Paul Atterbury: World War One tragedy should not be allowed to fall into “black hole of history”

The Antiques Roadshow expert says that the 100th anniversary of World War One is a chance to celebrate personal stories, not bury them

Antiques expert Paul Atterbury says that personal stories of World War One tragedy should not be allowed to fall into the “black hole of history”.


During the 100th anniversary year of the beginning of World War One, Atterbury said that making personal stories public is a “complicated grieving process” for families who lost relatives as a result of the conflict.

Atterbury, who has helped make two World War One specials of Antiques Roadshow this year, said during the Cheltenham Literature Festival: “This silence that had overtook those who survived was inevitable. It was the only response to dreadful experiences: there was no counselling, no post-traumatic stress, none of the things we now know about.”

“What it meant is you simply didn’t talk about it,” he continued. “You buried it deep within you. People who survived the war but died 20 years later, their lives had been ruined by their experiences. Others lived on to a ripe old age, buried it more successfully and never mentioned it.”

Atterbury has written a book collecting one hundred family memories of people who were affect by the First World War, drawing on some of the objects featured during the Antiques Roadshow specials. He also explored the story of his own great uncle, a Canadian citizen who died during service on 7 October 1916.

“I knew nothing about him; he wasn’t a figure who was ever mentioned in my family. He’d sunk into the ‘black hole of history’,” Atterbury said.

He added that the opportunity for families to tell their story during the First World War centenary allowed them to “draw a line” under their experiences, saying: “Maybe these people hadn’t addressed it; they hadn’t gone to the graves; they’d known the story was out there somewhere but hadn’t done anything about it. Now they can tell their family about it and move on.


“It was part of a rather complicated grieving process in some ways,” Atterbury concluded.