Monthly Archives: December 2012

About this Project: Remind me again why I thought it was a good idea

I’m feeling daunted by the scale of the task. I’m also enjoying finding out who my grandfather and his siblings were, by reading their letters, and I am planning trips to raid the family photo albums.

I think I mentioned that there are 1000 pages of typescript; that’s two reams of paper.  I’ve managed to “teach” the OCR software better character recognition, but it still confuses hs and bs so every letter must be corrected by hand. And I rather foolishly decided to tag each letter with the names of people and places mentioned in it; this is already very fiddly.

I think it takes about 20 minutes to do each letter on average. I don’t know how many there are altogether, but I estimate 700. I’ve listed the 1914 letters on a spreadsheet (a task and a half in itself) and from July to December 1914 there are 82 of them. If my estimate’s right, and there are 700 or so, then just posting them is about 233 hours’ work.  On the other hand, if I can manage three letters every day, I can get them all loaded this year and ready to go.  I hope.

I've made a spreadsheet

I’ve made a spreadsheet

I am enjoying it though; you can hear each of their voices coming through the letter. Ted’s letters show how much he misses the rest of the family, Richard’s are full of replies to letters from their mother (she pickled 400 walnuts in the summer of 1914, he mentions them in at least three of his letters to her), and Benedicta’s are one long stream of gossippy consciousness. They all mention a visit their mother made to her family home in the late summer, and interestingly they all mention how she is likely to leave the property in her will.

It’s good to see the letters building up in the admin pages of the website:

Post List Screenshot

Here’s some I posted earlier

I am going to get in touch with my sister and the remaining relatives of my mother’s generation, and ask if I can raid their boxes and photograph albums. It would be good to get more pictures up on the site. The trip should be fun, and I’ll enjoy working on the project but not sitting at a laptop.

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Posted by on 31 December, '12 in About, WWI


31 December 1914 – Ted to Gertrude (Christmas day truce)

Dec 31 / 1914

Dear Mother

Thanks most awfully for your last few letters. I’m afraid I’ve been very remiss in answering them, but I have’nt had a moment really. We came out of those old trenches on the night of the 27th, after doing 25 days & nights there, pretty long time was’nt it. We were glad to be relieved as you may imagine, the men were all absolutely doggo, as they had to work day & night to keep the trenches for from falling in, because the weather was so wet & beastly that the earthy all got sodden & soaked & had to be simply propped up, & our trenches were simply lined with boards & old doors & anything we could get hold of. I am writing this in nice comfortable billets miles away from the firing line where the whole Indian Army Corps has come for a rest for 3 weeks or so.

I have’nt much news to tell you except an extraordinary thing which happened on Christmas day. To begin with on Christmas eve all the German trenches were lined with little lights, which we afterwards discovered were Christmas trees. Well next morning we heard them singing & shouting in their trenches, and about midday they began lifting up hats on sticks and shewing them above the trenches, then they shewed their heads, & then bodies & finally they climbed out of their trenches into the open! Of course one could’nt shoot them in cold blood like that, tho’ one or two shots were fired; and after a bit we also scrambled out of our trenches, & for an hour both sides walked about in the space between the two lines of trenches, talking & laughing, swapping baccy & cigarettes, biscuits etc. They were quite friendly & genuine, & our Col: who talks German had a long conversation with them, & asked them how they were & everything, & you would never believe that we had been fighting for weeks. After about an hour their officers shooed them back to their trenches, and we came back to ours, but for the rest of Christmas day & night, & all next day, 26th, I dont suppose 2 shots were fired hardly by either side! Was’nt it weird?

By the way, leave is now open, & 3 of our fellows have gone on leave. I am, I hope, arriving in London about 3 o’clock on the 8th, if all goes well, as my turn is next; so you can expect me home, with a fair amount of certainty, on evening of the 8th, probably by a train leaving Waterloo about 5-6 o’clock. So if anyone likes to hang about Waterloo anytime about then they are fairly sure to meet me. Is’nt it GORGEOUS!!

Happy New Year to all

yr loving son


Ted’s CO, Colonel Drake-Brockman, gives a more detailed account of the Christmas Truce in his memoirs.

The cartoon below comes from Ted’s letter to his sister Jane, also about the Christmas Truce. It shows a Garhwali soldier saying ‘Bonjour Fritz’ to a German who’s wearing his pickelhaube and saying ‘Salaam Salaam’ back.

Christmas Truce Cartoon

Christmas Truce Cartoon


Posted by on 24 December, '12 in About, France, Primary source, Waterloo



About this Project: Who’s Who?

I’ve just updated the page About the Berrymans explaining who is who in this photograph taken in 1896, and where they all were almost 20 years later at the start of the First World War.

The Berryman Family 1896

The Berryman Family 1896

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Posted by on 23 December, '12 in About


About this project: typing letters and cleaning images

Ted’s letter of the 30th September 1914 is 1250 words, 1100 of them in a single paragraph.  He writes mainly about the voyage from Karachi (then in India) to… well, he’s not sure where.  He’s on one ship in a convoy taking troops from India to the theatre of war in Europe, and his sister Ben is in another ship on her way home to England.  Ben had been living in India with Ted as part of what was called “the fishing fleet”, the middle and upper class women who went out to the colonies to catch husbands.  (Their working class sisters were called “camp followers”).

Ted spends most of the letter talking about the journey, but part way through he commissions his mother to buy him a field lantern.  The typescript includes a photocopy of the sketch in the letter, presumably made in the 1970s. 

Typescript showing photocopy of illustration

Typescript showing photocopy of illustration

I am delighted the illustrations are included in what I’ve been sent, but the question is what to do with them. Do I include them in the blog in this rather messy format, or do I clean up the palimpsest that’s showing through from the other side of the paper (an artefact of the photocopying). With this one, I have cleaned it up.

Field lantern with talc sidesIt’s a rather charming image for Christmas, now that I look at it.  I hope to get in touch with the IWM and ask for permission to see and photograph the line drawings in the letters and to include some pictures of the manuscripts in the website. 

In the meantime, this will have to do.

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Posted by on 22 December, '12 in About, Imperial War Museum, WWI


About this Project: Facebook and Twitter

I’ve created a facebook page at and the twitter handle @FamilyLetters where I’ll post updates about this project.

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Posted by on 15 December, '12 in About


About this project: Picking it up again a year on

This has been nagging away at me all through 2012 which has been an unfortunately busy year.  But I cannot escape it any more. I keep reminding myself that once I’ve got the photographs up on the pages, “all” I need to do is post the letters and schedule them for publication.

At the moment I plan to take the scanned copies of the 1970s typescripts, run them through the OCR software and tidy up the resulting mess, and then copy and paste them here with their scheduled dates.

However, that turns out to be pretty daunting. Here is what the pdfs look like:

Sample PDF

Sample PDF

And here is what the resultant .txt file looks like:

Sample txt file

Sample txt file

There are 1004 pages of typescript all together and as you can see the OCR software doesn’t cope with the strange 70s type-face. Having counted the pages, I wonder if it would be quicker to copy type than to clean up the OCRs. I feel the need for a spreadsheet and a schedule coming on. I do have over eighteen months, after all.

(And my, but doesn’t it sound like something out of the Boys’ Own Paper?)

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Posted by on 14 December, '12 in About, Imperial War Museum