Volunteer focus

Museum volunteer Janet helps us by transcribing handwritten documents.

It’s a never-ending task as we have an extensive archive of documents, including thousands of letters, diaries, forms and paperwork, but it’s a vital job. Creating transcriptions means we have access to the archive item without having to keep handling the original and can share its contents more easily in future exhibitions and with people researching the period.

Janet has recently completed the transcription of Lewis William Lyle Robson’s memories of serving as a Private in the Green Howards at the time of the invasion of France in June 1944. He wrote them 35 years after the event. Retired geography teacher Janet has enjoyed the challenge of deciphering and locating some of the phonetically spelt Normandy locations.

“Robson was born on 21 March 1919 and lived at Brewery Farm, Ovingham, Northumberland. In the 1939 register, his occupation was farm labourer. He was seven months younger than my father who fought at Dunkirk. As with many soldiers of that era, my father never spoke of his wartime experiences until he was in his seventies, so Private Robson’s memoirs provided an intriguing insight as to the experiences and challenges faced by these young soldiers.

Volunteer Janet with Pte Robson’s handwritten memoirs which she has recently transcribed.


When you are transcribing, you do feel like you get to know a little bit of the character of the person whose words you are reading. Lewis Robson strikes me as down to earth with a dry sense of humour and pragmatic approach to being on the front line; at one point milking a cow directly into his cup of tea. I hope that after he left the army in 1946, he returned to Northumberland and enjoyed time with his horses on the farm. We know that he returned to Normandy as a veteran after the war on at least one occasion.

As well as a detailed recollection of the action he was involved in, there are many references to food throughout the memoir. As for my father, he always enjoyed a corned beef sandwich. In his later years he told us that when he was on a ship being evacuated from Dunkirk he was given a Red Cross food parcel that contained a tin of corned beef and some bread. It was the first thing he had eaten in three days.”

Robson’s memoirs are part of a group of archive and objects, including his beret, medals, and discharge papers, donated to the museum by his family in 2008.