Hands Up Interviews Preserved for Posterity


Actor Stanley Dawson (left), who played the role of General Archibald Wavell in Hands Up! For You the War Is Ended discusses a scene with artistic director Peter Cheeseman

I sent a note to the New Vic Theatre after publishing my initial post about their 1971 production of Hands Up! For You The War Is Ended.” I was interested in what had become of the interview tapes made during creation of the play.

A warm response came from Romy Cheesemen, who was married to creative director Peter Cheeseman. Since his death in 2010, she has been acting as honorary archivist of the Victoria Theatre Archive held at Staffordshire University’s Thompson Library (Special Collections).

She wrote, “Peter would be so gratified to know that his documentary work with local people still has resonance today. He always believed that people’s personal stories and experiences were important and that a theatre subsidised by its own community should find ways of valuing local people and celebrating their stories. Having lived through the war as a boy, Hands Up was Peter’s favourite of the 11 documentaries that his company created. For him it was an unforgettable experience meeting and talking with those ex-POWs and their families, and one that he valued all his life.”

She also provided the following information regarding the tapes:

The Thompson Library has all the interview tapes—on 5-inch reels—from Hands Up in their archive. In 1971 the Imperial War Museum (IWM) put the recordings onto cassette tapes for its own collection and donated copies to the Victoria Theatre Archive. The Thompson Library staff is gradually digitizing their audio collection but has not yet completed the Hands Up tapes.

For anyone desiring access to the recordings, application can be made to the IWM. An index of the recordings can found online in the IWM Sound Collections > Second World War > PG 59 camp.

The museum has titled each interview simply as “recording,” with the catalogue numbers ranging from 12856 to 12872 (for example, 12856–Frank Bayley, 12859–Bill Armitt, 12871–Frank Bayley, 12872–Frank Bayley and Bill Armitt).

In addition, the Victoria Theatre Archive has scans of typed transcripts of all 22 Hands Up interviews.

I was pleased to learn that such care has been taken to preserve these valuable testaments to the war—for the former POWs’ families, use by researchers, and the education of future generations.

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