Tuesday, 1 June 2010


I have just returned from a parental visit to Northern Ireland, where access to the internet has been very sporadic indeed and half the £1-for-10-minutes public terminals don't work. To amuse myself amidst the dispiriting chaos of my parents' home and lives in which no one is allowed to intervene except for washing up and sharing the driving, I tracked down the family photos, which had rather shockingly been consigned to rot in a broken 30s suitcase in an outhouse, many stuck together or ruined by mould and both maternal and paternal families mixed up to the extent that if there was someone we couldn't identify, they could not even be narrowed down to which side they might be from. Very few were labelled. Luckily 'Mirrie' survived.

'Mirrie' was the glamour girl of my paternal grandmother's family who could have almost been a 30s film star, but became a doomed air hostess instead. Gold-watch deserving readers of this blog may recall the narrative poem I wrote about her here At the time I had no photographs to go with it, so it is nice to put some up at last.

I learned that she was the daughter of Walter and Miriam Gunn. Walter served in WWI and was an ARP warden in WWII, before rising in civvy street to become Manager of Pearl Assurance in Broadgate, Coventry. After their daughter Mirrie was killed in a plane crash - I'm assuming sometime in the 1940s since she evidently lived to be a Wren in WWII, her parents left Coventry to assuage their great grief by running an antiques shop in Brighton, their daughter's belongings locked in the attic having been sent back from the African Cape where she died.

The battered old familial bible states Walter Gunn's date of birth as 12th January 1894, so I will endeavour to order a copy of his death certificate and see if I can dig up some more family information. Unfortunately anyone who might have known the family is likely to be dead and my father has never taken much interest in his family, even before the onset of dementia.

Like Steerforth at Age of Uncertainty, I always think it compounds the tragedy of human loss when that person is entirely forgotten down to the last photograph being disposed of or carelessly allowed to moulder out of existence. Whilst I don't kid myself any of my ancesters had an easy time of it, there is a charm about old photographs and the lost grace and sense of Britishness they portray. Few photographs taken today are likely to be as evocative. In fact I regard old family photographs as the nearest thing to family silver.


Steve said...

Totally with you on this in more ways than one. I'm currently in the process of scanning into the old PC over 600 photos - all that I have left now of my grandparents. Some go back to the early 1900's. I'm trying to identify them all but there are some that I just know won't be given names. Somehow, these intrigue me more. Faces that at one time meant enough for my grandparents to spend money on camera and film, etc. Despite their old age and sepia hues they speak of life and vitality.

Steerforth said...

What a beautiful woman, and lovely photos too.

Dan said...

Really good post, Laura. And excellent point about family silver... it is not the nearest thing, it IS... gold.

Dan said...

I meant to add - it must have been very moving to have discovered this - you really evoked the place in which you found them!

teeni said...

She was certainly a beauty. I appreciate old photographs but am guilty of being too disorganized in my own home to be properly displaying/storing them. I am in the process of simplifying my life which hopefully will get me to a point where I can learn more about my ancestry as you have. It is so interesting to read about. I hope you will post more if you can.

Wisewebwoman said...

Extraordinarily beautiful ancestor, Laura.
One of my brothers has a lot of our historical photos and has promised digitizing but in 12 years it hasn't happened. We are all fearful of a major falling out over this and recognize his power-tripping when we demand to 'borrow' this common heritage and do it ourselves.
It is such a tragedy when photos moulder somewhere, forgotten and unlabelled.


Nota Bene said...

It's a shame when people are lost when they die...I guess that in the old days there was an inevitability about it...these are fab pics, evocative of a different era altogether. Thank heavens for the interweb for future generations...

The Sagittarian said...

I have a date with my mum to sit down just the two of us and go thru all the family photos she has stored, we have to name them all!!
Beautiful looking lady tho', and I think you resemble her.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Steve thank you. I hope you will post some of your many piccies in due course as a living memorial.

Thank you Steerforth.

Dan thanks - she's always had a special place in my heart even though she was killed long before I was born. Not just the way she looked but the romance and adventure of her life, tragically short as it was.

Teeni thanks. I look forward to you getting round to digging up some of your own late ancestors!

WWW - I quite agree. Perhaps the answer is to get the family together for a picture party and make it convivial with drinks and nibbles, pointing out it needs to be done while various people are still around to identify various pictures and that it will actually be fun to trip down memory lane once you get started & good to have a reunion either way.

Nota bene - I wonder how the interweb will fare though. How long will blogs last for example once their authors are known to have died & were not otherwise famous? Will they just be regarded as cyber junk to be deleted from the superhighway to make way for a new hyperspace flyover?

Sagittarian - you are too kind. Great to know you have the picture thing in hand re your own photographic memory lane.