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At the Imperial War Museum

31 Mar

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

 
4 Comments

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

 

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4 responses to “At the Imperial War Museum

  1. Sol Solntze

    4 April, '14 at 09:44

    Cool. What a treasure trove!

    Also, I don’t live at the other end of the country, so if I can do anything to help with the archiving of the archive, do let me know. I have, for example, ten days in May when (say it quietly) I am virtually commitment free during the day.

     
  2. Family Letters

    4 April, '14 at 12:42

    Gosh. I think I will take you up on that. Let’s talk offline.

     
  3. Roberta White

    9 August, '14 at 02:03

    Re the cruelty of the telegram, I do so agree. As soon as she saw “I regret to inform you …” Gertrude would be wondering which son had been killed – and probably being horribly sure it was Dick.
    I remember Mum (Ted’s daughter) stressing how important it was to be careful about choosing your opening words. One of the under-matrons at Wychwood telephoned her to say “I am afraid that Benedicta has had an accident to her glasses” and such is the speed of thought that between “had an accident” and “to her glasses” Mum said she had been to your funeral.

     
  4. Family Letters

    12 August, '14 at 00:01

    I find it hard to believe it wasn’t deliberate, but on the other hand who knows what losses the post office worker had borne. An unimaginable time, at this distance.

     

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