Name: Gillian Mawson
Research institution: Freelance
Research career length: 4 years
Research Council: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) for a public engagement event
Location: Derbyshire, England
Brief summary of research: Collecting oral histories of Second World War Evacuation
6 O-levels (GCSE)
BA History at the University of Manchester
MPhil in Social History at the University of Manchester
After leaving school I went into office administration but a love of local history was always present
Part-time administrator at University of Manchester
Some people know from an early age that they wish to become a researcher, and in which subject too. Others discover the joy of research, often by chance. Gillian Mawson started researching the stories of evacuees from Guernsey during World War II, whilst working as a university administrator.
I joined the University of Manchester as an administrator, whilst studying for a part-time Undergraduate degree in history, receiving a First-class honours degree. I then began to undertake research work in the university alongside my administrative duties, during which I discovered the forgotten story of the Guernsey evacuation during World War II. In 2009, I decided to turn this research into a postgraduate degree and began an MPhil. I obtained funding to carry out an oral history project with Bury Archives, whilst also organising evacuee reunions in Guernsey and Stockport to mark the 70th anniversary of the Guernsey evacuation. I set up a community group in Greater Manchester so that surviving Guernsey evacuees living in England could share their stories with the public.
I worked with BBC North West on a documentary, was filmed by Channel Islands Television running workshops with primary schools, and spoke on Radio Manchester and Radio Guernsey about my work. These activities brought me into contact with people I would otherwise not have met, and completely changed my life, as I realised that public engagement was where my heart lay. When the university was seeking staff for voluntary redundancies in 2010, I applied, and left with a year's salary. I took a chance, thinking that if I didn’t I might regret it for the rest of my life. Since then I have been carrying out public engagement, some paid, some voluntary, with Stockport Council.
I obtained my MPhil in December 2011 and my book 'Guernsey Evacuees: The Forgotten Evacuees of the Second World War' was published in November 2012. I am also writing articles on World War II evacuation for magazines in Britain, Canada and the USA.
The Guernsey Evacuation story is history about real people who lived in our streets, went to our schools, and who helped Britain by undertaking vital war work when the threat of German invasion was very real. Many remained in the North West after the war, and are now a permanent part of our community. Luckily some of them are still amongst us and I am fortunate enough to be able to record these stories, share them with the public and preserve them for future generations to hear.
Public engagement has enabled me to add a wide range of new skills to my CV, and to extend my professional and social network. I am grateful for the support I have received from family, friends and colleagues, especially those working in archives, schools, museums and local councils in the areas that received Guernsey evacuees. I am inspired by the courage shown by those evacuees who left their rural island in June 1940, arriving in the unfamiliar landscape of industrial England.