The Group Photograph

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I started doing this research in 1994. Since then I have visited countless archives, libraries, cemeteries, and battlefields (see sources for details of where I've looked). I have also visited representatives of many of the families and all of this has led to a lot of background information and some kind of biographical detail for all of the men in the photograph. My collection of photographs is also expanding, with, in one case, pictures of one man at all stages of life, from being a young boy with curls and Victorian robe up to being ten feet up a ladder doing some pruning at the age of 90. To give you an idea of how I'm getting on, this page is broken up into the following sections:


  • Births
  • - I have got the exact birth dates for all 50. The average age at the time of the photograph was 26 , with the youngest being 18 and the oldest being 50.

  • Marriages
  • - 22 of the men never married, 26 married once, and 2 married twice.

  • Children
  • - 21 of the men had children and 29 did not.

  • Deaths
  • - I have got the exact death dates for all 50. The average age at death was 47, with the youngest being 18 and the oldest being 94.

  • My contacts with the families
  • - I have made contact with relatives of all 50 men - and have visited members of 39 families.

  • Family trees
  • - I have built the complete family trees of the descendants of all of these men (correct to the beginning on the year 2000). The total number of direct descendants that I currently now of stands at 230 (43 children, 69 grandchildren, 99 great-grandchildren, 19 great-great-grandchildren).

  • Website
  • - since my site went up in June 1998, I have had thousands of visits (difficult to quantify because the web statistics are combined between my various websites).

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Over the years I have met a lot of people and been to a lot of places and there have been many highlights, ranging from the archive 'aha's where I have discovered a vital piece in the puzzle after many hours searching, to the kindness and enthusiasm of people I have met, to the awe at finding vast personal archives relating to these men. These are just the tip of the ice continent:

  • In 1999, I was invited out to South Africa by the Berlein family and visited representatives of three generations of the family in the Transvaal, Natal and Cape Town. The day that will always stay in mind was when I opened and looked through the trunks that had belonged to the two Berlein brothers who had been killed in the war. I was deeply affected by this experience. The trunks were time-capsules full of memories still as fresh as when the contents were first collected. Particularly poignant were the mementoes that they had kept to remind them of the good times, the trinkets and fun photographs and scores of dance cards (all marked up using their attached pencils). I was also amazed to find a letter from my Great Uncle Billy, aged 12, writing to Leslie in the trenches in August 1915. Although not much is known in detail about the two brothers as people, their loss is still very much remembered in the family - in fact the wooden crosses that originally marked their graves in France now stand side by side in the Berleins' garden, looking out across an African valley.
  • The day after I returned from South Africa I received an email from a man who has got my great-grandfather's medals. Although we've got his miniatures in a case on the wall, we did not know what had happened to the original medals and had given them up as lost for good. The current owner's filing system has let him down, but he thinks he bought them at auction in the early 1990s. It'll be interesting to see if we can work out how they came to be on the market.
  • I discovered a treasure-trove in an attic in Wimbledon relating to James Barrow's family. They had been left to a family friend and forgotten about for 10 years. Amongst this hoard of photographs and postcards were: a coloured and gold-bordered Reward of Merit certificate that James Barrow was awarded in 1879 for arithmetic, punctuality, diligence, and good conduct when aged 10; eleven sides of foolscap written in his own hand describing a three-day holiday to the Isle of Man in 1886 at the age of 17; and enough information about the family so that when I visited the church he was married in in Lancashire I could identify the graves of his parents, his sister, his brother and sister-in-law, his parents-in-law, his brother-in-law and another sister-in-law, and one of his friends with whom he went to the Isle of Man.
  • In our own loft, I keep making amazing discoveries. There have been a number of hoarders in my family, but unfortunately this talent for holding onto vast amounts of stuff has not been accompanied by an enthusiasm for cataloguing and filing. So whilst I did find a lot of relevant letters and photographs at the beginning of this project, it was not until five years in that I came across my great-grandfather's Indian Army service record (which I had already spent some time looking for in the Oriental and Indian Office Collection of the British Library) as well as some more letters, various messages from dispatch pads, and a very interesting letter written to my great-grandfather by Major Bartlett, a week after their having gone into action at Loos (my great-grandfather having left for his posting in Aden). And then, towards the end of last year, I found an original print of the group photograph (which is a story in itself).

  • In June 2000 I met the grand-daughter of Major Bartlett and she loaned me 341 letters written between August 1915 and March 1917. Most were written by her grandfather, but in amongst them were a couple written by my great-grandfather just after the Battle of Loos. There were also a few small photos, including one showing my Gran with her sister and brother. The letters really were the most marvellous find. As well as giving a view of Major Bartlett's character and of his relationship with his wife, they are very evocative of the period. It was also interesting to get another angle on incidents that I have seen reported in other sources and there are many mentions of other men in the photograph.

  • During my trip to Canada in the summer of 2000 I met two sons, one grandson, one grand-daughter, and four nieces of various of the men in the photograph. In terms of artefacts, the most important finds were Peter McGibbon's massive Smith & Wesson revolver and an album of photographs taken by Charlie Watson whilst he was undergoing training in 1915.

  • I met George Strong, a 101-year-old survivor of the 8th Royal Berkshire's attack at Loos, and heard his clear recollections of my great-grandfather.

  • I have found the actual field where the photograph was taken and even managed to take a photograph from what must be nearly the exact same spot despite the close attentions of a herd of young bullocks.

  • The relatives that I have found have included one of the foremost mathematicians in America, a movie-camera engineer who won five Oscars, a man who survived two convoys to Murmansk as well as a convoy to Malta in which his ship was sunk and was a landing craft commander for 7 opposed landings in the Mediterranean in the Second World War a British Ambassador to Bulgaria, Ernest Hemingway's pilot (as mentioned in Michael Palin's book), an orchestrator and arranger of scores for over 150 films (including most recently Bridget Jones's Diary), Pugh the cartoonist on the front page of 'The Times', and a man who survived the Paddington rail disaster in 1999.
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The Marvel of the Internet

I was making progress with my project before I started using the Internet, but I now realise that my task would have been near nigh impossible without it. Many of the families connected to this photograph are spread around the globe and tracking them down would have been a lifetime's work without the immediacy and connectivity of the Internet. Having a website that can be searched from anywhere in the world has brought people to contact me who I would never have found otherwise. This started on Day One - I uploaded my website one night and advertised it on one of the genealogy newsgroups, and in the morning when I checked my mailbox, I had an email from a man in Austin, Texas, who had the family tree of one of the men in the photograph going back to the 11 th Century. I have also had contacts with relatives of the men in the photograph. Amongst these have been one that led to my trip out to South Africa, another was from the grandchildren of Donald Stileman (who got in touch without realising that I had already met their parents) and another enabled me to put two second-cousins in touch with each other. I also received a request to write an article for the Berkshire Family Historian magazine which led to contact with another of the families.

A great surprise has been the support and encouragement that I have received from complete strangers. For one reason or another, they have found my website and in some cases their offers of help have led to me getting in touch with families (in one case after a search that took in contacts in Berkshire, Somerset, Ireland and New York). In other cases where people have not been able to offer immediate practical help, their words of encouragement have made a big difference to me. Often historical research can be very isolating and to know that there are others who share my interest in the outcome is very heartening (as well as providing valuable support for any approaches I make to publishers in future).

And of course the Internet is a vast and ever-expanding resource for active searching on my part. There are databases of information, search aids, places to find expert advice, sites where I can print off street maps of places I'm visiting, and much much more.

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Events where I have given presentations on my project

Despite being told by various people that all of this would only ever be of interest to the families of the men in the photograph, I have had a good turn-out to presentations that I have given and a great response. Details of a couple of specific events can be found in the Animated Film section of this website. So many people are interested in family history and in the First World War and history in general, and there are many ways for them to connect their own lives to this project. There is also generally a lot of interest in how I have gone about the research, in particular how I have managed to make contact with the families.

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What next?

It is a real milestone to have made contact with all the families but there is still quite a lot to do. There are some obvious archive sources that I have not made use of (in particular those at schools and universities, and there are some local newspapers that would no doubt have relevant information). Unfortunately, further research is going to have to wait until I have found a source of funding. Instead, I have spent time developing my animated film and I am looking at ways to get this to a wider audience.

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