First World War: Poignant postcard returned to Camden after investigator tracks down family after century
- Credit: Archant
When historical investigator Cat Whiteaway spotted an embroidered First World War postcard with a Camden address at an Abergavenny antiques stall, she didn’t anticipate it taking a decade to return to its intended recipients.
The ornate postcard - written by soldier Ernie Tyler to his then-infant daughter Doreen in the weeks following the 1918 Armistice - is a remarkable bit of social history, and Cat's efforts have seen the postcard returned to Camden, via the Tyler family.
At the tail-end of 1918, Ernie's family were living in Hamilton Street - now known as Greenland Road in the heart of Camden Town.
His wife had a small child on her hands - Doreen, also known as Kitty - who had barely known her father due to being born during the war.
But Ernie had been writing regularly while he was serving with 29 Division of the Royal Engineers.
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In this note, he sends Kitty "a kiss from your daddie", and implores her to "now be a good girl and love your mother".
The family think he had sent a number of cards to his baby girl as the war ended, as in this one, dated December 1918, he suggests it's "another card for your collection".
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Cat, who specialises in tracing people for historical projects and the media, was able to track down Ernie's son Royce, who's now 98, and his granddaughter Deirdre.
Cat told this newspaper: "It's a bit of a game. I often look for historic postcards to do this with, and with this one, it was clear that the soldier had been writing to his daughter, but I wasn't sure how old she had been. It turns out she must have still been a baby."
Cat explained that by consulting electoral and war records, she was able to identify Royce Tyler as a son of Ernie, and she got in touch
"In the end I was able to find Royce. I dealt mostly with Deirdre, and she was so grateful to see the postcard, written from her grandfather to her aunt."
Royce and Deidre, who now live in Richmond, North Yorkshire, were delighted to be presented with the memento, and decided to donate it to the Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre (CLSAC).
CLSAC's senior archivist Tudor Allen told this newspaper: "We are delighted to have received this beautiful example of a World War one soldier's postcard just a few months after the commemorations of the end of the Great War.
"This will be a very special addition to our collections."
Deirdre told the Ham&High: "It was lovely to see about this postcard after all of this time."
Cat explained how she went about tracking the Tylers down.
She said: "The first thing I was trying was to find people with the surname Tyler living in Hamilton Street during the war. Little did I know that it would take me 10 years to solve this family history puzzle."
She was pleased to report the family were "comforted that his memory and this lovingly written card will help provide children with an awareness of those who readily served for their country, many of whom did not return".
Ernie had joined the army in 1914, and survived both the Battle of the Somme and the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign - where he lost a brother. Another Tyler sibling died at sea.
Deirdre continued Ernie's story.
She said: "He was one of the few Royal Engineers aboard the S.S. River Clyde in 1915, when it was ill-fatedly beached at 'V' beach, Cape Helles, Gallipoli."
Six Victoria Cross medals were awarded to members of the Royal Navy on the Clyde.
After the war, he returned to domestic life as a postman, eventually becoming supervisor of the first telegraph message motor cycle delivery riders based out of Golders Green.
But then another world war to uprooted his family - four of his children served in the armed forces including Royce.
Ernie's eldest son, Bernard, died in Anzio, Italy in 1944, while Royce, Kitty, and their next sister Pam also served their country.
Pam was part of the service thaht entertained troops on the front line, before becoming a "war bride" and marrying a Canadian soldier.
Ernie himself was an air raid patrol warden during the Blitz in London, before becoming a member of the Civilian Defence Corps. He died in 1967.
Embroidered postcards were popular with First World War soldiers writing back to their families from the front lines.
Beautiful examples were often sent home. The delicate hand-embroidery is thought to have been carried out in their own homes by French and Belgian civilians in the midst of the war.