Creating Research Tools for the Viscount Portal Archive

Among the less known Special Collections material at Christ Church are the recently declassified archives containing letters and memoranda exchanged during the war between Viscount Portal, Churchill and the principal RAF commanders, Harris and Mountbatten and many other British and American wartime leaders. The latter were examined in detail and listed by Mr Robert Sandell, to whom the Library staff wish to convey their gratitude. Subsequently, these papers were examined in detail by several scholars working on various projects and some of their findings will be soon published in the new issue of the library journal.

At present all research tools for this collection are restricted to typed or handwritten contents lists. In the first instance documents need to be made available in electronic form.

This process has been started by Elizabeth Piper, whose work on the first file in the first portfolio in the first box of the RAF Portal Papers has led to some interesting revelations : the allied fighters dropping bombs over Berlin in 1940 discovered that their radio frequencies were operating on the same frequency that the German military in the area were also using. As such, the Germans thought that they were friendly fighters and so let them all through and turned off all of the searchlights.

She has also discovered several communiques between Portal and Churchill over the use of the Fleet and the RAF against Taranto in Italy, a major Allied victory, especially for the Fleet Air Arm. The convoys are mentioned here, one of which was attacked by the German cruiser Admiral Hipper. This was the first time that the Luftwaffe had been used in the Mediterranean. Every allied ship survived the attack.

There are large sections among the various manuscript collections for which there is no detailed, searchable catalogue. We are doing our best to improve the situation.

Work on the early printed books in Roman and Hebrew scripts is well on its way. David Stumpp and Dr Rahel Fronda add tens of detailed antiquarian records to SOLO, the Oxford University online union catalogue on a weekly basis. It is also hoped that the Western Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts Catalogue by Ralph Hanna and David Rundle will be published in the next few months, and detailed descriptions by Edward Wakeling and Janet McMullin of the unique Lewis Carroll collection will soon become available in a new online catalogue.