I happened upon some WW1 postcards when I was researching my family heritage. Building your family tree is extremely addictive I warn you, but it also gave a certain amount of inspiration to the ‘Hidden Croydon’ project. ‘History is made by individuals’ is an opinion thrown around often by historians, and I think on the whole they mean ‘great’ individuals; Kings and Queens, political leaders and human rights activists. This is great for school curriculum and for the study of the objective, but I don’t think we consider the subjective nature of history enough. The personal implications of world events. The effect of ‘great’ individual decisions on the ‘small’ individuals. It is focused on greatly in today’s news reports, but slowly through the ages we may lose perception of the human emotions felt at the time, whether they be anger or joy, confusion or certainty, fear or hope.
However, I do not think that this is the case for the First World War. The events that led up to and followed the 4th August 1914 have been well documented not only by historians, but also depicted by many war poets and writers, classical composers and artists. A very human reaction; honest, brutal and unforgiving. But behind these writings, music and images, which are often at the risk of being glamorised, was a very real experience and can be expressed most effectively by the ‘small’ individual.
This is where ‘Hidden Croydon’ came in. When I found my Great Grandfather’s postcards, it was like holding a piece of history in my hands, and he and other ‘small’ individuals had been given a voice. Unfortunately the embroidered ones appear to have been stuck into a scrap book, so the writing on the back is illegible, apart from a long line of kisses on the bottom of one. However, on the one that reads ‘Till we meet again’, we can read written in pen by my Great Grandmother, Elizabeth Davies;
“I think of you today dear though we are far apart,
I send my loving wishes, to greet my true sweetheart.
And then a reply in pencil from David Davies:
All my Great Grandfathers fought in the trenches and all of them returned home, a fact for which I’m extremely grateful for, as my grandparents were born post-1918. But I’m also grateful to my grandmother for recognising the significance of this world event in the context of the Davies family, preserving these postcards for future generations to truly appreciate the personal cost of the war.
I don’t think there are many who escaped school without at least touching upon the catastrophic loss of the First World War. I also don’t think there are many people alive today whose family weren’t affected in some way. Whether their ancestors worked on the land, in munitions factories, down the mines, volunteered as medics or played any part in the war effort, this all goes to paint a raw picture of that moment in time, made up of personal voices and faces of the significant unknown and ‘small’ individuals of that generation. This is what the ‘Hidden Croydon’ project is all about.
Hidden Croydon Exhibition open from 12 pm on 14th November at Fairfield Halls Croydon. ALL WELCOME.