Did the inspiration for a glittering military career lie in this 1902 postcard?

The Edwardian Postcard Project recently launched a searchable database of one thousand postcards, written and sent between 1901 and 1910, together with transcriptions and all the historical data we have found so far about the people who wrote and received the cards.  Investigating the cards, the social networking tool of the early twentieth century, we have uncovered some amazing tales but perhaps few as remarkable as the story behind this card.

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This type of picture postcard is the only format the Post Office allowed at the turn of the century.  Although this was before the era of colour photography, publishers could produce attractive images such as this, of Hastings Castle, through techniques such as hand colouring.   Since there were several deliveries a day in towns and cards could travel across country extraordinarily quickly through the rail network, people used postcards just as they use social networking platforms and text messages today.  Wherever they were, they bought, commissioned or created their own artwork on postcards and sent them off in the knowledge they would reach their recipient within hours.

The card’s message reads as follows:

July 22nd 1902

I am sending you this view of Hastings Castle- as I am sure you learnt who landed here, & won the battle of Hastings- With much love M.M. (??)

At the very beginning of the twentieth century the Post Office regulations were understood to insist that the whole of the other side had to be used for the address. Therefore, although picture postcards had become popular the only space for a message was a tiny area left blank by the publisher.  The only possibility was to write a short messages that often functioned as a caption to the message, much as one might use Snapchat or Instagram today.

The Edwardian Postcard project uses the censuses, especially 1901 and 1911 in order to investigate the postcard addressees.  Occasionally, especially if we are given a clue such “Dear Mum” and a first name we can read we can find out about the sender too. With this card nothing about the sender could be ascertained but, with help from Kathrin Kaufhold, I succeeded in tracing the person who received the card.

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The card was written to: J. Drummond Inglis, Esq, 24 Culmingron Road, Ealing.

This led me on a fascinating trail with various twists and turns.  In the 1901 census (accessed through http://www.findmypast.co.uk) it was easy to find John Drummond Inglis living at the address on the card with his mother Katherine S. Inglis.  There, John was listed as being born in 1896 in Devonport, and so was just 5 years’ old when he received the postcard.  The household was relatively privileged with two servants, a nursemaid to look after John and a cook.  The husband was not present on the night the census was taken.

At this point I could find a John Drummond Inglis who progressed from being a Second Lieutenant, to Lieutenant and then Major in the Royal Engineers in the First World War.  The next record for him I found was as an “Exec” recorded as a shareholder in the Great Western Railway in 1932. But could I be sure this was the same John Drummond Inglis who received the card?  And if so, were there any other records about his life?

I looked forwards into the 1911 census where I found a Katherine Sarah Inglis, identifiable as John Drummond’s mother through repetition of her birthdate and place.  At this time she was recorded with her husband in St Marys Church Street, North Colchester.  Thomas Drummond Inglis is described as a Retired Major Royal Artillery Training.  In the household with them were three servants (none the same as 1901) but John Drummond Inglis was not with them and I could not find him elsewhere.

The breakthrough came through a simple search engine find for the military John Drummond Inglis.  This revealed a portrait of “Sir (John) Drummond Inglis” by Janet Jevons, dated 1944 in the National Portrait Gallery online collection.  A vital piece of information that enables me to prove our postcard was sent to this man was provided by the clue of his birth and death dates – here given as 1895.  It is extremely common for censuses to record birth dates wrongly; census enumerators enquired the age of everyone living in the house and then approximated the year of birth.

Armed with the new information that he was born in 1895 rather than 1896, much more information emerged.  His birth is confirmed in 1895 in Devon, in both birth and baptism records.  In the 1911 census, when he was not at home with his parents, he was a student at Wellington College, Crowthorne, Berkshire.  John Drummond Inglis like many of his schoolmates fought in the First World War; 707 lost their lives then.  John must have felt himself fortunate to survive.

Other records, including a particularly informative obituary of his second wife, who died in 1987, flesh out his military career.  Between the wars he was particularly involved in technical developments in the army working in elements such as the “School of Electric Lighting” (19922-26) and acting as the Vice President of the Mechanical Board between 1934 and 1937.  During the Second World War, he became Chief Engineer, 21 Army Group and then held the rank of Temporary Major-General.  On retirement in 1945 he was granted the honorary rank of Major-General.  But he did something else very interesting when he retired: he deposited “correspondence, papers and photographs” with the Royal Engineers Museum.

The Museum have kindly given me some information about this archive which reveals his career to have been exceptionally glittering.  It includes a letter from

Field Marshal Montgomery congratulating him on the award of his KBE.  It also contains the paperwork for various awards he received including the OBE, Order of the Bath, the French Legion of Honour and several others.

John Drummond Inglis died in Eastbourne in 1985, so aged 90.  I can never be sure how the card was preserved for so long that we were able to buy it from a dealer in the twenty-first century. Usually dealers acquire cards once the families let them go,  often through house clearances.  But it seems likely it was held onto for a many decades, perhaps the whole of his life by John himself in order to reach us over a century later.  Was this card, sent to a small boy in 1902 about the Battle of Hastings, perceived by him as a source of inspiration for his long and glittering career?  Of course objectively the influence and position of his father and their social class, plus the good fortune of surviving the First World War were likely to have been decisive factors.  But we can still wonder.

Everybody is welcome to browse the new database, read the cards and transcripts for themselves.  We are now benefiting from an Arts and Humanities Council Cultural Engagement Fund Fellow, Dr Amanda Pullan.  People are beginning to contribute more information about the cards, their senders, receivers, as well as places and events associated with them.  We are also appealing for people to share their cards, or scans of cards with us.  The Edwardian Postcard Project website gives further details about this.

The database was funded through the Lancaster University Public Engagement with Research Leadership Group Fund.  The Edwardian Postcard Project is co-directed by Julia Gillen and Nigel Hall, Emeritus Professor, Manchester Metropolitan University.

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On Remembrance Sunday: a commemoration of soldiers’ writing during the Great War

After 40 years of research Andrew Brooks has produced a wonderful book which is particularly timely to look at today: Postcard Messages from the Great War 1914-19.

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It is a magnificent achievement and a unique and immensely touching book.  Brooks has not merely compiled and shared a huge collection of postcard messages, as interesting that would be, but has also gone to an immense effort to find out as much as he can about the soldiers and their circumstances.  His understanding of military postal history is immense, so he can interpret a great deal about from postmarks and censor marks.   The book is arranged loosely chronologically, and the reader is led from the optimism of the early volunteers through to terrible losses and some fortunate survivals.  The book is centred on postcards sent from and to British soldiers, often telling us a lot about their lives and families before and after their service.

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From the Edwardian Postcard Project we know that many cards of the early twentieth century were commissioned from a photographer, to show a family, friendship or other group.   This is a ‘Pals’ battalion, volunteers recruited locally and promised they would serve with other men from the same region.  Here are men from  the 18th The King’s Liverpool Regiment, during their initial training while based at Hooton Park Racecourse.  The men are still in their civilian clothing.  The card is sent to Miss R Hazelwood, 126 Thornton Road, Bootle, Liverpool on Friday 6th November 1914.  The message reads,

“Dear Miss H,

Many thanks for Chocolate received this morning.  We are going for a 20 Mile Route March round Birkenhead tomorrow that is if I get my uniform

Best M”.

Another such group postcard from the 19th (‘Pals’) King’s Liverpool regiment was sent in 1915 by John Anderson Henry Downie to his mother at 67, Carisbroke Road, Walton, Liverpool.  The message reads:

“Dear Mother,

I duly received both parcels in good condition.  I thank you very much for them, they will provide extras for some time to come.  On the other side you will see some of competitors lined up for a 41/2 mile event at sports.  I am No. 231. In the background a large sports ground is seen.

Yours John.”

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In this case Andrew Brooks has been able to trace his fate in the 19th King’s Liverpool War Diary.  The 22nd January 1916 entry describes an event near Carnoy: “Bombardment on both sides. Minnenwerfer wrecked a dug-out, with the following casualties.  17322 L. Cpl. Downie killed.  17496 Pte. Whitehead seriously wounded…..”  Brooks has also traced Downie’s grave at the Carnoy Military Cemetrery on the Somme, row H grave 11.

Evidence of losses at such major battles as the Somme is also shown in postcards by others involved, occasionally revealing some involvement by women.  This card was sent to Miss Robertson, Union Bank House, George Street, Perth, Scotland from a French Auxiliary hospital on 31st July 1916 (the year of “The Big Push”):P83

“Dear Mary, Are you still at Rosebank: We are leading a very strenuous existence here and do what we can.  Can hardly copy with the rush – at least this was so till the last two days.  Things have quietened a bit but we rather think it is the lull before the storm. I love the life and the work.

I heard from Willie two days ago.  He is in the thick of it but safe and well.  Are your folks alright? Much love from Norah.”

This card by the well known postcard artist Donald McGill was sent on 12th February 1917 from Farnham, Surrey, by Arthur to his father Pte. A. Blackman, 37706, 7th Battalion Queens R.W.S. ‘D’ Com. Machine Gun Section, BEF France. P112

The message reads:

“Dear Dad just a line to say I hope you are all right glad to say I am feeling a bit better but don’t go to school yet Floss and Eeyore better hope you will be able to come home heaps of love and tons of kisses your loving boy Arthur.”

Brooks writes: “Sadly Lance Corporal Arthur Blackman, aged 39, the husband of E. Blackman of 12 Red Lion Square, Farnham, Surrey was killed in action on Saturday 23rd March 1918. He is buried in Chaumy Communal Cemetery, British Extension on the Ham to Chaumy road, Plot 4, Row B, Grave 14.”

Finally, another touching card from a training camp, this one from the 1st (Service) Battalion of the Guernsey regiment.  This was sent to Mrs Sophia Durnmont, Grande Rue, St. Saviour’s, Guernsey from her grandson then, Brooks deduces from the marks, from a camp near Canterbury.  The message reads:

“Dear Grandmother,

I am dropping you these few lines to let you know we have arrived safely at our new camp after one day and one night’s travelling, and a very dirty camp Dear Gran compared to those we had in Guernsey, but we’ll get used to it little by little I suppose.  Cheer up my little wife dear Gran when she’ll come home and tell he since it’s the call of duty it must be the will of the Almighty, hoping you are keeping quite well, as I am at present.  God keep us all till we meet again

With love to all From Walter.”P119

Andrew Brooks’ beautifully produced book: Postcard Messages from the Great War 1914-1919 is available from ebay for £20 and £2.80 postage.

Reading (on) a postcard

I’m finding this Edwardian postcard fascinating in so many ways.

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Connie Ediss postcard

Its format is that of the very beginning of the twentieth century, when the whole of one side had to be taken for the address so people only had the small amount of space around a picture to write on.  Nevertheless it was a hugely popular communications technology.  It’s not at all far-fetched to compare this with something like Instagram today, especially as the postal system meant it could have arrived within hours of being sent.

Connie Ediss was an extraordinarily popular musical comedy actress and comedienne in her own day, gaining fame on the stages of London, Broadway, Australia and South Africa.  She particularly portrayed a witty Cockney persona and her choice of book fits with this: it’s Tony Drum (subtitled A Cockney Boy) by Edwin Pugh, published in 1898. Continue reading

“What is a letter?” Interdisciplinary symposium, Oxford, 2-4 July 2014

I was fortunate to be invited to give a paper at the interdisciplinary symposium: “What is a letter?” earlier this month, by the organisers, Marie Isabel Matthews-Schlinzig and Caroline Socha.

It is hoped that the papers presented will be published and meanwhile there are full details of the programme, including abstracts, available from the symposium blog.  Rather than try to cover the main programme here, I thought I would mention a few side shoots from my experience there.  One such is a mind map produced (after I’d had to leave) which I think does a good job of summing up concisely some of the themes raised. For me, many of the issues that are often raised in Literacy Studies appear here; such as materiality, social practices and text trajectories, albeit sometimes expressed with different terms.

IMG_5175 mind mapA highlight of the extra-mural activities for me was the invitation to view some of the special collections of the Bodleian library.  We were introduced to some of the most interesting items by the Keepers, headed by Chris Fletcher.  The most fascinating letter for me was one written by John Evelyn to Samuel Pepys.  Of course these are the two most celebrated diarists of their age (if not for all time) in England, but what was salient at this point in their correspondence was their interest in naval affairs.  Evelyn was a board commissioner, concerned with sick and wounded sailors as well as prisoners of war while Pepys was clerk of the acts to the Navy Board. Evelyn’s letter, written apparently while he was indisposed, included this marvellous sketch of the Dutch fleet making a raid up the Medway in June 1667. This map (pasted into a book into which such letters have been collected) is so marvellously detailed it includes a key to the ships and even details of sandbanks.

IMG_5101 Evelyn map

 

An event I missed at the end of the conference was a workshop on letter locking by Daniel Starza Smith (Lincoln College, Oxford) and Jana Dambrogio (Conservator of special collections at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology).  From talking with them earlier, I know they are interested in many of the historical practices concerning, for example, folding letters to go through the post when envelopes aren’t available. IMG_5219 tuck and sealJana had shown me how letters were folded in the Soviet Union during WW2.  Here is another kind of example of folded letter.

folded letter

I’m certainly sorry I missed that workshop.

My own contribution was a paper about writing Edwardian postcards. There is a short illustrated summary here.

A couple of other papers at the symposium also drew upon an earlier work from the Literacy Research Centre, the book Letter Writing as Social Practice, edited by David Barton and Nigel Hall.