New Hub Moderator Jim McDermott shares with us his ideas on conducting research with veterans…
Jim outlines eight key areas to think about when you plan to conduct research and explores how you can encourage somebody to talk to you about their life/experiences. Jim also gives useful recommended reading suggestions that are not to be missed by researchers.
Getting Veterans to Talk
Veterans just love to swing the lantern; tell and retell their war stories. Veterans also love to relate tales of peacetime exploits amusing, happy or sad on board a ship, in a barracks or airbase. This reminiscing can be easy flowing and generally, the participants need little encouragement, especially so if all involved are themselves veterans. However, many veterans say time and again, that in their conversations about service life, what they discuss: “civvies just wouldn’t understand.” Of course, this lack of understanding can be due, to some extent, to the use of military jargon, slang, and abbreviations which are all part of the everyday language of the military.
The Visual Aid effect
In addition to providing the participant with his own memory jogging pictorial history, it can also be interesting to observe what sort of photographs the veteran has kept and selected to bring to the session. Veterans I have interviewed using this method often have several ‘group’ photographs and delight in pointing out their younger self, where the photograph was taken and that the group was on a course or in some remote location or representing their unit at a particular sport. Photographs can also include equipment and weapons, fortified locations, long distance shots of ‘the enemy’ and, sadly, sometimes pictures of friends killed in action. This approach is of course no different to when photo albums are brought out at a family occasion and memories are jogged and stories retold. The difference, in the context of the research process, is that the veteran is able to prepare, in a small way, for the interview session and this can help reduce the possibility of stress which some interviewees can experience