Monthly Archives: March 2014

At the Imperial War Museum

We spent a couple of days last week at the Imperial War museum. I hadn’t realised that the archives and reading rooms are still open by appointment during the refurbishments. But we were able to visit the letters.

Although the letters are archived as two collections, they are in fact stored in five boxes.  Even seeing the five boxes was moving.

The Berryman Letters at the IWM

The Berryman Letters at the IWM

The room was small and at times very full. My sister and niece were there and Chris was there too checking some specific transcriptions.

There were some particular highlights for me. Being able to get reasonable photographs of some of my grandfather’s illustrations, such as this one of the cramped conditions in the trenches, for example:

Ted in the trenches - France 1914

Ted in the trenches – France 1914

I hadn’t seen the letters since the early 1980s when my mother was working on them for the book Socks, Cigarettes and Shipwrecks and I didn’t pay much attention then.

One thing I noticed this time was the palimpsest nature of the record – the photograph below shows a letter from Ted, the note that his mother Gertrude wrote on the envelope, the note that my mother wrote on another envelope and the folder the IWM stores them all in. And now I am publishing the letters online adding another layer to the record.

Ted, Gertrude and Felicite

Ted, Gertrude and Felicite

We found so many things that I am still absorbing it all. I am angered by the cruelty of the telegram that came on two sheets of paper the first one of which read:

Regret to inform you that your son Captain E.R.P Berryman 39 Garhwal Rifles officially reported admitted to no 3 London General Hospital Wandsworth common 10th May suffering from

Telegram - page 1

Telegram – page 1

But I was charmed by many of the letterheads such as this YMCA one saying “for God, for King, for Country”

Y M C A - for God, For King, For Country

Y M C A – for God, For King, For Country

I am endlessly grateful to the anonymous transcribers in the 1980s who typed the letters. without them, and without Chris, this project would be impossible.

It was too much to absorb at once, and in fact too much to photograph. (We found photographs, maps and postcards, cartoons, letterheads, news clippings: far too much for the time we had there). So I need to go back. This is frustrating because I live at the other end of the country. But at least I have a better idea what is there and what I want from the collection for the website.

The Imperial War Museum posted a request for haiku this weekend, and this was my response:

Grandfather’s letters
from trenches, ships and deserts
safe for the future

IWM Haiku

IWM Haiku


Posted by on 31 March, '14 in About, Imperial War Museum, WWI


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Letters and photographs

Letters and photographs

My great-grandmother was a true family historian. As well as her sons’ First World War letters, she kept diaries going back to the 1820s, family photographs of when she was a child in the 1860s, her children’s letters from school, their school reports, and photographs throughout the first four decades of the 20th century. I don’t know how many boxes there are altogether, a good half dozen or so, and a couple of trunks.

It’s daunting. As I teenager I sometimes felt that dead people were more important in my family than live ones were.

Having said that, this doughty group are now my Windows Desktop. The child is my great grandmother, the one who kept all the letters. I love her hand-on-hips stance and the way her head-tilt echoes her own grandmother’s. I just find it very odd to realise that I share so much DNA with these people when I can see their faces but I’ve no idea of their names.

Assorted Ancestors, mid 19th Century

Assorted Ancestors, mid 19th Century. 

Back to the First World War. Here are some things I took photos of at the weekend to blog about and to share on twitter.


We found several blank envelopes pre-printed:

“I certify on my honour that the contents of this envelope refer to nothing but private and family matters”.

Spies don’t lie, obviously. Hmm.

Private and family matters


We also found several blank cards for sending from hospital, but this one had been completed and posted to my grandmother from my grandfather telling her he was sick. And how extremely English he was: “I am quite well, I have been admitted into hospital sick”.

Ted Sick 1917


This is the envelope of a letter which has been damaged by immersion in sea-water. Several of their letters were on ships which were torpedoed, as indeed were two of my great-grandmother’s sons.

Damaged by imersion in sea water


I’m taking the photographs to be scanned on Friday, but here is one I photographed at the weekend. It shows soldiers of the 1st Btn the 39th Garhwal Rifles, probably during World War One. The question in my mind is are they in India, France, Egypt or Mesopotamia? I think the latter, but am happy to be told otherwise.

Soldiers of the 1st Btn 39th Garhwal Rifles with Lewis Gun, World War 1

Soldiers of the 1st Btn 39th Garhwal Rifles with Lewis Gun, probably during World War 1

I photographed this photograph to find out what kind of gun it was. Such is the power of twitter, that within five minutes, I had this answer:

I’m very excited by the photographs I’ve got for scanning and I’m looking forward to beign able to share really good photographs of the five brothers, their sister Ben and most of the rest of the family over the next few weeks and months.


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Posted by on 20 March, '14 in 39th Garhwal Rifles, About


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Ted and Topher at school

Ted as a schoolboy

Ted Berryman as a schoolboy

Ted and Topher went to Kings Canterbury, though they weren’t there at the same time because Topher was ten years younger than Ted.

I contacted all the boys’ schools a couple of months ago, and Peter Henderson who acts as the archivist at Kings sent me records about Ted and Topher from the school magazine and letters that they wrote to the school about their wartime service.

I particularly like the report from when Ted was in the school’s rugby First Fifteen in 1901 (see scan below).

Ted was

“A light forward, but works well, and is the best dribbler in the team, though rather slow.”

Do look out for his team-mates: Deane was a

“Good vigorous forward of a fighting tendency, who always did his share of honest shoving”

and Huyshe was a boy who

“rejoices in a muddy day”.

This is charming until one thinks of Passchendaele.  That thought made me wonder what happened to Huyshe, and it turns out he survived the war and was a cricketer and schoolmaster.

Report on Ted’s season in the school rugby 1st XV (1901)

Ted Berryman’s Rugby Report

The letter that Ted wrote to the school during the war was full news of other old boys and I’ll put it on the site when its centenary comes around, though I’ll quote a bit now.  An O.K.S, was an Old Kings Scholar.

Two days ago there occurred what must be one of the shortest O.K.S meetings on record. We were marching down the road when we met a battalion marching the other way. Who should accost me suddenly from the ranks but Captain G. C. Strahan and as Macear was marching with my company, we had a meeting — the three of us — lasting exactly 15 seconds, just while our respective companies were passing each other, and the of course we had to break up our meeting and rejoin our commands.

He ends the letter touchingly saying

Best of luck to your all and when there are re-unions and O.K.S meetings “after the war” — that vague and problematical period — may I be there to see.

When Topher wrote, he was tireder; his war-time experiences were more unrelenting than Ted’s and it shows:

On the whole we have not had such bad luck, but we certainly have had rotten times. I shall be very glad when the war is over. To me it seems that it will never end. Where we are now the trenches are in the same place as they were at the beginning of the war.

I am very grateful to Peter for sending me these things from the school’s archives, it’s lovely to have a glimpse of the two of them at school.

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Posted by on 10 March, '14 in About, WWI


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More photos, better photos

March is photo month. I am going through the family albums  when I visit my sister to blow the dust off the boxes in her attic. My mother had plenty of photographs to choose from for the book of the letters she published in the 1980s so I am hopeful my sister still has them all.

If she doesn’t then Chris and I hope to visit the Imperial War Museum to go through Ted’s archive and Paul’s archive there to get scans of some of the original letters and postcards, and some of the envelopes including the one where Gertrude wrote tersely “Letters from my shipwrecked sons”. While Chris was transcribing, the letters he also spotted some other records in other libraries he wants to look up while we’re in London.

And then I shall go and visit Ruth’s daughter in May to go through her boxes of letters, photographs and other records.  The images currently on the site are photos I took in 2010 of her photographs so I know she has some wonderful stuff. I can also record some interviews with her about each family member to get some good biographical material – when they were born, what they were like, what happened to them after the war.

It’ll be a treat to have more than these blurry images to put on the site:

File of Photos

File of Photos


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Posted by on 3 March, '14 in About