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 1900’s 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, studying my family history and roots. At the moment, going back, so far, to the 1500’s. 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 war time 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?’ Is, it’s full of different soldiers names and dates, with sketches. Soldiers spent loads time travelling around and waiting to go into front line trenches so writing and sketching passed the time.
A fair few soldiers who entered into this book were casualties of war and would have spent a lot of time bed bound 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.
The book itself is in remarkable condition for over 100 year 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 soldiers body in his inner pocket of his field jacket. On certain pages, there are the faint markings of a mud covered finger print. 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
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!
This is just great humour. A play on the word tank. And a great 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.
A significant time in the Great War. To prevent a defeat of France and to stop Germany being in control of Western Europe.
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
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 mans wife
This page, is one of my favourites. Not because it’s so simple. But but the words used. Is he hating 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 envelope he opened with a letter from his mother?
I really like this page. A strong heartfelt poem. Was this his thoughts when leaving his loved ones? Or was this 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
Just a great ending to the autograph book.
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’s.
Have you ever had hold of a piece of history and pondered… “what happened?”?