I’m morbidly fascinated by the history of the two twentieth century wars. These giant catastrophes seem far too big to be possible, yet they’re far too close to my lifetime to be ignored.
It’s now 2018, and one of the biggest losses I feel as a student of history comes from the loss of the generation that experienced the second world war. The best history comes directly from the mouths of those who experienced it. It’s colored by biases, but it has true color, and it paints a more vivid picture than anything some school teacher could create.
Fortunately for me (and for other history + podcast lovers), the BBC World Service put in the work to talk to the survivors of the first and second world wars for two series of fascinating topics collected in a program (available on podcast) called Witness.
Witness‘s World War II podcasts recover original radio broadcasts as well as eyewitness testimony from events as far-ranging (and sometimes little-known) as the experiences of VE Day to Finland’s 1940 “Winter War” to the 1942 Norwegian commando operation against the Nazi nuclear program to the Stauffenberg plot to kill Hitler.
If you prefer to go back further to World War 1, Witness pulled together a great medley of 1980s-era interviews with surviving English soldiers (most of whom had died by the 1990s) who experienced the famous Christmas Truce on the Western front in 1914.
If you think reading about history is interesting, wait until you hear about it from the people who were there. I was spellbound when listening to these podcasts, and I think you will be, too.