Richard van Emden is not a well known historian in the U.S., but perhaps he should be better known (he is also a television producer). This is exactly the sort of work that we need more historians doing:
Van Emden is interviewing Harry Patch of Somerset, England. Patch is 109 years old, and is the last known surviving soldier to have fought in the trenches in Belgium for the Allies in World War I.
250,000 British soldiers died in the battle.
The 109-year-old fought in the Battle of Passchendaele when he was aged 19.
He served with the Duke of Cornwall’s light infantry and was called up for service while working as an 18-year-old apprentice plumber in Bath.
During the fighting, Mr Patch was badly wounded and three of his best friends were killed when a shell exploded just yards from where he was standing.
He made the trip with historian Richard van Emden, who helped Mr Patch write down his memories.
Mr van Emden showed him the five miles they advanced over 99 days which claimed 3,000 British casualties every day.
He was also shown a recently discovered panoramic photograph of the fields taken in 1917.
“Too many died,” said Mr Patch. “War isn’t worth one life.”
Interviews with participants in history, with the eyewitnesses, provide a good training ground for future historians. The interviews generally provide great value, even when done by amateurs, such as high school students.
Teachers, how many veterans of how many wars live in your town? How many of them have been asked to tell about their experiences?