As part of IWM’s stated 10 Black Lives Matter commitments, the Museum vowed to diversify its collections. However, it should be recalled that its existing collections on Imperial history are part of black history and public access of this material is crucial to telling “stories to represent marginalised narratives and experiences.”
The blogpost linked below, from My Goddess Complex, a site created by Warwick University students, covering fashion, art, film and pop-culture, summarises the history of Lilian Bader, said to be the first black woman to join the British armed forces, serving in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) as an Instrument Repairer, during WW2. IWM holds her private papers, oral history and photographs of her, amongst other material. Bader wrote to IWM to share her own and her family’s history. Her wartime memoirs were published by IWM in a multimedia collection called: “Together: The Contribution Made in the Second World War by African, Asian and Caribbean Men and Women.”
A quote attributed to Bader from the RAF Museum website reads: “Father served in the First World War, his three children served in the Second World War. I married a coloured man who was in the Second World War, as was his brother who was decorated for bravery in Burma. Their father also served in the First World War. Our son was a helicopter pilot, he served in Northern Ireland. So all in all, I think we’ve given back more to this country than we’ve received.”
IWM’s Research Room and Library Service has undergone massive service reductions in the past five years. Paper-based collections have been transferred to Cambridgeshire and access in the London Research Room is necessarily restricted to five working day advance requests. Opening hours have reduced and the telephone query service ended. The free public drop-in service provided by librarians closed last year. Whilst IWM London reopens on Saturday 1 August, following the pandemic closure, the Research Room will be largely closed until 2021.
IWM stated on Twitter on July 10: “We intend to fully re-open the Research Room at IWM London early next year. The decision to postpone re-opening until 2021 was not taken lightly. However, the Research Room service and space presents particular challenges in light of social distancing and increased cleaning.”
This prolonged closure of the Research Room, whilst other research facilities reopen, and the uncertainty of possible further service reductions and closures to the Research Room and Library Service, threatens to undermine IWM’s stated commitment to sharing stories of marginalised narratives. If IWM has specified reasons for prolonging its research facilities closure, such as vulnerable staff, it should disclose this and seek other means to open access.
Who are they?
Lilian Bader (1918-2015) was a leading aircraftwoman. Born in Liverpool to a Barbadian father, who served in the Royal Navy, and an Irish mother, Bader went on to be raised in a convent after being orphaned at age 9. Lilian Bader worked in a Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes canteen briefly during the outbreak of war in 1939 before being forced to leave because she was Black, or rather, due to her father being born outside of the U.K.
What did she do?
In 1941, Bader volunteered to join the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and trained as an Instrument Repairer, where she passed with a First Class all whilst receiving news of her brother’s passing at sea. The training achievement made Bader one of the first women in the air force to qualify in that trade. In RAF…
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