The Group Photograph

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One of the ideas that kept me going through all the research was that I would make a film that showed the context of these men and their families within history. By the time I had collected all the necessary information, technology had caught up to enable me to make the film at home on my computer. The result is in an animated film that shows all of the men's family trees growing over 136 years, mixed in with photos of their families and historical time markers, with contemporary music, and with the cycles of the moon and the seasons. The film lasts for half an hour and when I present it I give a ten minute introduction that fills in some of the background and explains how the film works. Afterwards, I talk for however long the audience want me to (I suggest a minimum of 40 minutes), giving more detail of the stories I uncovered and the detective work involved, illustrated with photographs from my research. I am also more than happy to answer questions, of which there are usually many.

I first showed it publicly during Surrey Open Studios in June 2005. Emboldened by the reaction, I arranged my own event in September 2005 and have since started accepting invitations to give presentations to a variety of organisations. As you will see from the reviews and feedback, people have found it moving and thought-provoking, and my aim is to show this film to as wide an audience as possible (please send me an email if you have any ideas for further venues).

Previous events (including reviews and feedback)

  • June 2005, Surrey Open Studios
  • 25th September 2005, Event at Mickleham Village Hall (see Review & Feedback)
  • May 2006, Norfolk Open Studios
  • 3rd October 2006, Dorking Local History Group (see Review & Feedback)
  • 27th February 2007, Fulmodeston Methodist Church (see Review)
  • 8th May 2007, Mundesley Junior School (see Review & Feedback)
  • 25th September 2007, Holt Library
  • 27th September 2007, Cawston Local History Society
  • 9th November 2007, Mundesley Junior School
  • 12th March 2008, Fakenham Library (see Newspaper article & Feedback)
  • 14th May 2008, Dereham Library (see Review & Feedback)
  • 21st May 2008, the British Legion at Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk.
  • 25th June 2008, Weybourne Good Companions
  • 15th September 2008, the Creakes' History Society, North Creake, Norfolk (see Feedback)
  • 17th September 2008, Great Yarmouth Probus Club, Norfolk
  • 27th October 2008, Narborough History Society, Norfolk
  • 4th November 2008, Cromer Library, Norfolk (see Feedback)
  • 11th November 2008, Westcott Local History Group, Surrey
  • 19th November 2008 at Reepham Library, Norfolk (see Feedback)
  • 7th January 2009, for Wells Local History Group, Wells-next-the-sea, Norfolk
  • 21st January 2009, for Mid-Norfolk Family History Society, Dereham, Norfolk
  • 26th February 2009, for Aylsham Local History Society, Aylsham, Norfolk
  • 10th March 2009, for The Cambridge Branch of the Historical Association at St Mary's School, Bateman Street, Cambridge
  • 21st March 2009, for the Friends of Leatherhead Parish Church, Leatherhead Parish Church Hall, Leatherhead, Surrey
  • 15th May 2009, for the Aldborough Village History Society, Aldborough Church Room, Aldborough, Norfolk
  • 12th September 2009, in the Mole Valley District Council chamber in Dorking, Surrey, as part of Heritage Open Days
  • 14th October 2009, for Downham Market Heritage Society
  • 26th October 2009 for Narborough History Society, Norfolk (2nd presentation)
  • 2nd March 2010, for the Norwich and Waveney Branch of the Western Front Association (1st presentation)
  • 7th April 2010, for Wells Local History Group, Wells-next-the-sea, Norfolk (2nd presentation)
  • 16th June 2009 for Mid-Norfolk Family History Society, Dereham, Norfolk (2nd presentation)
  • 9th November 2010 for St Mary's School, Cambridge (see Feedback)
  • 9th April 2011 for the Redcoat Society, Friends of the Regimental Museum of The Rifles, in Salisbury
  • 2nd February 2012 for St Mary's School, Cambridge)
  • 1st May 2012 for St Mary's School, Cambridge (see the event poster)
  • 7th May 2014 for St Mary's School, Cambridge (sessions in both the Junior & Senior Schools)
  • 28th May 2014 - at Aylsham Library, Norfolk, as part of the Aylsham Festival
  • 9th June 2014 - at The Perse School, Cambridge
  • 3rd August 2014 at The Country Club, Melton Constable, Norfolk
  • 17th September 2014 - Upwood and Raveley History Group, Cambridgeshire - "Your presentation has been described as the very best we have had"
  • 26th September 2014 - Society of Genealogists, London - "Several of our friends commented to me afterwards that it was the most interesting talk they had attended anywhere"
  • 9th October 2014 - University of Huddersfield, Yorkshire
  • 11th November 2014 - Pensans Community Primary School, Penzance, Cornwall
  • 19th November 2014 - at St Mary's School, Cambridge (sessions in both the Junior & Senior Schools)

Event at Mickleham Village Hall on 25th September 2005

In June 2005 I took part in the Surrey Open Studios event and showed my project animated film in public for the first time. I had such an overwhelming positive response that I organised a special event on 25th September 2005 - and this is how it was written up in the Mickleham Parish Magazine:

An art event at Mickleham Village Hall

A Group Photograph

Sunday 25th September saw one of the most unusual events held at the village hall for a long time. Andrew Tatham's "A Group Photograph", the culmination of seven years of research, had its first public showing - hopefully the first of many.

Andrew's project was based on a photograph, taken in May 1915, of the 46 officers of the 8th battalion, the Royal Berkshire Regiment, a few weeks before they departed for the trenches of France. Andrew set himself the task of finding out what happened to the men pictured and also to their descendants – a huge undertaking, involving travels around not only the United Kingdom but to the USA, Canada, South Africa and Australia.

The presentation itself is a graphical representation of the individuals shown in the photograph and their families and starts with a picture of the meadow on Salisbury Plain where the original photo was taken. Starting in 1864 when the first of the officers (Andrew's great grandfather) was born, the screen gradually fills up with rows of green shoots, each representing one of the individuals shown, while a counter keeps track of the passing days and years. At the same time, there is a snapshot of memorable events and soundtrack of the music for each year shown. Gilbert and Sullivan gives way to Elgar as the shoots grow. The death of Queen Victoria and the Wright brothers' first flight ushers in the long Edwardian summer and the approaching war, marked by "It's a long way to Tipperary", seems to come from nowhere. Of the 46 officers in the photograph, 15 were killed at the battle of Loos alone, and the starkness of Andrew's depiction of this is deeply moving.

But time moves inexorably on. The 21 survivors return from the trenches to some form of normality and gradually the remaining trees start to sprout branches, representing the next generation. As the years pass, these branches also send out new shoots. Glenn Miller gives way to Elvis, the Beatles and Abba. One by one the old soldiers grow old and die, but grandchildren are joined by great-grandchildren and pictures flash up of very old men with young children. By the year 2000, the screen is an intricate mass of greenery - a celebration of life.

As Andrew himself admits, the only thing missing from the presentation is background details of each of the individuals shown. The flyer given out beforehand hints at some of the extraordinary lives lived by the survivors and their offspring, and Andrew is working on how to best handle the volumes of detail he's accumulated.

This was an extraordinary, beautiful and very moving event, made even more poignant by the timing – September 25th was precisely 90 years after the first day of the Battle of Loos, which cost the British Army 60,000 casualties. Andrew's work deserves to find a national platform – the Imperial War Museum would be perfect - before too long.

Before this, it would be ideal to have another local showing. Andrew – could you see what you can arrange? Everyone else, come and see it. It's stunning.

My thanks to Chris Budleigh for that wonderful article - and also to those people who gave the following feedback:


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Event at Dorking Local History Group on 3rd October 2006

I gave a presentation about my Group Photograph project to Dorking Local History Group at the Friends' Meeting House in Dorking on Tuesday 3rd October 2006. I started by showing my animated film, and I then took questions. These led me to discuss how I had gone about my research as well as further details about the individuals in the photograph and the historical contexts (including the projection of some of the photographs I have collected along the way).

I had a lot of individuals come and chat to me afterwards - and a lot of positive comments both in the feedback forms that people returned to me and in the emails that came to me direct - of which these are a small selection (the first one below being from the Group's Convenor):

'It was a new type of evening for us, but it was exceptionally well received. Several members made a point of telling me how much they got out of it & I have absolutely no regrets. Thank you so much for sharing your results with us. We will certainly recommend it to as many people as we can. The animation alone gave us much food for thought but being able to hear something of the work you put into it made it even more interesting. We were impressed how immersed you were in all those lives even though you have stopped active research into them.'
'The film was fascinating and so inventive. It kept everyone spellbound.'
It was the most moving experience I have ever had at the meeting over the last 22 years, engendering a deep sense of the brevity but also the preciousness of individual human lives. In addition to the animation itself, I found your presentation of your research, and the stories, photographs and anecdotes arising from it fascinating and involving.
Review in the Dorking Advertiser:

Dorking Local
History Group

ON THE wall of a pub in Wimbledon some years ago, Andrew Tatham noticed a large group photograph of First World War soldiers.
   As he studied the faces he was moved to wonder what had happened to them, whether any memory of them remained.
   A short while later, in the course of some family history research, he looked at another group photograph in a military museum.
   Here were 46 men officers of the 8th Battalion, the Royal Berkshire Regiment, at their training camp on Salisbury Plain in May 1915.
   One of them was Andrew's great-grandfather, but about the rest he only knew their names, listed in rows beneath the picture.
   These two photographs and the feelings they
inspired led him to embark on a project which would occupy a great deal of time over the next seven years and would eventually take him not only to 23 counties in England but also to South Africa, Scotland, Canada, Australia and the USA.
   He made contact with the families of every man in the 8th Battalion photograph (plus four of their comrades who missed it) traced the descendants, and amassed documents, letters, anecdotes and more photographs.
   Andrew, with an interest in film, has made a 30 minute animated flick using video, painting and music to show the family trees of the 46 men, growing over time from 1864, when the oldest was born. The cumulative effect of the presentation was very moving, and one became intensely involved with these glimpses of individual lives at moments of joy, or solemnity, at work or on
holiday, but always subject to the remorseless onward rush of time, change and chance.
   At the end of the film Andrew Tatham responded to eager questions with a wealth of fascinating information about his project and the discoveries he made.
   He found the families first by searching through Battalion records, Army lists, Wills Registers, electoral registers, telephone directories and then setting up a website and contacting living descendants all over the world.
   It was a stimulating meeting, and we were most grateful to Andrew for his presentation of an impressive piece of historical research which was also an equally impressive work of art.

Patricia Bennett

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Event at Fulmodeston Methodist Chapel on 27th February 2007

It was a cold wintery evening but still about 25 people came from Fulmodeston, Hindolveston, Thursford, Croxton, Fakenham and other neighbouring villages to attended my presentation in my village's small Methodist chapel. I received a lot of interest and questions - and collected 51.50 for World Vision. Thank you to David Yarham for inviting me to take part in the series of occasional talks that he organises.

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Event at Mundesley Junior School on 8th May 2007

I wasn't sure how giving a presentation to 150 9- to 11-year-olds and their teachers was going to go - but they really seemed to get a lot from it, and the headmaster invited me back for further sessions at Remembrance time. I got letters from a number of the children, of which this is a sample:

I thought your DVD was really thought provoking. I didn't think it was possible for someone to be so inspired that they would follow 46 men's lives for seven years. I think all art should be as amazing as yours. My favourite part was the end when you showed us some of the men's lives individually. I also like the way the music changed as the years went by. PS I don't think it could possibly be any better

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Event at Fakenham Library on 12th March 2008

Fakenham Library is where I work and it was great to see all the tickets sell out for this event. I also had a good deal of press interest, with articles in the Eastern Daily Press, and the Fakenham & Wells Times (and one in the Lynn News still to come) - you can see the whole article in the Fakenham & Wells Times here. Again I had a great response and it was nice to talk to customers when working at the library over the ensuing few days and see how much the evening had meant to them. I also received some email, including this one:

I attended your presentation last night with my husband and I wanted to let you know what a thoroughly moving experience it was. I have been researching my family history for about 3 years and have four great uncles who were killed in the war. I have read quite a few books about WW1 and the effects of it on the men and their families but your presentation captured the essence of the people caught up in the horrors of war more vividly than anything I have read or photos I have seen.

Thank you so much for such an interesting and thought provoking evening.

Chris Stevens

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Event at Dereham Library on 14th May 2008

This event (part of the Dereham Festival) was sold out (and more) - and in fact the audience was all there and in place quarter of an hour before I was due to start, so we closed the doors and began early. This time I started by taking a group photograph of the audience - and here they are:

Group photograph of the audience at Dereham Library, 14th May 2008
This was one of the best events for me in terms of response from the audience - a good variety of questions both during the presentation and afterwards on a one-to-one basis. And after the event I got this email from Mike Snyder, Urban Affairs Reporter of the Houston Chronicle:

My wife and I just returned from a visit to the UK, where we had the pleasure of seeing your presentation on your "group photo" research project at the Dereham library. Some friends of ours were organizers of the Dereham Festival. As a journalist I know a bit about research, and I found your level of commitment to this project nothing short of astonishing. I'll confess that I had no particular expectations in advance (some guy has devoted years to researching the stories of a bunch of WWI soldiers? To what end?) but your presentation was a reminder that all human stories have unique value.

Thanks for sharing your story, and all the best in your future endeavors.

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The Creakes History Society on 15th September 2008

"Thank you so much for coming to visit us on Monday. We so enjoyed your presentation of film & talk. It is something so different and so interesting."

Group photograph of the audience at the Creakes History Society, 15th September 2008

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Event at Cromer Library on 4th November 2008

Another great audience - I must have talked to everyone there at some point - either during the drinks break or during the talk or afterwards. It is so inspiring to see that what I have been doing seems to mean so much to such a variety of people. It was also the event where I've had the most unsolicited feedback in terms of letters and emails - here is a selection:

I attended your presentation at Cromer last night and wish to tell you how much I enjoyed it.

Clearly you have done a huge amount of research and, for instance, have the names of each man in your memory. It was clear from your talk that your knowledge about the individuals and their families has had a profound impact on you and the attentiveness of last night's audience is testament to the fact that we all experienced some of that impact. You could have heard the proverbial pin drop!

The film was a very clever way of rapidly telling a story that covered more than a century and it worked well.

I shall certainly purchase the book when it is published. There is so much more to tell than you were able to cram in last night.

Thank you,

Keith Good

I attended your presentation at Cromer Library last night and just wanted to tell you what an excellent presentation you made. I learnt such a lot, and you also gave me much to think about.

Thank you, and good luck with your project

David Dredge

Thanks so much for your talk and presentation. We've had so many lovely comments and a card. Also people coming in to say that they had thought of lots of questions after but had been too absorbed to ask at the time.

I thought it was really really deep and thoroughly thought provoking


Maria Pavledis
Community Librarian at Cromer

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Event at Reepham Library on 19th November 2008

I've just had a nice selection of comments sent on to me from the library :
"Best public speaker I have heard in a long time"
"Very interesting , such a lot of work to have undertaken"
"Fascinating, would like to have heard about all of the men,
could have stayed longer"
"Enjoyable evening, thank you"
And thank you very much to Stephen Rashid for this:

My wife and I enjoyed and appreciated your presentation very much last night. It was vivid and moving in describing the personal element behind the uniforms very forcefully. Thank you very much. We wish you all success in your writing - there would seem to be material for several books in the stories you have unearthed,and they are truly fascinating.

When you were speaking about Leslie Herman BERLEIN, you remarked on the way in which his memory had been kept alive by his family, so that despite his early death he lived on for them. This reminded me of a poem by Brian Patten on the same theme, which I attach. You may find it useful.

With warmest best wishes,

Stephen Rashid

So Many Different Lengths of Time – a poem by Brian Patten

How long is a man's life, finally?
Is it a thousand days, or only one?
One week or a few centuries?
How long does a man's death last?
And what do we mean when we say, 'gone forever'?

Adrift in such preoccupations, we seek clarification.
We can go to the philosophers,
But they will grow tired of our questions.
We can go to the priests and rabbis
But they might be too busy with administration.

* * *

So, how long does a man live, finally?
And how much does he live while he lives?
We fret and ask so many questions –
Then when it comes to us,
The answer is so simple.

A man lives for as long as we carry him inside us,
For as long as we carry the harvest of his dreams,
For as long as we ourselves live,
Holding memories in common, a man lives.

His lover will carry his man's scent, his touch;
His children will carry the weight of his love.
One friend will carry his arguments,
Another will hum his favourite tunes,
Another will still share his terrors.

And the days will pass with baffled faces,
Then the weeks, then the months,
Then there will be a day when no question is asked,
And the knots of grief will loosen in the stomach,
And the puffed faces will calm.
And on that day he will not have ceased,
But will have ceased to be separated by death.
How long does a man live, finally?

A man lives so many different lengths of time.

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Talk at St Mary's School, Cambridge on 9th November 2010

I was invited to give a lunch-time talk in the library at St Mary's School. It was a thrill for me to get such an interested and interesting response to my project, both at the time and afterwards when I received feedback about the classroom conversations after I had gone. The following is the article that Year 10 wrote up about my talk:

Andrew Tatham and the Group Photograph Project
A personal view of the First World War

This was a brilliant and inspirational talk which connected well with our work on Wilfred Owen. Mr Tatham told us how he had seen a photo which showed his great grandfather and his battalion during the First World War. He has spent seventeen years researching every man in the picture and his descendants. Some of the men were killed but others went on to do great things.
He focused on particular objects: an identity disc which still had a bloodstain on it, a letter, a photo of a young war widow, a memorial font cover and a battered helmet which had seen action and saved a man's life. The strongly personal interpretation of the events of the War and the lives of the soldiers made us see the situation from a new perspective. Owen writes about what happened on the battlefields and shares his bitter views about politics and propaganda but charismatic Mr Tatham made us realise the power of humanity to regenerate and overcome the devastation of war. He personalised the historical information by referring to real people - for example William Bissley, Mervyn Pugh, Hugh Cassels and poor William Joseph who suffered from shellshock. Although these people had officer status, most were quite ordinary and suffered the same problems with fear, injury and loss as everyone else. They were not in themselves a unique group but the research has made them come across to us as special representatives of their generation. We felt part of the army experience with the use of technical language. For example, we discovered exactly what a 'sap' is and the fact that trenches were dug in zig-zag patterns which was interesting and new to us. We were encouraged to empathise with the men's loss of opportunity. War took many young men out of education whether it was from top universities or ordinary schools. This affected their chance of employment if they survived. We learned about waste and tragedy such as friendly fire when people were shot by their own artillery. News reports about current wars now have increased meaning and interest and several of us have rushed to borrow novels set during the 1914-18 period.
We all enjoyed seeing the Group Photo and the pictures of the families today, three generations later. We have learned things of fundamental importance: that tragic events in history do not have to be interpreted only negatively and that anyone with an interest in a particular subject can research independently and share their passion with others.

Members of year 10

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Programme of Future Presentations on my Group Photograph project

I'm currently working towards a major exhibition about this project, taking place at In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres in 2015. With all the work for that, and the fact that I will be spending a lot of time over in Belgium, I am unable to commit to giving further presentations at the moment.

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