Killing time before meeting friends for afternoon tea in Oxford yesterday, I poked about in a delightful little shop in the city centre that sells old postcards. It seems as if they should be somehow melancholy, with faded pictures and fading writing, but instead I find there’s something rather wonderful about these snapshots of an instant in someone else’s life. The messages range from businesslike (“I will see you on Tuesday. Jack.”) to kind, to sad, and not forgetting hilarious. I think my favourite was the one from an irate-sounding father demanding to know just who had shingled his daughter’s hair.
My time there yielded a postcard of Horse Guards postmarked 1904, which of course I had to have. The rear of the postcard contained this message sent to a lady in Leeds:
You’ll never guess who this is from.
Hope Mother is well.
Love, Auntie Diane.
I can’t be sure, but I have a feeling the recipient actually did guess who the postcard was from fairly swiftly. Anyway, that find is not the point of this post, though I was delighted to discover a picture of Horse Guards from only a hundred years or so after Theo and Hugh’s time there.
When I came to buy my postcard, the gentleman who owns the shop told me an incredible story.
A few weeks ago, he said, a lady had come in and gone directly to the box of postcards on the counter by the till and somewhat feverishly sorted them into two piles. He was a little concerned by her apparent agitation, and when he noticed that her hands were trembling as she paid for the cards she’d selected, he asked if everything was all right. In response, she told him that the cards she’d picked out had been written by her great-grandfather and sent to her great-grandmother while he was in the trenches during the First World War.
Apparently another lady who’d visited the shop a few weeks previously had bought some postcards and, with an interest in genealogy, had decided to investigate the recipients. She’d tracked down and telephoned the person she thought was a descendant, found out she was indeed, and told her of the several postcards still in the shop in Oxford.
The great-grandfather survived the war. When he returned home, the great-grandmother’s family disapproved of the match between them, and so the two of them eloped. They had a family, and lived happily until the 1970s. And this is where the owner of the shop enters the tale, because he had found these postcards from a house contents sale during the 1970s, and been so touched by the tenderness with which they were written that he’d bought all of them and kept them. Only recently, in an attempt to thin out his collection, had he put any of the ones from that bundle in the shop to sell.
So in addition to those still left in the shop, he was able to reunite the couple’s great-granddaughter with the rest of the postcards recording her great-grandparents’ love affair.