Archives at War

At Windsor, the Second World War is represented in the archives by some documents about air raid precautions, and discussions about what to do if the alarm sounds during a service. The Chapter Acts show the difficulty of keeping the choir running with some of the lay clerks being called up, but the archives appear to have continued exactly as before. They were still kept above the Porch of Honour in the Aerary as they had been for centuries, and during this time, Canon Ollard (who wrote a monograph on the Dean and Canons), started investigating the history of the Aerary. He particularly wanted to know the history of the term, which is unique to St George’s. This research brought him into contact with many historians in London, and his correspondence with them remains in the archives.

Eighty years ago, he corresponded with a man from the Public Record Office (which developed into the National Archives). This man was Hilary Jenkinson. Jenkinson is best known for advancing British archival theory and developing the profession. It is therefore fitting that one of his letters is about a report that he sent to Ollard, giving his ‘poor thoughts on the subject of your Aerarium’. The report does not survive, but his research was incorporated into Ollard’s work.

One interesting feature of Jenkinson’s first letter (dated 13 November 1942) is his explanation of why Ollard has not received the report which Jenkinson was supposed to send (and which he believed that he had sent). Jenkinson, after blaming himself for failing to post it, and the Postmaster General for perhaps having lost it, settles on a final scapegoat: ‘the gentleman whom Hellas describes as ὁ Χιτλερ’. This is an example of code switching, as Jenkinson has swapped from English into Greek to avoid writing ‘Hitler’ in English. Code switching can be done for many reasons, but here, combined with the roundabout way of introducing the man, it seems to stem from a reluctance to acknowledge Hitler directly by naming him, through distaste.

Handwritten letter in black ink
One of the letters from SGC XVII.54.9 showing Jenkinson referring to Hitler as ὁ Χιτλερ

The second letter which Jenkinson sent shows the difficulties he was facing in wartime. Compared to the hardships that many faced, his problem seems fairly insignificant. He was trying to examine the Great Seals of James II, William and Mary, and William III, but found that all the examples were inaccessible and therefore turned to St George’s collection of seals. This was possibly because a large part of the British Museum’s collections had been evacuated to Aberystwyth; many other London collections were also moved to protect them from bombing raids.

Anne Courtney, Assistant Archivist

The King's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.