Saturday, May 28, 2022
Family LifeA piece of history by the fallen

A piece of history by the fallen

Have you ever held a piece of history and wondered what the world was once like or what the person behind the writing lived through?


I’ve always enjoyed history, even from my school days. There’s something about history that interests and intrigues me. Especially the World Wars.

I’ve always wondered what it would be like living through the early 1900s during the Great War and the second world war. I can only imagine the terror and fear people went through. But to be there in that moment of history would just be fascinating. The smells, the noise, the way of living. And not just the bad times, but the laughter, the comradery and celebrations.

Family at war

I enjoy genealogy and studying my family history and roots. At the moment, going back, so far, to the 1500s. Many members of my family, as with most, fought in the war or played a role in the war efforts.

Over the years, I’ve inherited many artefacts, medals and war memorabilia. All of which tell their own story of heroism, bravery, strength and loss. It gives me a sense of pride, that people within my family played a part in making the world we live in a better place than it once was.

The written word

One particular item that has been in my family for over 100 years is a wartime autograph book. The book belonged to my Great-Grandaunt. Lily Clayton. As the demand for nurses got bigger, girls as young as 17, with only very basic training, were required to deal with stomach-wrenching war wounds and death on a daily basis. My Great-Grandaunt was one of these girls. I’m guessing the soldiers took a shine to her which is how she was given this book, but who knows!?

These wartime autograph books were quite popular. They often made fun of army life, but often contain hand-sketched images and heartfelt messages and poems. What I find fascinating and what leaves me with that sense of ‘what happened?’, it’s full of different soldiers’ names and dates, with sketches. Soldiers spent loads of time travelling around and waiting to go into front line trenches so writing and sketching passed the time.

A fair few soldiers who entered this book were casualties of war and would have spent a lot of time bedbound and away from loved ones, some, hundreds of miles from home. Some of the writings in this book are thought-provoking and some, leave a lump in your throat.

Wartime Autographs

The book itself is in remarkable condition for over 100 years old. It has that smell of soil and sulphur. A smell that would have carried hundreds of deaths yet all along kept close to the soldier’s body in the inner pocket of his field jacket. On certain pages, there are the faint markings of a mud-covered fingerprint. It’s these features that always make me wonder what it would have been like to be there, to see and feel what they endured.

Thought-provoking autographs

I thought it would be nice to share just a few of the autographs in the book. Some that I personally like and truly make me wonder how these men were feeling at the time of drawing and writing them.

A Lonely Spot

A Lonely Spot

This one sums everything up in such a simple way. But what does it really mean? Was it a joke? Or was it something deeper? An expression of how this guy is feeling maybe?

Mind the Tanks!

Mind The Tanks

This is just great humour. A play on the word tank. And a great sketch!

My love

Loved One Sketch

Imagine, your miles away from home, in a trench waiting. Or in a hospital bed horrifically injured. Your family and loved ones have no idea where you are and you miss them terribly. You close your eyes and you picture your loved one.

Black watch


A significant time in the Great War. To prevent a defeat of France and to stop Germany being in control of Western Europe.

Lions Pride

Lions Sketch

I really like this sketch. Is it just a sketch of a lion and lioness? Or is it a representation of a soldiers thoughts?

Utility v Romance

Utility V Romance

This sketch shows that these guys weren’t just soldiers defending our country. They’re real people with lives and talents.

The arms of another man’s wife

This page is one of my favourites. Not because it’s so simple. But the words used. does he dislike being a soldier? Is he saying he was better off when he was at home? In addition to that, the answer is hidden underneath a torn gum strip from an envelope. And the envelope he opened with a letter from his mother?



I really like this page. A strong heartfelt poem. Were these his thoughts when leaving his loved ones? Or were these his thoughts as he lay and his body slowly passes from the trauma and injuries he’s suffered during the great war?

The final page

Final Page

Just a great ending to the autograph book.

War memorabilia

As I mentioned earlier, I have a fair bit of memorabilia and artefacts that have been kept in my family for over a hundred years. I’ll be keeping these for as long as I live. Sadly I’m not sure my children would appreciate such items. Not because they don’t care, but they are from a generation that just simply takes life for granted. With all respect, I truly believe Generation Z will never fully appreciate the life they live now, is down to those who fought in the world wars. Ironically some of those soldiers were the same age as the Gen-Z.

Have you ever had hold of a piece of history and pondered… “what happened?”?


  1. What an amazing artifact to own. Have you considered getting it digitisied and sending electronic copies to museums? It does look in amazing detail and condition. I hope your kids do appreciate it. Love genealogy myself as it happens. Great post Damion

  2. Hi Damion.

    What an interesting read – all that history emanating from some drawings in a book, fascinating. But also tinged with sadness. And I’m always amazed at the bravery these individuals displayed, both on the battlefield and off it.

    And you’ve traced your family tree back to the 1500s!! The furthest my history classes went back was to James I in 1603! Well done, mate.

  3. This is incredible. When I saw the thumbnail, I assumed it was something you had got quite recently because it’s in such amazing condition. No way would I have thought that was so old! What an amazing thing to own – I’d love to find something like this within my own family but sadly that’s not likely to happen. I can’t begin to image what the people who wrote in that book were going through.

  4. This is really interesting. I too have a keen interest in history and like you particularly the world wars. Genealogy is another interest of mine also.

    What a great keepsake, I hope your children develop your interests though so the stories continue to live on with them. I don’t have any keepsakes from relatives except the research I’ve done on them. I wish sometimes I had pictures to match up to their descriptions on their records, but alas I have nothing.

  5. Some of those sketches are incredible and the poems and words heart felt. It is very intruiging how they may have lived back then. I loved history and the wars learning about them and the war films that are in movies they are my favourites. Great read matey and what a keepsake to have of your great grandaunt


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