This year’s Annual Conference of the Sussex Family History Group happened to be on the first Saturday of my Easter holidays, meaning that for once I was free to attend. Haywards Heath is over an hour’s drive away, but it was a beautiful morning for driving through the Sussex countryside and therefore a pleasurable journey. Unfortunately the local Park Runners had done a take-over of the car park adjacent to Clair Hall, which meant getting my head around the rather hi-tec car park machine across the road. However, that hurdle over, I made it in plenty of time for a coffee before proceedings commenced.
Well I can tell you that it was worth the long drive just to experience Andrew Thatham’s presentation. If you ever get the chance to hear him or to see his exhibition, then grab the opportunity with both hands! (You can find his website at www.groupphoto.co.uk). His talk, entitled ‘A Group Photograph – Before, Now and In-Between’ was definitely more of an experience than a standard talk. Basically he has spent over 20 years researching the lives of the 46 men depicted in one particular WW1 photograph. The photo of officers of the 8th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment was taken while they were training on Salisbury Plain in 1915, and included Andrew’s great-grandfather, their commanding officer. The material he collected resulted in an exhibition at the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres in 2015, a book of his research and an extremely moving animated film.
We viewed the half hour film, which, without words, conveys the lives of the 46 men. The concept is extremely clever. There is a continually changing visual representation of the birth and death of the men and the growth of their families, with music clips throughout the period and photographs of them, their parents and then their children and grandchildren, together with constantly changing images of iconic news and happenings of each year. It felt an immersive experience and I could feel myself relating the constantly rolling date counter to the lives of my own ancestors, hearing the music they heard, and wondering at the inventions that were news for them. It was truly moving. An extaordinary achievement.
Later in the day we heard very good and comprehensive talks from Sue Reid on the British Newspaper Archive and from Chris Heather of TNA on records for Railway Ancestors.
I patronised the book stall and sought advice on the best way to conserve our various WW1 family documents. I also found out about the SFHG My Tree project, where members are being encouraged to send in their trees, ideally in GEDCOM format. This will definitely be added to my ‘to do’ list as it is another way of preserving for posterity the research I have undertaken.
Altogether a very worthwhile day out and well done to SFHG for their excellent organisation. http://sfhg.org.uk/
So I’m making progress with the New Year’s Resolutions!
Some weeks ago I uploaded the stories of brothers William and Jack Wakefield to the Surrey In the Great War website, and I am happy to say that they have now been moderated and are available to view online at www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk. Click on ‘People’ and you can then search for both of them. I didn’t find it the most intuitive of processes, and unfortunately I wasn’t able to upload any images for Jack at the time.
However, I had a lovely and very detailed email back from Dr Kirsty Bennett, Senior Project Officer. She wanted, quite rightly, to check a number of sources with me and the ownership of the images I did send. I have now sent her a photo of Jack Wakefield (my Grandad) and hope that this will appear as his profile photo in due course.
She also wondered whether I had digital images for the POW letters from my Grandad to his parents, written in 1918. This led me to double-check what I already had images of and which I had merely transcribed. Over the last couple of weeks I have photographed all the documents I could find: the POW letters, the letters from the War Office and from the North Staffordshire Regiment subsequent to William’s death and many other family birth, marriage and death certificates that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before (and at least a couple that I paid good money to get hold of from the GRO some years ago, not knowing that they were already in the family’s possession! There’s a learning point there!).
I am now in a position to send in a number of items for Surrey History Centre’s digital archive of WW1 material so that they are preserved for posterity. Just a little more work to do there, and then I will perhaps pluck up courage to take another look at the IWM Lives of the First World War. I uploaded information on Grandad’s WW1 service a couple of years ago https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/4574929, but I remember it being a tortuous process, with text boxes being not nearly big enough so that I had to break it all down into a number of sections. I know I’ve been putting off tackling another submission – I wonder whether the process of uploading will have been streamlined at all?
The other ongoing question mark is over tracking down the grave of William and Jack’s parents in Brookwood Cemetery. We found their burial numbers easily at Surrey History Centre back in February and went straight to the cemetery office, where a very helpful lady was able to identify broadly which plots they might be in but said that finding the precise location would take a little longer. She took my email address to get back to me….and nothing has been forthcoming. I have since emailed them twice, but no response whatsoever. This is disappointing – so near and yet so far. Never mind – onwards and upwards!