War Hero In My Family

Justin Rickett, Researcher

From cracking Italian code to uncovering the secrets of a 70-year-old typewriter at Bletchley Park, researcher Justin Rickett reveals his War Hero highlights.

Justin Rickett, Researcher

My name is Justin, and I work as a researcher on War Hero in My Family. As a researcher you get to work across a lot of the episodes, assisting the Producer/Directors and APs (Assistant Producers) with their editorial needs. These can range from sourcing photos of their particular heroes (the celebrity’s relatives, not forgotten premier league players and washed-up pop stars!) to cracking Italian wartime code (as a result I know more than I care to admit about the 'rodding' procedure that Bletchley Park code-breakers employed).

A lot of your time is spent at one archive or another, combing old records and war diaries for that one clue crucial to unlocking the hero’s story. On my first visit to the National Archives one of our APs remarked that searching through the archives made her feel like Julia Roberts in The Pelican Brief. With enough time I too have come to feel like Julia Roberts in The Pelican Brief, except that I’m a man. And have a beard.  

On the topic of archives there are three words that can turn a productive and engaging archive session into a job enviable to none: handwriting during wartime. It seems that legible handwriting is one of the first casualties of war. This is absolutely understandable; there are more important things to worry about than tasteful calligraphy. It does, however, mean that 70 years down the line a researcher may spend hours, even days, squinting with nose pressed to army issue paper attempting to decipher one critical word. 

One of the benefits of working in this industry is you get to visit places and do things that you wouldn’t normally get to. Opening a captured German Enigma machine at Bletchley Park and finding the instructions written (IN GERMAN!) on the inside lid was one of the most surprising highlights of my time on the production. I know this seems like something small compared to what the other shoots did, and I personally didn’t think a 70-year-old typewriter in a plain wooden box would have the impact that it had on me, but it did. Okay, it was a pretty fancy type writer.

But of all the incredible stuff that we got to do on this series (including firing a 25-pounder artillery piece – it was LOUD!), the most rewarding has to be speaking to those veterans who knew our heroes, and lived and fought through the war with them. This truly is an honour. Their experiences are often harrowing, always interesting and made all the more special as they share them with the son or nephew or grand daughter of the person who was by their side all those years ago. That connection gives you a nice and warm feeling inside, watching the celebrity piece together the puzzle of their hero’s story by engaging with the stories of another.