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Author Archives: Family Letters

25 December 1914 – Christmas Truce

Ted and the Garhwalis were present at the Christmas Truce though they didn’t play football. Ted wrote about it to his mother on December 31st and about it to Jane on January 1st. You can hear Matthew Ward of @HistoryNeedsYou read the letter of December 31st below:


Ted’s commanding officer Col Drake-Brockman found the Truce unmilitary and uncanny, but a good opportunity to search for the bodies of men who’d been killed some five weeks before. Here are his memories of the Christmas Truce from his book “With the Royal Garhwal Rifles in the Great War 1914-1917”.

I had just … got back to my dugout when Captain Berryman came running up with the news that “the Germans were out of their trenches.” “The devil they are!” I replied, and went up with him. Sure enough I found a number sitting on the parapet of No. 2 Company’s trench, and also out in front of No. 1 Company. They were trying to converse with our men and giving them cigarettes, biscuits and boxes of cigars. As I could speak German I conversed with them. They all belonged to the 16th Regiment, and it is a strange coincidence that at the battle of Nueve Chapelle later in March, 1915, among the prisoners that the Battalion took there were these identical men who came out on Christmas Day at this informal “armistice”. They seemed very jolly, as if they had had a good feed with plenty to drink. In fact they told me that they had had a good dinner. One of them said to me that there must be “Friede auf der Erde” on this day being Christmas Day. They seemed convinced that they were winning, and one of them said, with a wave of his hand, that the Russians were quite out of it. He gave me a bundle of newspapers to corroborate his statement.

This “armistice” was of short duration. Strictly speaking it should not have taken place without permission. Both our and the German headquarters (we saw from captured documents later) were very angry about it when it became known, and rightly so. At 3.45 p.m. a whistle sounded from their trench, and they all, driven by their neat, dapper N.C.O.s, or “unter oficiers,” scuttled back to their trench. The men were not so neatly turned out as the N.C.O.s, naturally, as they have harder and more fatigue work to do. One man, I noticed, had on a pair of civilian corduroys over his uniform ones.

The truce was well kept for all that night. Not a shot was fired. The silence, so different to the usual crack of rifles and spluttering of machine guns, was almost uncanny.

The way they came out was amusing. First, the evening before, they put out small Christmas trees with lighted candles on them on the top of their trench. Our men were astonished, as it looked, they said, like their own “Dewali” festival in India. During the morning singing and shouting were heard. After a time heads appeared, and finally thier whole bodies – and out they came! It shows what confidence they had in our men. We could not have treated them in like manner. We took the opportunity to search for poor Taylor’s and Robertson-Glasgow’s bodies. They were killed on the 18th November. Only the latter’s body was found. Taylor and the Garhwali officer must have got right into the the German trench and been killed there. Robertson-Glasgow’s body was found close to the parapet. He was buried in the military cemetery between Epinette and Le Touret on the Rue de Bois.

It was a strange feeling being able to wander up above ground after being so long below the surface. A couple of dead Germans were close to the side road. They looked so quiet and lifelike in the attitude they were lying in, so opportunity was taken to have a look at them. They were mere skeletons inside their uniform! One had no head. Both must have been killed by a shell.

 
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Posted by on 25 December, '14 in About

 

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Letter to the Trustees of the Imperial War Museum

Save the IWM Library

Click here for posters and leaflets

The Trustees of the Imperial War Museum have decided to close the Library and make 60-80 highly specialised staff redundant at an annual saving of £4m or so.

George Osborne has provided money for the Education Services, but how much integrity and truth can those have, without the research Library to back them up?

There is a petitition to save the Library at bit.ly/save_IWM – please consider signing it. Follow @Save_IWM for updates and retweet to spread the word. There are posters, leaflets and a list of people to write to here.  Please consider writing to the Trustees, either individually on masse to

The Board of Trustees
IWM London
Lambeth Road
London SE1 6HZ.

This is the letter I’ve posted to the individual Trustees c/o the IWM London (19 letters, one each) and to George Osborne as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP as Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport c/o the House of Commons.


Dear Sir

Please reverse the decision to close the Imperial War Museum library and make the specialist staff redundant. The sums of money involved are not large, especially compared with the huge sums of money spent on short term commemorations of the First World War. It beggars belief that the IWM Trustees should spend so much on refurbishing the building, and then close its intellectual heart.

Let’s be clear, saving the Educations services is not enough. In fact, without the library it may even be an empty gesture.

There are many reasons why this is a bad idea and even morally wrong, here are just a few.

First, a personal reason. My mother donated 650 letters to the archives written by my grandfather and his brothers during and after WW1. The archives are “safe” but how can I believe you when you say that? I am considering options for finding other more appropriate places for them to be stored. I cannot be the only donor who feels that their trust is betrayed by the Trustees of the IWM. I cannot begin to think how those who donated regimental records of and other irreplaceable books now feel. Closing the IWM Library sends out a very bad signal to those who donated to the IWM Library, and to those who donated to the National Archives, the British Library, the National War Museum, and all other organisations who hold materials in trust.

The library is not just A library, it is unique in the world and serves a specific purpose. That purpose is to help us all understand the causes, course and consequences the single event that has had the most impact on the world in the 20th and 21st centuries: for example, we would not be sending troops to Iraq now if the treaty lines at the end of the First World War had been drawn differently. Closing the IWM Library makes it harder for journalists, think tanks, researchers and maybe even politicians to understand and explain critical and deadly events playing out in the present.

It’s a resource for everyone: what’s in the library ends up on our TV screens, in films and on the radio via the research done by documentary- and film-makers, authors and playwrights. It’s also a resource for academics and historians, who still have not arrived at a shared understanding of why the war started or why it ended. Closing the IWM Library will affect everyone, not just a dusty few.

A library is only as good as its librarians, who have spent a lifetime understanding what the material is and how it connects together. The books and other materials have been donated in good faith; to disperse the library is a betrayal of that trust, and once dispersed the library cannot be re-gathered. The materials have not been digitised; they cannot be found online. Closing the IWM Library is to smash a unique human and physical resource which cannot be recreated.

The library is not just a British resource – in a very real sense it’s not ours to close. One in six of the men who served Britain in WW1 was not British but a member of what are now foreign countries. Australia is loud in commemorating the Anzacs, but the heirs of the 1.5m men from pre-partition India who served in the WW1 and the 2.5m who served in WW2 are more ambivalent about their heritage. We owe our victories in no small part to them, and the IWM records their stories – there is no Indian Wilfred Owen, no Indian Siegfried Sassoon, the regimental histories in the IWM library are important records; in some cases it is the only place that those records are held in an accessible form. Closing the IWM library not only betrays those men and our moral debt, it re-writes history. A cynic may ask whether that is the intention.

In this centenary year, tens of millions of pounds, possibly more, have been spent commemorating the men who died, much of it on artworks that say more about us than about the men they commemorate. Politicians have missed no chance to be photographed standing in the cold and looking solemn. It beggars belief that something that actually does commemorate the First World War, and help us understand it and explain it, should be closed. Closing the IWM library reveals a sentimental hypocrisy at the heart of many of the centenary commemorations.

Finally, let me share with you some of the reasons given by others why the IWM Library should not be closed. These came from the petition in the few hours before I wrote this letter and are typical of the 15,000 or so reasons people in the UK and abroad are challenging this decision.

CO LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM less than a minute ago
I’m signing because I use this library. It is a valuable resource for scholars and the public alike

RG ORPINGTON, UNITED KINGDOM 6 minutes ago
An invaluable, and accessible educational asset. Worth more than one banker’s bonus!

BB EDINBURGH, UNITED KINGDOM about 1 hour ago
This is a world-leading resource with a world-leading library. Ways must be found to keep it fully maintained.

DR FROME, UNITED KINGDOM about 1 hour ago
2014 is the centenary of the Great War, given all the millions spent THIS year on politicians attending various commemorative events it seems cheap to cut funding for what must be our permanent reminder of the sacrifices in WW1 (and other conflicts)

SW WARWICK, UNITED KINGDOM about 1 hour ago
The library is not an optional extra – it’s the intellectual heart of any cultural institution. … if you want to be a relevant, world class educational resource that can support exhibitions, publishing and scholarship at every level then you need a library and qualified staff to run it.

JW PORTLAND, UNITED KINGDOM about 3 hours ago
It seems particularly poignant to be trying to save the IWM just after the recent wave of public support to remember WW1. I’m a former MoD scientist with a deep understanding of conflict and its causes. I visited IWM two years ago in a different role as Chair of Governors of my local secondary school, and was deeply impressed by, for example, the holocaust exhibition. The IWM is an invaluable resource and it chronicles a key aspect of the century that transformed life in Britain. We cannot afford to lose any part of it.

DHA, SC about 3 hours ago
I’m an English professor, and I’ve made use of the IWM in the past.

MJ GIOLOU, PAFOS, CYPRUS about 4 hours ago
I believe the resources of the IWM are an internationally important archive which should be preserved for future generations and should remain fully accessible to the public.

JK TAUNTON, UNITED KINGDOM about 6 hours ago
preservation and maintenance of all historic and heritage property is vital, we must leave for future generations our history, we live in a miserly short term political environment which has no concern for the future.

RT SHEFFIELD, UNITED KINGDOM about 7 hours ago
Every family in Britain was touched by WW1 in which my great grandfather fought and my grandfather and brothers in WW2. Commemoration is an essential part of learning and remembering the lessons of the past. Put money on my taxes do not take money away from the fantastic work the IWM does and the fantastic learning resource it provides and the educational outreach it undertakes.

IR WIRRAL, UNITED KINGDOM about 6 hours ago
Lest we forget

Yours sincerely

[Signed]

Family Letters

 
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Posted by on 13 December, '14 in About, Imperial War Museum

 

The significance of First World War Memorials in Britain

A guest post by Sol Solntze

First World War Memorial, Holborn, London

First World War Memorial, Holborn, London

In the UK, World War I memorials are all around us. They are so all around us, in fact, that it is easy to overlook them. I think that Micheal Gove certainly has, with his comments about how the emphasis on the tragedy of the First World War is a left wing conspiracy imposed on the narrative of the conflict by agenda driven historians long after the fact. On the centenary of the beginning of the World War I, perhaps it is time to think about what they can tell us about the attitudes the people who lived through the war and its aftermath had towards it.

Firstly, it is interesting to note that the Cenotaph wasn’t originally built to last. It was a temporary structure provided for the victory march to have something to salute at, the nod to those who didn’t come back intended to be just one part of the end of war celebrations. In actuality, however, it seems for the members of the public who attended the event, this acknowledgement of the glorious dead rather than of the glorious victory, of the anonymous unfortunate collective rather than the heroism of one or two great men was the highlight of the proceedings, and what kept them coming back to visit in large numbers after the parade was over. The temporary monument became permanent because of the reaction of people at the time to it.

The Cenotaph, London. <br/> By Adrian Pingstone (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Cenotaph, London.
By Adrian Pingstone (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It might be easy to pass this off as the natural result of the decision not to repatriate the bodies of those who fell abroad, which left the people at home needing something other than individual grave sites to focus their grief. But that’s the point. There were, the country clearly felt, so many people that needed to be mourned. This was considered to be the aspect of the war that needed to be remembered.

The subsequent explosion of memorial building all over the country was a grass roots movement conceived of, organised by and funded by the communities in which they were placed rather than by any central authority. There are the memorials which were linked to a civic administrative area, such as an urban borough or a village. There are memorials which remember those who belonged to a particular religious community. There are memorials which are dedicated to those who were attached to a particular school, workplace, or social activity. And there are memorials for those who fought in particular regiments or in particular battles.

There also seems, right from the beginning, to have been a deliberate avoidance of militaristic images. Again and again, figures of soldiers are depicted as standing at ease or in positions of mourning rather than marching or attacking with military purpose. An upturned gun was a particularly popular motif. The country was in no mood to glorify this war.

War Memorial, Down Ampney, Gloucestershire. <br/> © Copyright Philip Halling and licensed for reuse

War Memorial, Down Ampney, Gloucestershire.
© Copyright Philip Halling and licensed for reuse

But it is true that neither were they prepared to condemn it utterly. The dead themselves were very rarely portrayed directly, especially not in attitudes which bore any relation to death on the battlefield. In fact, the idealised forms of the figures of soldiers, along with an avoidance of the depiction of the realities of the fighting convey no sense of the horror of war. In addition, Christian symbolism, where it existed, showed the typical First World War soldier as a martyr, someone prepared to sacrifice himself for a just cause. Indeed, a new type of cross became widespread in expressing this idea, the Cross of Sacrifice – a cross with an upturned sword pointing downwards on its face, designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield for the Imperial War Graves Commission.

This kind of thinking, and the idea, often expressed in unveiling speeches, that the sacrifices should not have been made in vain, meant that many of the memorials took a utilitarian form. They were intended to benefit the community in some way through the provision of charity to a section of community members (often war widows or children), or by providing or improving a local service or facility (projects ranged from a new ‘memorial’ hospital to a ‘memorial’ village hall to a ‘memorial’ park).

The "Sentry" War Memorial by Charles Sargeant Jagger, in Watts Warehouse, Manchester. Now the Britannia Hotel.  Cnbrb at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons

The “Sentry” War Memorial by Charles Sargeant Jagger, in Watts Warehouse, Manchester. Now the Britannia Hotel.
Cnbrb at the English language Wikipedia from Wikimedia Commons


Of course, the reality of the post-war depression for many people was clearly not one of experiencing ‘the land fit for heroes’ the dead had supposedly sacrificed themselves to create. In fact, the image and rhetoric surrounding the war memorials and commemoration ceremonies provided an impetus for increasing numbers of people to take a critical view of the war, war memorials, and the impact it had had. Memorials were often the focal point for protests.

Yet many aspects of the memorials actively militated against a critical perspective. There is certainly a nationalistic emphasis to them. This war (and this sacrifice) had been about fighting for ‘the King, Empire and God’. For example, the Celtic cross was a particularly popular type of cross to erect, whereas crucifixes were often seen as the preserve of foreign, Roman Catholic, influences and avoided. Images of St George, or from the Arthurian legend of the Grail quest, were also widely used.

Nowhere, however, is the traditional bent more evident than the way the two minutes silence was fiercely kept, even at the height of the dissatisfaction of the 1930s. Enforcement was organised both by those in positions of authority, such as the policemen who ensured that traffic stopped at the appropriate time, and by ordinary participants themselves. There are examples of dissenters being harassed, and even beaten for refusing to conform.

War Memorial, S & J Watts, Manchester, now the Britannia Hotel

War Memorial, S & J Watts, Manchester, now the Britannia Hotel

To be honest, it is hard not to draw the conclusion that the way in which the Armistice Day commemorations took on an increasingly reverential tone is because to allow people to diss the Armistice Day ceremonials would be to admit that the deaths of loved ones had been futile. And the mere fact that war memorials were so widespread, so energetically pursued and the form which they should take often so fought over has a flavour of a nation protesting this point a little too strongly for it not to have been a subconscious niggle at the very least.
But whether you accept this or not, you cannot ignore the point that the deaths of those who took part in World War I were what contemporaries were most interested in remembering about it. That is what the British First World War memorials tell us.

Sol Solntze is a former history graduate who has a tendency to lecture her children on such fascinating topics as the history of agriculture given any provocation whatsoever. She blogs at www.kiddingherself.com

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Posted by on 28 June, '14 in About, WWI

 

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A few words about a few words

An episode from Michael Palin & Terry Jones’ late 70s BBC comedy series Ripping Yarns

L.P. Hartley’s opening statement in The Go-Between, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there”, has been well served by this project. Moreover, it’s seemed however familiar you think you are with the language being written, wherever in the world its writers may have been back then, they did tend to talk funny too. In the 1910s, the world was becoming familiar with ‘phones and ‘planes, motoring, wires and cables, and talk of such contraptions found a place in British parlance while other tropes, mercifully perhaps, have themselves become part of history. This post is by way of a primer for some of those differences.

Jolly hockey sticks

The above series for many will be the best reminder of the use of ripping for something really good, and yarn for a story, not necessarily an accurate one. Both feature, the former a great deal in the Berryman brothers’ letters home. Vying with ripping on the hyperbole front you’ll also find topping and top-hole, but ripping leads the field. Disturbingly it implies that the Whitechapel murders a quarter of a century earlier were committed by a really great guy called Jack. When something goes wrong though, like letters being lost, it tends to be rotten or sickening.

The Berryman family were wealthy – not Downton Abbey-level wealthy, but well-off enough to employ a domestic (a rickety old man by the name of Capon, who sounds to me like a parody of that sort of person). This grandeur comes across significantly in their writing, and it’s occasionally too easy to imagine them sounding like Lieutenant George and General Melchett from Blackadder Goes Forth, albeit with a greater propensity to be shot at.

One of the more prevalent idioms is anyrate without a space, just meaning anyway or however. It’s mostly written “at anyrate” but still anyrate is treated as a single word throughout, and thanks to the BBC’s recent documentary I Was There: The Great War Interviews, it can be heard here used as such by a veteran (5m 50s in)

http://youtu.be/G9-5urpx6zc#t=350s

Signs of the times

To-day and to-night have yet to upgrade to unified words, and nowadays and these days both tend to refer to the current few days being spoken of, more than to any wider appraisal of the zeitgeist. A great deal of longing goes on, not just to be home with loved ones; to receive a particular bit of news, an expected parcel item or just for a wash and some clean clothes. If the authors are excited or encouraged by something, they may well be bucked. Special occasions are spinky and if people are nervous, they’re in a funk. The tension along the trenches one night is described by Ted as Mr. Funk, offering an unusual context to James Brown’s invitation, some six decades later, to get down.

Another regular is krewst, a family in-joke apparently meaning an adventure of some sort. Also F.F. which was assumed to mean Forced or False Friendship (as between people stuck on a boat), but seems at times to lean more towards a simple face-to-face.

Nation shall curtsey unto nation

As with ships still today, discussion of countries at war – or who ought to be – mostly from Ted, refers to them as female. America can’t seem to make up her mind, Germany is showing her true colours, etc. This is reasonable for people from a country with the largest empire in history and proudest mercantile heritage (“Britannia rule the waves”) after its – sorry, her longest reigning monarch Victoria had so recently passed on. The tradition of a feminine motherland” to be defended, to the death if necessary, by her offspring is worldwide and ancient – planet Earth itself is a matriarch for some – but when the enemy is personified as a single individual (the Hun, the Boche, the German, the Turk) the villanous swine is, needless to say, a he.

Fit but you know it

It’s a long time before fit became analogous with sexually attractive, though from an evolutionary perspective one tends to support the other (not to be conflated with the maxim survival of the fittest, which while it can and often does still mean the most fit, more accurately in that context means best fit for its environment). But throughout the letters the Berryman boys’ poor anxious mother is consistently reminded of how fit and well, hale and hearty her children are, even after having been wounded or almost drowned. The British upper lip was never stiffer. If they are ill, however, they may well be seedy.

The very model

Bridget Jones’ “V. good” / “V. bad” habit can at least be traced back to the Great War as Paul is partial to starting with “V. many thanks for your letter”, which was infuriating as I’d forget about it, then press return at the end of that paragraph for the software to assume a (Roman) numbered list was intended and indent it, then start a fresh one with VI.

But when very or v or muchly won’t do, the standard options (excepting jolly) have been awfully, fearfully, dreadfully, frightfully, terribly or terrifically. All allusions to a looming threat when applied to an abundance of something, whether good or bad. I’m no philologist, but I love how well that seems to reflect the Victorian prude in all of them. It adds context to the subsequently roaring Twenties. As does –

For auld lang syne

Anyone or anything – be it a brand new boat, a dog, or a pretty young lady back home – if regarded with fondness is old, as in poor old Topher. That’s how you know it’s valuable.

No ifs, lots of buts

There is a fair bit of conceptual ping-pong along the way when the brothers write something along the lines of statement A, but condition B, but counter-condition C, but counter-counter-condition D… which gets disorienting on occasion.

All the world’s a stage

Amidst numerous theatres of the war almost anything, from a single military manoeuvre to a wider offensive strategy or entire campaign – the sinking of a ship costing hundreds of lives, nearly claiming the author’s – a one-off turn of events or an important institution of some sort can be and usually is a show, if not necessarily a bloody good one. Ted, in October 1918:

“Bulgaria’s surrender & the Turkish defeat in Palestine must sooner or later materially affect our little corner of the stage-“

On a few occasions though, particularly for Paul, it might even mean an actual show.

And finally…

Pedant’s, take heart that some indiscretions are steeped in history such as this, again from Ted in 1918.

“I literally have’nt had a minute to spare, & what I have had I have spent with Jim.”

Chris

 
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Posted by on 28 May, '14 in About

 

Let’s do the Time Warp Again

One of the strangest things in this project was seeing a photograph of the family when they were in their 70s and 80s. I am so used to them as relatively young men and women, in their 20s and 30s, writing of war of course, but also of engagements and motor cars and pretty girls and dashing young men, that it was a jolt to see them as old people. Though it’s amusing to see that they still didn’t look straight at the camera.

Berryman Reunion

Berryman Reunion c1954

As children we used to refer to the older generation as the “old and bold” but I have been thinking almost exclusively of them when they were “young and brave”. Chris (who is transcribing the letters) and I talk about them by their first names and this disorientated my older sister who remembers the surviving members of the family that much better than I do. But I am used to them in their prime, whether that is Paul, messing about in boats when he was 25:

Paul 1910

Paul 1910

Ben, looking ridiculously glamorous:

Ben

Ben

Dick looking pleased with himself having just won a horse race:

Richard Berryman - After

Richard Berryman

or Ted (centre) with his comrades in arms in 1915

Ted (Centre) in 1915

Ted (Centre) in 1915

And this is the only one I have of the whole family during the war

Whole Family 1915 - Final

Whole Family 1915

When I am not thinking of them as young adults, I am thinking of them as children, so I shall round this post off with a photograph sent to me by a cousin a month ago. I think this must have been taken in 1892 or so, simply because there are nine of them. I love Gertrude’s boater but, sure enough, Paul is wearing a sailor suit.

Berryman Family 1892

Berryman Family c 1892
Gertrude, Jim and Richard (hard to tell which is which) Charles
Rosamund (on Gertrude’s lap), Ted (kneeling), Paul or Peter (on Charles’s lap)
Ben(edicta), Jane. (Ethel)Dreda, Peter or Paul

The letters start in July, each one published on the centenary of the day on which it was written. There are about 600 of them, and they show first hand accounts of many aspects of the First World War.

 
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Posted by on 18 April, '14 in About

 

More photo restoration work

I am fascinated by the process and the results of the photo restoration work done by Sandara at Naked Eye in South Queensferry.

The photo below seemed worth working on because it is exactly 100 years old, dating from just before war broke out. It shows Fred Lumb (standing, a fellow officer in the Garhwal Rifles) with Ted (seated) in Lansdowne, the hill station in the Himalayas where the Garhwal Rifles were and still are based. The women are Alix Mankelow (the sister of another officer in the regiment) and probably Ted’s sister Ben, though it is hard to tell which of them is which.  I very much like the checked skirt with the tabbed buttons.

Fred Lumb, Ted, Alix Mankelow and Ben

Fred Lumb, Ted, Alix Mankelow and Ben

Capt Lumb, Ted, Ben? and Alix

Fred Lumb, Ted, Alix Mankelow and Ben

The photograph below is the only one of the whole family taken during the First World War. So again it seemed worth having some work done to restore it. Unfortunately it’s a poor photograph in the first place and then my copy is damaged and very washed out.

Whole Family 1915  - Original

Whole Family 1915 – Original

In the first attempt at restoration, Jim (second left at the back) looks like a ghost, an eerily unpleasant effect in the circumstances.

Whole Family 1915 - First Restoration

Whole Family 1915 – First Restoration

The second version is much better, especially once it’s been cropped to correct the composition. But now we can see just how bad the original photograph was: Topher is moving his arm (is he saluting the camera?) most of the family are over-exposed and out of focus, and half the girls seem to have their eyes shut.

However, as I said, it is the only photograph I have of the whole family during the war, and I am grateful to Sandra and to the unknown photographer. Now I need to work out which of the girls is which.

Whole Family 1915 - Final

Whole Family 1915 – Final

Back row, left to right: Ted, Jim, Paul, (Chris)Topher
Middle row, left to right: (Ethel)Dreda?, Richard, Gertrude (their mother), Jane?
Front row, left to right: Rosamund?, Ruth, Ben?

 
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Posted by on 14 April, '14 in About, WWI

 

Voices

The brothers’ voices come out very strongly from the letters.

This is the end of a letter from Ted of May 1917, the transcript of which runs to two full pages of A4 covering everything at home and in the field, including his imminent return to the fight, with humour and compassion and spirit of adventure.

There seems to be a lot of fighting going on in France nowadays, & especially in the air. Germany is evidently very anxious about the Western Front, & seems to be doing her utmost to keep us from breaking through. The slaughter must be appalling, but we simply must kill them off & so end the war quicker.

I see Prince Albert [later King George VI] has been appointed to the Malaya, [the ship that Paul was serving on] so she’s evidently a star turn in the fleet.

Much love to all
Yr loving son
Ted.

The following letter is from Richard, just behind the front in France.

Dear Mother

Many thanks for the parcel porridge cake etc. Most welcome. Put some lux in next time. I am longing to use the Emergency rations. The tent has arrived & is lovely, keeps the rain out too, Topher & I put it up. The watch too has come, Thanks so much for all. I want a pair of Jaeger putties, would you send me some please. Thin sort if possible, don’t know if they make two weights.

I saw Nell’s brother the other day. [Nell was engaged to Ted] Fancy meeting him just on the road.

Oh I know what I want, a pair of grey riding breeches in the big black tin box in the lumber room. They are in with that red coat & things I did’nt take to India. They are the same stuff as that suit of mine.

I am sending you £5 to pay postage etc for all these things. I see the cake & porridge always cost ¼ to send.

Send us some penny packets of seeds, mustard & cress, radishes, carrots sweet peas & taters, lettuce, vegetable marrow eh? Scarlet runners.

Best love to all
Yr loving son
Richard

Send me John Bull every week will you?

In the original letter, Jaeger is underlined three times (only the best for Dashing Dick). This is typical of Richard; in other letters he asks his mother for arm-bands for his stretcher bearers, for clothes, for food, and – as he mentions here – a tent. When Ted was in France he too asked his mother to send him things, ranging from lanterns to home made cake, but Richard’s sense of entitlement is extraordinary because it isn’t cushioned by Ted’s thoughtful discussion of family news and current events.

In fairness, as a doctor serving on the Western Front, Richard was dealing with the worst horrors of the appalling slaughter Ted describes, horrors he would not have wanted to share with his mother. And if he was focused on the job in hand, then I can see why he would ask her for things that would help him do it. But even in India before the war began, his letters to her are opaque and reveal little of what he thinks. Maybe he felt suffocated by her adoration (he was the eldest and her favourite). Maybe he was just used to it and had no idea how spoiled he was.

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

 

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Before and After – photographs

I’m truly impressed by the photographic skills of Naked Eye photography in South Queensferry.

I took almost 200 photographs and albums to Sandra there for scanning and she did a wonderful job. The most obviously impressive pieces are the restoration work, including this photograph of “dashing Dick” as she called him.

Richard Berryman - Before

Richard Berryman – Before

Richard Berryman - After

Richard Berryman – After

There is always question where you draw the line between restoration and reproduction, and to my mind it is important to retain both versions of the image.

The really impressive thing, though, is the detail that the scans bring out that simply isn’t visible in any other way. The original of this photograph for example, is three inches across. (The blurry photographs that are still here on the website are either out of focus originals or snaps that I took in 2010. Unfortunately that includes the group photograph of the whole family as children).

Tea and Tennis in the Raj

Tea and Tennis in the Raj

I’ve only looked at the family photographs, I’ve not yet looked at the scans of the photographs from the campaigns, so there is a lot more to come yet.

 
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Posted by on 4 April, '14 in About

 

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

 
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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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