They remained silent for so many years, but looking into the faces of 12 veterans who feature in a new photography project, there’s surely many a great story behind these eyes.
Reminiscences: Veterans arrives at The Wiener Library on Thursday, as a pop-up exhibition of ongoing work by photographer Mike Stone.
Having started his career working for NME shooting celebrity portraits, in recent years Stone has focused on documentary work with Age UK, Shelter and advertising campaigns on body image for Dove.
Two years ago, he also created a series of portraits and interviews with members of the Irish Traveller community.
It was while working with Age UK that he came into contact with a large number of veterans, who retained acute memories of their wartime experiences despite their advanced years.
Stone, who is a member of Barnet United Synagogue, says he was fascinated not only by their stories but by their “trenchant views” on the world today.
“We’ve got a world where we are facing many similar challenges to the challenges these people fought for 70 years ago.
“I think we are not aware how dangerous the threats are to us, but we’ve got a bank of wisdom we can draw from.
“They have some very acute views on politics, on the world, on where we are making mistakes and it’s a very worthy input.”
Reaching out to the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women, Stone was put in touch with surviving veterans and has travelled the country to interview and photograph them.
He has so far completed a series of 12 portraits and hopes to find funding in order to continue the project.
Among his subjects is Lieutenant Commander Alan Tyler, 92, originally from Willesden, who began service life as a 13-year-old navy cadet and continued until the 1960s.
He escorted Churchill and witnessed the sinking of the Tirpitz, the liberation of Singapore, the founding of the State of Israel and Britain’s first atomic tests.
The veteran also vividly remembers the sinking of the Scharnhorst on 26 December 1943, during the Battle of North Cape, Norway.
“That was a tremendous thing,” he recalls. “There were only 30 odd survivors out of 2,000. We fortunately put her radar out of action and therefore she didn’t know where everybody was coming from.
“Eventually she was sunk by destroyers going in with torpedoes. A lot of people were obviously killed in the fighting, but in those waters, if you were in the sea for half-an-hour you were lucky to survive.”
Glaswegian-born Fred Berkley, 93, who rose to rank of army captain, was posted to Egypt, Greece and Syria.
Speaking about how he views society today, he reflects: “My ideas of a world were a happy place, where people help one another. The world of today is certainly not that and people do not go out of their way to help one another – in fact often, the very opposite.”
But during his conversation with Joyce Ceserani, a leading aircraft woman in the WRAF, Stone found a positive message about the changes of today’s world.
“She said each generation should learn from the previous generation. The way she sees her grandchildren relating to her great-grandchildren is so much better than the way her grandparents related to her, in terms of the openness and discussing things.”
While their views on life varied, Stone says he was humbled by all the veterans, who spoke modestly about the roles they played in helping the war effort.
He adds: “They were young, but they just got on with it and didn’t make a fuss. They didn’t want to make a song and dance about it, but some of them really did some extraordinary things.”
Reminiscences: Veterans runs at The Wiener Library, Russell Square, on Thursday, November 9, 6.30pm to 8pm. To book tickets, visit wienerlibrary.co.uk or for more details about the project,visit reminiscences.uk.