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.