Postcards from the past
December 9, 2012
I’ve been sorting through two suitcases of postcards retrieved from my parents’ attic when they moved house. One is an amazing collection my maternal grandfather made. They are mostly small-size, colour-tinted views from around the world, as well as sepia prints of paintings, sculpture, and architecture. Most of the cards are blank ones that he collected for himself (he was a scholar who wrote a book on Balzac). Some he received from members of the family, including me. I found a card I sent him when I was ten with a picture of my boarding school on the front, marking the window of my dormitory, and thanking him for some animal magazines he sent me. I think he must have known how homesick I was. He was always very sweet to me. His name was Harold Owen Stutchbury, and he was a proper Edwardian gent.
The other suitcase is from the other side of the family, including some unusual pcs from Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, where my other grandfather was a tea planter. One of them is from my father to his mother when he was a very small child, writing ‘Daddy has three deer skins’. As you do. Another is of a colonial hotel, with the words ‘No eggs available this week’ written on the back. A strange, vanished world. What’s striking, and sometimes rather sad, is how far apart we all were, scattered all over the globe: young children writing to their parents and relatives from places that weren’t home. But it’s also a slower, calmer world, where arrangement to meet took weeks, not seconds, as now. Even the postcards themselves look as if they took time and effort to make.
I also found a small album belonging to my maternal grandmother, Minnie Sylvia Baker, in which her friends painted little pictures, some of them very accomplished. She also pastes in a dance card from her ‘coming out’ ball, with the names of the tunes, and, beside them, the list of men she danced with.
On the following page is a letter she copied out about her brother, Guy, from the captain of his regiment. It describes how he was killed ‘instantaneously, with a bullet to the head, under terrible fire’. The captain says he was loved by his men, and adds, ‘I saw to it that he was properly buried next morning’. Such a shock to come across that. Alongside it is a tiny cutting from the newspaper, just two lines of print, giving his name. He died in Turkey in WW1, aged just nineteen. My father has Guy as his middle name.