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War oral history programme

Page 3 – Working with war veterans

Working with war veterans

Gathering oral history from elderly war veterans requires particular awareness and sensitivity. Here are some things to consider:

  • Oral history is very demanding in terms of time and emotions, and this can be particularly true of war oral history.
  • Always be on time for meetings. Your interviewee may be nervous, so do not keep them waiting.
  • Be flexible. You may be offered a cup of tea when you arrive, or your interviewee may want to get started immediately. Follow their lead.
  • Do not continue with a question line if your interviewee is reluctant to talk about something. Move on to another topic.
  • Be patient. You are asking your interviewee to remember events and feelings that occurred more than 60 years ago. Give them time to think.
  • If your interviewee becomes agitated or disturbed because they cannot remember some detail, reassure them that it doesn't matter, and move on to another question.
  • If you sense your interviewee is becoming tired, end the session and, if possible, arrange to come back at another time.
  • Talking about the past can be an emotional experience, and you should allow time, while you are still with them, for your interviewee to wind down after the interview. This is especially so if they have been talking about things that may have upset them.
  • It is the interviewer's responsibility to ensure that interviewees are not left to cope by themselves with any strong emotions that the session may have evoked. This is particularly important if the interviewee lives alone. If you have any serious doubts about the welfare of a veteran, contact Veterans' Affairs whose job it is to care for war veterans and their needs.
  • Always write a letter of thanks after the interview.

How to cite this page

Working with war veterans, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated