I started my working life in an office. In fact I spent nearly ten years working in a variety of offices and I can, hand on heart, say that apart from one reasonable year I hated every bloody second of the time. I was emotionally and temperamentally totally unsuited to office life, but I’d believed the accepted propaganda of the time that every young single woman needed a good steady job with a pension.
If this had continued I think I would have ended up in a straight jacket, but I got married to the military historian and my working life took a dramatic turn. In the years we have been married I’ve been a china restorer, an antique dealer, a charity worker, a novelist and the toughest job of all, a mother, but the job we’re here to talk about today is as researcher.
Not unsurprisingly the research I’ve done has been on military history and it has been such fun. I’ve sat in a library searching through Medal Durbar programmes looking for recipients while a smiling Gurkha insisted on bring me endless cups of tea, calling me “Mem” and telling me about his uncle who was a VC winner.
I have been trapped in a lift with a bunch Korean War veterans, each of them a Glorious Gloster. I’ve attended conferences where I’ve met dignified old Sikh gentlemen, their beards white with age and every one of which had fought their way down the Burma Road.
It has all been fantastic and fascinating, but the bit I want to share here is Charlie’s Diary. A few years ago the VMS ( http://www.victorianmilitary.org.uk) was approached by a member of the public who had an ancestor’s unpublished Boer War diary…. would we be interested in it?
We didn’t actually bite their hand off, but it was close. What they had was not the whole thing, but a fragment, but it was a substantial fragment covering most of a year and it had been kept on an almost daily basis. There was just one problem, no-one in the family was entirely sure who the diarist was.
For my husband and I what followed was a long period of discovery and as we carefully transcribed the hand written whole, checking place names and finding collaborating accounts in books and memories and magazines, the London Illustrated News was a real help. We researched the people and events mentioned and we sifted out every scarp of personal information we could find about Charlie.
We worked out his regiment, the Northamptonshire and we found his age when he recorded his birthday. We discovered he was a reservist, called back to the colours and that he had previously seen service in India, he’d even had fever and been in the hospital at Doolally. From the date the diary started and the date it ended we knew he would have been awarded both The Queen’s South Africa Medal and The King’s South Africa Medal. Armed with all this we consulted the medal roles, certain we would find him and we came up with a short list, including one very promising name….and of course the records that that particular soldier were missing! So while we can make an educated assumption Charlie’s surname was Holmes, we can’t say for sure.
However, all this work and the every day life and opinions of an ordinary British Tommy on active service c.1900 were way, way to interesting to keep to ourselves, so the VMS published his diary and our research and you can find it here.