Family photographs are revealing, facilitating the sharing of memories and recollections while looking at them, thereby passing information down to the younger generations who further glean what they can depending on their own experiences.
This double-page spread follows my mother and her contemporaries in the ATS during the Second World War. After brief training, which included learning to drive, she was moving heavy equipment and people in convoys of enormous lorries all over the mainland.
SINCE THE VERY beginning of photography we have used the medium to display images of ourselves to the world. From the pages of the family album to the online platform of social networking, self-taken images or photographs that we have arranged to have taken on our behalf, can be our version of a peacock’s splendid tail, designed to showcase us in all our glory. Scanned glass negative produced by the collodion process
Dad’s cousin, John Hailey, was Picture Editor of Varsity Magazine at Cambridge University and clearly skilled at taking pictures as well as editing them. The larger size negative of his medium format rangefinder camera and the higher-quality roll film enabled him to capture quite momentous occasions on film.
Captured by the Japanese at the Battle of Singapore in February 1942, Dad spent nearly four years as a prisoner of war. The Empire of Japan planned a huge railway between Bangkok in Thailand and Rangoon in Burma to support its forces. Dad was among about sixty thousand Allied prisoners forced to build it, alongside Asian workers. The track became known as Death Railway as thousands died because of the appalling conditions equating to about a third of those who worked on the line.In this postcard Dad is just visible, pictured on the very far left of the image. I imagine the photograph was taken to relay a distinct message from the Japanese to the enemy. By not saluting along with their captors, as might be expected at their comrades’ grave, are the captured perhaps also sending their own subliminal message to the unknown viewers of the picture, along the lines of: We may have been captured but we are not beaten?
Although it is rather primitive to modern eyes, this promotional shot shows my Great-Aunt Nell with the two Teddies, her husband and her son, literally pointing at some fine china. The picture is lovely, especially to this viewer who has family connections to the people shown. While the quality of the photograph cannot be faulted, the placing of the characters appears rather amateurish. Nell certainly was very short indeed, although it doesn’t help to have placed her the furthest from the camera. Wearing what looks like a cloth cap with her handbag thrown over her arm she appears to be reading a book; perhaps they are pretending to be customers? Presumably quite in mode in Switzerland in the 1940s, would the picture encourage custom? Not in the twenty-first century perhaps but I am supposing that the Meyers’ advertising campaign was appropriate then.
I suspect this shot of my mother’s school sports day in the late 1920s was just a mistake. Would it have been considered a good shot at the time? Probably not. But, doesn’t it remind us of the hop and forward thrust movement that is specific to a sack race? I went to the same school and our uniforms were much the same, as were the sacks and so there is a timeless feel to the image for me, evoking the feel of rough hessian against my bare legs as if I had been taking part in my own mother’s race myself! The girls’ enthusiasm is obvious; it is the ideal Decisive Moment: a true Image à la Sauvette. As Pettersson says, photographs are sometimes, ‘literally traces of what they are photographs of’.
Taken in the early part of the last century, this picture shows the then Prince of Wales on horseback leaving a Meet hosted by my great-grandfather. Even though the Prince’s face is obscured, it was this picture that sparked my mother’s recollection of having been presented to him during a later Royal visit. Kept mostly because things were rarely thrown away, together with a shot that should have shown his father, King George V visiting Aylesbury, they are ‘the ones that got away’; a downside of using the early cameras for action shots in their day.
My mother is the young child in the front seat of a White Rose Motors of Rhyl’s charabanc (from char à bancs meaning carriage with wooden seats; the translation of the French term) with my grandparents standing in front.
My great-grandmother Sarah Catherine Turner was one of the first women GPs in the UK— seen here doing her rounds.
This young woman in her flying outfit is ‘The first English woman to fly over the Swiss Alps’, better known to us as Great-Aunt Nell. It may be difficult to imagine but my grandfather’s sister was an attractive young woman. Her sense of humour and spirit of adventure are more obvious. Nell left England between the World Wars to marry the love of her life and live in a beautiful house with views over the Swiss Alps in Bern that we often visited in our summer holidays.
Monica Piggott was my mother’s close cousin ‘Girlie’, as we knew her, who was photographed by Dorothy Wilding in her studio, which had opened in London in 1915. Their mother had commissioned the portrait for Girlie’s Coming Out into society. Wilding was a society photographer of the early twentieth century and the first woman to be awarded a Royal Warrant to be an official royal photographer. The Queen sat for a single portrait session with Wilding and the ensuing photographs appeared on British postage stamps between 1953 and 1967, becoming the most frequently reproduced images in the world. I grew up with those stamps heralding our young, fresh-faced Queen encircled with one of four symbolic flowers symbolising the four constituent countries of the United Kingdom.