Monday, August 05, 2013

Where's Wally : Imagination and Historical Research

I have just acquired this "Real Photograph" postcard of Greenhead Park in Huddersfield. I was attracted to it because it is a local scene - I know Greenhead Park well, it's one of my favourite spots - but, as so often is the case, it was the message on the back of the card that was the most intriguing. The card was sent in either July 1913 or July 1915 : it is difficult to tell, one postmark looks like 13 and the other looks like 15. It is addressed to Alice Knapp of 29 Holden Street, Lavender Hill, London and was written by "Bert". The message is as follows:

Dear Alice, We arrived here safe and I have received your letter, many thanks for same. I am sorry to hear that you have been queer again and also Wallie. I hope you are feeling better. The weather is very cold up here. Yours, Bert.

The 1911 Census shows Herbert and Alice Knapp living at Holden Street, so we can assume that the sender of the card - Bert - was Alice's husband. He was a soldier / musician and his 1905 marriage certificate lists him as being in the Grenadier Guards. So it seems fair to assume that Bert was travelling around the country with the band and, quite possibly, they had given a concert at Greenhead Park itself.

I have not been able to discover what happened to Bert and Alice - or indeed poor Wallie. The date of the card could be critical. If it was sent in 1913, then it is not too difficult to imagine what perils faced by an active soldier in the following years. If it was 1915, the very fact that Herbert was in Huddersfield rather than on the Western Front might suggest that he wasn't fit for active service. I have not been able to find any service records for Bert, so where he went and what he did remains a pleasing mystery. It would be a sad day when imagination was successfully surgically removed from historical research.


  1. Personally, I'd like to know "the rest of the story."

  2. That's the little family there on the page; Alice, Bert and two little boys. Hard to turn one of the boys' names into Wallie; perhaps he's Alice's father or brother. Or neighbor. Still, a dead end.

  3. These old things really take you back when you hold them and look at them. Someone recently gave me letters my father wrote home from the Far East at the end of WWII. He'd just been released from a PoW camp. They're on my list of things to blog about.

    I never look at pictures dating from or read about the pre-WWI era without wondering what happened to the men involved.

    We went to Kipling's house last week (it's NT). The story of his son's death in the war is a terrible one.

  4. Post card messages were very brief and as a result there is much mystery. Good on you for finding more of the story.

  5. Great detective work, Alan. And an intriguing tale, too!

  6. I found Herbert B. Knapp's Great war Medal Index Card, which shows that he served as a Private (reg no 10995) in the Grenadier Guards in France, and was entitled to the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and the Victory Medal

    1. Great work - thanks Brett. I am pleased he survived the war.


Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...