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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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:
@FamilyLetters It’s a WW1 weapon, the Lewis gun, which made it to WW2 as well. Looks like they have knee high putees, so I would say WW1.
— John Duncan (@Newbattleatwar) March 16, 2014
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.