brotherly fire

    What did happen however, was that on the last big push over the Senio I discovered that the guns giving our own unit covering fire were actually the Jewish Brigade's. The inevitable happened, and when some shells fell short, SSM Busty Thomas, my tank commander, said to me in his lovely Welsh accent: "Your blooty brotter will bl****n' kill us yet!"

    Diary evidence

    Two diary entries of around that time, compared after the war, make interesting reading:
    Mick - 10 April: 'We commenced firing again at 4.2Oam. Zero hour 04.3O. Worried about my brother Ron who's also in the region with the Eighth Army. All five boys of our family in the services.'
    Ron - 9 April: 'Moved to other side of Traversare. Dug in and have bivvie to myself. D-day and H-hour have started. One rocket landed fairly near. Leaflets dropped.'


    source
     
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  8. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Can someone put a link up for Gooseman’s website.


    Neg'd for this.
    Put away your pitchfork eh WT or take it to PM/VM.
    Look at the title of the thread, apparently NOT about him.


    I've just decided not to post what my father passed on to me about validity of his memories/accounts.

    Instead I'll say this...
    If this thread continues at any point as a lynch job of another forum member, no matter what others suspicions might be, I will leave the forum permanently. I am sick of reading people's opinions of other members. There has been a spate of it recently and not only is it quite dull but it's a waste of my time. I'd rather be involved in something much more positive.

    Some here know my name, most don't. I too write under a username. If that's a way of judging by implication my ability to tell the truth or if I've something to hide, then it's a silly premise. It's not a requirement of the forum and I am annoyed at the mention of this point at all.
     
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  9. Joe Brown

    Joe Brown WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Thanks Ron. I do not feel glory, distinction or glamour when I do my best to relate the facts when I have been there in the amidst of what was happening. Often during the War when as Battalion we were doing our little bit in the larger scheme of things we would jocularly say it will be great after the War to read about the larger picture of what really was going on and how our efforts fitted into it.

    Ron, there is a sufficiency of factual evidence in War Diaries and in the published histories and reports that were written in the immediate years after the War when many commanders, officers and men wrote vividly about their experiences. It was fresh in their minds.

    Now at 91 years of age, blessed with a good memory although often names of comrades elude me but their young faces remain fresh in my mind, I continue to take the exhortation of Kohima to heart: When you go home, tell them of us: Say, for your tomorrow we gave our today. I am proud to be one of that generation.

    Joe Brown, 7/9th. Royal Scots
     
  10. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

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  11. wowtank

    wowtank Very Senior Member

    Neg'd for this.
    Put away your pitchfork eh WT or take it to PM/VM.
    Look at the title of the thread, apparently NOT about him.
    .

    That made me laugh as I own the domain name MATTHEWHOPKINS.ORG.UK. I just thought it was a matter of public record and he had posted it in a previous thread.
     
  12. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Andy

    Thanks for the reminder

    Ron
     
  13. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    Of course individual recollections are only parts of a bigger picture, this was recognised almost two hundred years ago by another Veteran: "The history of a battle is not unlike the history of a ball, etc., etc."

    source

    Ah, it's always good to hear from the Duke.
     
  14. BrianM59

    BrianM59 Senior Member

    Neg'd for this.
    Put away your pitchfork eh WT or take it to PM/VM.
    Look at the title of the thread, apparently NOT about him.


    I've just decided not to post what my father passed on to me about validity of his memories/accounts.

    Instead I'll say this...
    If this thread continues at any point as a lynch job of another forum member, no matter what others suspicions might be, I will leave the forum permanently. I am sick of reading people's opinions of other members. There has been a spate of it recently and not only is it quite dull but it's a waste of my time. I'd rather be involved in something much more positive.

    And that would be a great shame as your positive contributions on here are far too numerous to mention. For my two pennyworth, speaking as someone who has spent a fair few years making films and television and having interviewed more people than I care to remember, including a great many veterans; I am at present writing a book provisionally entitled 'The many deaths of Joe Small' which might give you a clue as to my viewpoint on the subject. The six versions of Trooper Small's death in June 1940 come from his relatives and his comrades. Without wanting to run too much of a spoiler (when I do flaming well finish it I might sell at least two copies off this forum) one 'eye witness' account of his death had him shot out of hand while surrendering - this from a man who swore that he had been in the room at the time.

    As far as the facts - and there are precious few of them available - this simply can't have been true, but as several contributors have put it more eloquently than me, I didn't dismiss that out of hand, I just put it to whatever tests I could. The fact that I couldn't find anything to support the evidence does not mean I dismissed the account - it may certainly have been true of another soldier as I found out.

    My personal favourite quote on the subject, apart from Churchill's "History will be kind to me - for I intend to write it" is of course:
    "I have described nothing but what I saw myself, or learned from others of whom I made the most careful and particular enquiry. Thucydides. Peloponnesian War.

    I've just jazzed mine up a little.
    Spike Milligan. World War II."
     
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  15. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

    Having recently completed the second of the three books by George Blackburn, The Guns of Victory, I am reminded that the veteran accounts are almost essential to a complete understanding of the war itself and the individual battles fought.
    While memories are imperfect with facts and details often distorted, the veterans provide the mood, context and their own unique perspective. Blackburn does a particularly good job of that.

    Veteran's accounts are also much less likely to be influenced or motivated by ego and a desire to shape the legacy and reputations of senior officers.
     
  16. Jamie Holdbridge-Stuart

    Jamie Holdbridge-Stuart Senior Member

    :poppy: The recollections of the Veterans are priceless... in my 'umble opinion. :poppy:
     
  17. 17thDYRCH

    17thDYRCH Senior Member Patron

    Veterans accounts of what they went through?
    There is nothing more valuable then hearing from the Veterans who contribute to this forum. We have Tom, Ron, Hoolig,Tonym, Doctor D, Joe Brown and others contribute the facts and nothing but the facts. Historians learn from the men and women that left friends and family behind, but nothing adds more to the forum than those of the ultimate generation 'that did the right thing'.
    That being said, we have seen one of our more prolific contributors, " Sapper ", leave the forum due to a couple of insults tossed his way.
    And, that for me, is a shame.
     
  18. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Old Hickory Recon

    Ron,

    Veteran's accounts are invaluable in many ways, especially wheredaily minutae of soldiering is concerned. Like anything else, there is always the chance of mistakes or misunderstandings of what happened in the broader aspects of the war.

    I used to work with a surgeon who was a tower of discipline and knowledge. He fought as a shore engineer and landed at North Africa, Sicily, Salerno, Utah Beach and made the Rhine River crossing. He was great to talk to. However, he believed until the day he died that Teddy Roosevelt, Jr. died at the head of a cut-off company- "Where he shouldn't have been." It is well documented that TR Jr. died of heart attack in his bunk.

    My own good friend, Old Hickory, believed until a few months ago that his troop passed through Poland on the way to Czechoslovakia from Magdeburg in June 1945. Without getting into a lot detail, I was able to show him where they actually were and it was not Poland. He missed a few other details about things that I was able to find and show him.

    Does any of this make what the men had to say useless? I say a hearty NO. If I look at what Old Hickory got right and compare it to what he got wrong, it is like comparing a swimming pool to a thimble, and the thimble is only half full. It still does not change the fact that he saw the elephant, but rather that the elephant was sometimes knocking him about.

    I found some pics of me in my kindergarten class from when I was four years old. Out of seven people in the class, I could initially only remember the names of two. Then, that is problably because I went to school with those two on up into high school. My first grade class? I can't even see their faces, must less remember names of the 20 or children in my class. Well, If you pin me down, I can conjure up about 3 or 4.
     
  19. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    I have been tip toeing past this thread as from my own experience of forums - I am almost always completely wrong - according to Historians and some battlefield tour guides
    who complain that I was wrong as it was the 95th Indians and Not the 159th British Divs at San Marino on the 39th of July1910 and the ridge I was on was called something else etc
    This came to a head on reading a very fine book with a beautiful hard cover by a very well known author which was close to reality when he stuck to the Official reports of one battle
    but then suddenly he wandered into fiction with his account of the death of my Troop leader- which caused me to write an article of the actual happenings of that few days -
    His account claimed to all and sundry that while we were advancing on this area - a panzerfaust missile struck him and the Churchill tank caught fire killing the crew -

    now if you are STILL interested - I would ask you to read my account of that incident in the bbc
    series below and click on the "Battle for San Martino" - then come back and tell me that veteran accounts are not very good as that time is etched on my mind as I still live that time almost daily
    Cheers
     
  20. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    Not for the first time, I’m starting a new thread simply because an earlier thread has become too toxic even for my palette.

    On the thread of which I speak, a forum member who writes under the nom-de-plume of Gooseman voiced strong doubts on the true value of any statements or reports that have been made by veterans both on this forum and presumably anywhere.

    His exact words were:
    Needless to say, as a veteran, I questioned his statement by saying “Really ?” and received back a prompt “Really” so……no ambiguity there!

    On considering the matter further, my first thoughts were that he was entitled to his opinion and, if I read him correctly, he was not going to change his mind whatever I had to say on the subject, but on having had some time to mull over his remarks I now consider that I would be failing in my duty if I were to allow them to go unchallenged, hence this new thread.

    I start by saying that I can only speak for myself, but qualify that by saying that as a long standing member of this forum I have yet to read postings by any of the other veterans on this site that did not strike me as being both 100% truthful and as accurate as memory of events would allow. If that is to be construed as “mighty dangerous and inaccurate” then we have indeed descended into cloud cuckoo land!

    Going back to my own personal recollections, in an effort to substantiate credence, I have made available all my Army records on my personal profile and in addition the Regimental Diaries of both of my units are readily available on this site.

    I have also posted an obscene amount of short stories on this forum and most of them are based on diaries kept at the time in question.

    Finally, whilst accepting the sensible practice of using nom-de-plumes on most forums, including this one, I would point out that just like some other veterans on this site I write under my real name which is usually a good marker of someone who has nothing to hide.

    When I went onto Gooseman’s website I looked for his actual identity (which would have allowed me to see some more of his writings) but I looked in vain. Perhaps he could tell me where I have gone wrong ?

    Ron

    ps
    Since first writing this intro I have re-visited Gooseman's website and found a lengthy Bio under "Author".
    I was much interested to see a chapter under "Veterans" that helps to explain his comments on this site.

    Ron,

    I should not be too worried about Gooseman's stance.

    Veterans.... I look on them as survivors of their particular era who are able to relate to specific events,occurences and human behaviour, be it national or individual.From the point of investigations,it is always the prime task of the investigator to validate the information extracted or offered.Experienced investigators have sufficient expertise to separate the incidental from core information.

    Without going too deeply,in all cases where criminal activity took place related to war,it was survivors who provided the first inkling of what had happened and were able to provide the foundations for prosecution of the perpretators.Documentation,of course, was another dimension for the building of a prosecution case but first hand accounts always played in a leading part in the vanguard for justice and the contribution to history.

    As regards the submission referred to,I think it was a case of embellishment,omitting material and facts from what I feel was a diatribe against those who liberated Western Europe.

    He has his reasons for this approach.
     

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