Oral history of British science
Ash, Eric (Part 1 of 13)
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British Library, London
Ash, Eric, 1928- (speaker, male)
Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)
Part 1 [1:21:16] [Interview one: 24 January 2013] Remarks on family background: being born in Berlin, Germany; father a lawyer for AEG company; anecdote about father's colleagues dismissing threat of Hitler; emigration of EA's family to Britain in 1938 to escape persecution of Jews. [01:10] Description of father: lawyer for electrical company; difficulties transferring legal skills to UK; EA seeing nothing his work at AEG; change in family circumstances from chauffeur driven cars in Germany; personality; English language skills; parents meeting; father older than mother; anecdote about father earning Iron Cross from Germany in First World War and Defence Medal from Britain in Second World War; EA grandfather also a lawyer; family background in Posen, now Poland; anecdote about father's thoughts in 1900; [05:40] liberal minded; EA memories mainly from childhood and wartime; encouraged EA to think of engineering as a career due to mobility of profession. [06:40] Remarks on childhood hobbies: building things from Meccano, comparisons with Lego; electrical sets; anecdote about 'Electricity for Boys' with reflections on women in engineering; planning and creativity. [09:45] Remarks on mother Dora: started law degree; found life in Britain difficult after father's internment in 1940; personality; enjoyment of reading and sports; difficulty pinpointing parental influence; EA closer to father. [13:20] Remarks on religion: parent's not religious; EA atheistic outlook; anecdote about parents swapping Christmas tree to Menorah for Christmas 1933; limited Jewish upbringing; Jewish identity of family; EA certainty there is no God in a biblical sense, comparisons with Richard Dawkins; EA view on mysteries of cosmology; joining British Humanist Association; EA questions about interviewer's religious outlook; [18:28] EA value system and role of religion in ethics of society. [20:30] Remarks on memories of 1930s Germany: EA forced to leave school for being Germany; anecdote about book about Hitler's Youth; subsequent attending Jewish school, learning Hebrew; EA unpleasant encounter; parent's emigration before Kristallnacht; [pause 24:00] finding situation odd rather than threatening; middle class existence with holidays and servants; Nazi 'Der Stürmer' newspaper with cartoon of Jew; EA family Jewish identity. [26:30] Remarks on middle class upbringing: holidays; anecdote about nanny's horror at him going for a walk about Berlin; description of home near technical university; pass times in Britain. [30:00] Remarks on family's move to Britain: AEG arranging father's position at Welding Supplies Limited; EA spending a month in England to learn English pre-war; EA parents sending him to boarding school in Britain to improve language skills; travel of family to Britain by aeroplane and boat via Amsterdam to Harwich; [33:25] excitement of journey to England; anecdote about father being appalled at prices; parent's renting a flat in Maida Vale father an experienced business flyer; impressions of Maida Vale flat and surrounding area. [36:05] Remarks on schooling: EA attending boarding school; evacuation of EA and sister's school to Cornwall; EA return to London and a year of private tuition; attending University College School [UCS]. [38:00] Remarks on sister: anecdote about her difficulties about being evacuated near the coast in wartime; training as accountant, and subsequent office work; parents feelings about university for girls; anecdote about EA encouraging his daughters to get a good education and career; sister's marriage to refugee, and children, working for European Parliament and in property; good relationship with EA in youth. [41:52] Remarks on mother: work for first aid charity until dismissal for being a potential spy; subsequent work for National Children Adoption Association. [43:05] Comments on Bikley Hall boarding school in Kent: EA doing well and enjoyed sport; description of site; religion at school; parental funding; cold conditions in dormitories; food; weekly reports to parents, anecdote about coming bottom of class in geography; [48:20] discipline and corporate punishment; enjoying maths; Greek and Latin classes; tutoring after return from evacuation. [50:26] Comments on University College School: association with University College London [UCL]; anecdote about EA becoming UCS school governor in later life; good teachers; reading Shakespeare and Shaw in English classes; teacher's reservation at having German child in class; headmaster's ambitious attitudes, possible homosexuality and later suicide; anecdote about headmaster's military approach to including exercise in exams. [57:20] Remarks on school science teaching: large amount of practical classes; EA enjoying chemical analysis; spectroscopic studies in physics; description of spectroscope instrument; EA enjoying puzzle aspects of chemical analysis; EA enjoyments in freedom of experimental work, anecdote about investigating his fertility in school laboratory; [1:02:28] EA reading about science; EA favouring physics and electronics; description of crystal radio set, sound quality. [1:05:55] Remarks on: interest in music, playing violin; EA considering career in medicine, but put off by expense of long period of study; EA university options, need to stay in London, UCS awarding grant to someone else, EA scholarship to Imperial College; school results; EA young age and war end ruling out National Service; many veterans at Imperial College; [1:10:25] few people who took issue with EA being German; anecdote about pre-war advertising to support Jewish refugees. [1:11:35] Remarks on wartime: air raid shelter in cellar; anecdote about playing alarm sound on violin; doing UCS exams in cellar; viewing blitz damage on trips to row at Putney; bomb damage to home in Maida Vale; collecting shrapnel; EA not feeling very threatened by war; father's internment; rationing; wartime food, EA becoming sick of peanut butter, egg powder; anecdote about school meals at UCS; father's good experience of internment and eventual release to work as an accountant. [1:20:05] Remarks on parents' left wing political outlook.
Interview with electrical engineer, Eric Ash