Many years ago, after my grandfather’s death, I received a small collection of miscellaneous photographs taken by my him, A.R.Gill, during his time in the British Army, mostly in Africa. My grandfather died when I was just nine but I know from half-remembered anecdotes that he had served as an officer in the Hampshire Regiment, and was known as an “Old Contemptible”, during the First World War, had then been seconded to service in Africa and spent most of the interwar period in various units in Africa with colourful names such as the Egyptian Camel Corps, the West African Frontier Force, the IXth Sudanese, the Sudan Defence Force. He met and married my grandmother in Gambia where he was ADC to the Governor and retired back to England. But he returned again to Africa in the Second World War. I remember my grandparents had two old regimental drums of the IXth Sudanese, which had been converted into coffee tables and I would lie on the floor as a child and look at the strange names of their battle honours and exotic Arabic inscriptions with absolutely no idea what it all meant.
Many of the photographs that were passed on to me had no information, some had handwritten notes on the back by my grandmother. Many of the photographs included other people but did not have their names. Who were they? And where was the photograph taken? When was it taken? I believe that in the last weeks of my grandfather’s life my grandmother went through many of his old photographs with him and tried to record the places and times where they were taken. But many have no information at all. Over the years these photos lay in an old shoe box and I would occasionally take them out and look through them, repeating the same questions.
With the dawn of the internet, with web forums and blogs, so much information became available and by searching for the miscellaneous names and places written on the back of some of the photos, and searching the names of the regiments and battalions, I have been able to find out so much more. Slowly I have been putting together the pieces of a jigsaw, helped along with a few letters and discussions with family members, and downloads of historical material from the National Archives’ website. But so much valuable information has come from small blogs and messages on forums, from people who are clearly doing the same as me, publishing their research for all who may be interested to see. So I feel that I too should also share my research. Maybe I will mention a person, a place or a unit which someone else is looking for, helping to fill in the gaps in their research. Maybe you may know the name of an unidentified person or place in my photographs.
So this is very much a work in progress. The initial goal is to write a monograph of my grandfather once I have filled enough gaps in my knowledge, but I have other photos and letters of his brothers, and a cousin – all who also served in WWI; one who died in Flanders, and one who died just after the war of flu – so maybe the project will continue. In the meantime, please feel free to read and comment. Please let me know if you see any inaccuracies so I can correct them. If you have any information on any of the places, people and units mentioned, great – please do let me know. Please respect the photographs – copyright still subsists in all of them and is owned by the family, all rights reserved – if you would like to use a photograph, please ask.
In all my research I am reminded of my grandfather’s motto (people had personal mottos in those days):
“Time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted”