Unique WWII Relic Uncovered in Our Hunt for History

The Raab Collection searches the world for historical documents and artifacts that tell powerful stories 

We at The Raab Collection are hunting for history every day – Nathan Raab even wrote a book about it. Nothing can better illustrate what we do and how we do it than a discovery we recently made of an important memento of World War II.

We were contacted by a descendant of John Jones, a British worker who in 1945 would be elected to Parliament. He showed us a photograph he had with his family members, and surrounding the photo on the mat were autographs of the iconic Allied leaders of the war, most notably Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt, but scores of signatures overall. The piece was certainly interesting, but when, how, and under what circumstances was it put together? What was its significance? We asked ourselves: was this something nice or something important? That distinction means everything, and we set about trying to determine what it is we were looking at.

We started by trying to identify the historical autographs, and found the major ones (after Churchill and Roosevelt) were Commander Bernard Montgomery, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, future Prime Minister Clement Attlee, and labor leader Ernest Bevin. There were also many names we did not at first recognize. These names we knew would give a clue, though it would take a lot of work before we determined that we indeed had found the key. Moreover, also a clue was the date on the document of December 1943 and the headings  “American Delegation” and “British War Workers.” With this information in hand, we turned to find what event this might commemorate. What had we found? The seller did not know, so we were on our own.

It was no easy matter to determine the identities of the signers; it took a lot of diligence. We found the major names mentioned above, but from the lesser names we noticed a predilection for laboring men and journalists. So this likely represented an event related to labor, and it was covered by the press. We discovered that the event was sponsored jointly by the US Office of War Information and the British Ministry of Information, with the cooperation of other agencies of both governments and the labor movements of both countries. 

Research finally led us to an overall solution: We found that the US Office of War Information had commissioned a long documentary entitled “People to People,” on this exact subject, and about these men, and it still existed and could be seen online. We watched it eagerly. It showed that the US government sent 4 American workers over to the UK as part of a worker exchange. The purpose was to promote solidarity and cement desperately needed cooperation between the two nations’ wartime industries. Those workers were escorted around England to view the state of British industry and wartime production by 4 Englishmen. At the end of that visit, the 8 men, 4 Americans and 4 Englishmen, boarded a boat and came to the US to do the same in the states. Watching the film, you can see the members of the commission, including Jones, watch Eleanor Roosevelt stride out of the White House to greet them, and witness Fiorello LaGuardia shake hands with them. These people had all signed the presentation piece.

Jones had a keen sense of taking part in history, and he thus created truly a unique memento of the men and the alliance that won World War II, and the efforts to forge unity among them. Moreover, some of the historical autographs, such as Churchill and FDR, are almost impossible to find together, as they are here. So our hunt for history always requires knowledge and hard work. In this case, it yielded a spectacular result. 

We obtained the unique photograph from Jones’s heirs and were thrilled to have the opportunity to do so. Our pursuit of rare documents and historical artifacts continues, as we bring ever more important pieces of world history to light and into the hands of collectors and scholars. 

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