28 May 2010


Mum and Dad circa 1946
Photo upon photo and a decision to be made about every one. If the great PhotoGod were to look down upon me I would have to say "Guilty!" for throwing away so many memories captured on little rectangles of photographic paper. In World War II, my father got to visit Egypt, Palestine, Ceylon, Kashmir, Sudan, South Africa, the Persian Gulf, the Himalayas including Nepal as well as many remote parts of southern India. It was a mind-expanding adventure courtesy of the Royal Air Force. Unfortunately, most of the snaps he took are tiny and in fading black and white. If only he'd had a modern digital camera!

I discovered that before the war he'd travelled with a friend to Germany - including Koblenz and Cologne. It was most likely 1936. Two recently qualified teachers from St John's College in York in their sharp suits smoking manly pipes and blissfully unaware that all too soon all hell would break loose. There'd be jackboots on those very cobbles and man's noblest qualities would become as emaciated as the rib cages of little children in Nazi death camps. Nearly all photos from that pre-war trip are now in our blue wheelie bin.
Dad and friend in Cologne, Germany 1936
And of mum, the photos reminded me that in the early nineteen thirties she enjoyed being a member of the Parkgate Dance School between smoky Rotherham and the mining village of Rawmarsh where she grew up. Some light and fantasy amid the everyday grimness. There were many pictures of assembled casts in various peculiar costumes. Perhaps it was good practice for 1943 when she would become the drum majorette of the Women's Air Force band in New Delhi. And some of these pictures now reside in the blue bin.
Mum - Parkgate Dance School 1932
You can't hang on to everything but for every five I throw away I seem to be saving one. I wonder if I'm being ruthless enough. After all when they are bagged up, the saved photos will probably just sit in drawers or attics, unstudied and half-forgotten.


  1. Elizabeth11:50 pm

    What a beautiful looking couple your mum and dad were, YP. There's a theory that couples who have the same facial features are the most compatible and your mum and dad have that likeness between them. You look very much like your dad.

    It sounds as though you are getting the balance about right, regarding discarding and keeping. Why not frame the most loved photos and make a feature wall of them or put them under glass on a coffee table? If you don't want them as immediately in view as that and do just stash them away, you will still know that they are there to be pulled out and discovered when you feel the need - you won't have broken that connection altogether. x

  2. I love old family photos. Let me rephrase that. I love old photos of family. My family, your family, anyone's family.

  3. I know it's hard to throw them away, especially when, as you say, the ones you keep will probably spend time gathering dust ....... here in Catalonia there is a govt. supported body in charge of "maintaining a historic memory" (duff translation). Basically, all the old photos, documents, videos, early films, tape recordings of conversations, you no longer want, you can hand them over - that way, they will use the correct methods to conserve them and they have, as you can imagine, loads of stuff from recent times all the way back to the 19th C, which can be consulted by present and future historians/sociologists ... or can gather dust in a public building, rather than your attic!

    Anything similar in the UK?

  4. I am saddened to hear that they end up in a blue wheelie bin YP.
    My Dad took hundreds too, but I have been scanning them into the PC, labelling them with names, location and date where known. They are then downloaded to a memory stick (10 year life?).
    Mind you, we have the negatives from those 'Box Brownie snaps' as well.
    I suppose if there are dozens of the same or similar, it doesn't hurt to have a 'pruning'....but once gone, always gone.
    Regards. B.

  5. Likewise, I'm slowly, as time permits, photographing all the old photos, getting Dad to name the people and reminisce about each, and posting them plus his words on Flickr so other members of the family can view, download and print if they wish.

    Takes forever, though.

  6. *Sigh* I have to admit that when my sisters & I finally got together to sort out all the family photos our parents left behind a small number of them did end up in the blue bin.Especially the ones with unknown landscapes or unfamiliar faces.Scanning them to the PC sounds a good idea but finding the time to do it is a minor problem.
    I have another sentimental task of sorting out my late brother's massive record & tape casette collection.They're all in big cardboard boxes & giant bin bags at the old family house.My siblings live abroad so its up to me to deal with it.Don't know where to begin.I've thought of keeping all the Bowies LPs & giving the rest to the local library.People keep saying "ooh keep them they could be worth a fortune" but I believe its just their wishful thinking.

  7. ELIZABETH Good advice but when is the last time you had an eye test?
    RHYMES Yes - so do I. If I find anonymous people's old photos in junk shops then I'm hooked for a while.
    BRIAN The Catalonian archive idea is a good one. Can't think there's anything similar over here but I'll do a little research.
    UNCLE BERNARD The process is partly philosophical. How do we see life? How do we see heritage? How do we feel about looking forward and moving on? "Once gone always gone" is right but that could be very much a positive.
    KATHERINE It's great you still have your dad to assist the recording process. My mother labelled many photos but there are still hundreds with blank reverse sides.
    JEAN How sad to lose a brother before his time is complete. Sorting out the musical memorabilia sounds more nightmarish than a photo mountain. Good luck! Follow your instincts.

  8. Elizabeth11:23 pm

    Re Brian's comment: The film and media museum at Bradford would almost certainly be able to advise you - a brilliant place and I know they ran a project a few years ago where they asked folk to take Yorkshire archive material - not sure if that's on going. x

  9. Please don't be too ruthless, my grandmother didn't have a blue bin, she just had a bonfire! I have absolutely nothing, and as the family historian its very frustrating.

  10. It's good to have a prune out sometimes but so many photos are valuable for public collections and records of daily life.Instead of keeping them in boxes why not scapbook them into a family history and preserve them for posterity?You never know who is going to find them invaluable.People like you are cursed in some families later down the years!

  11. ELIZABETH Thanks for the Bradford tip.
    ELIZA I am trying to get the balance right and am very aware that being too ruthless could be the pathway to future regret.
    VON Thanks for calling by! Actually I am cursed by my family already! If I scrapbooked all of them I'd need another study to store them in. But I do appreciate your input. Thanks.


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