A fascinating collection from one of our contributors, Patricia Aubrey, offers a unique insight into the First World War and how it affected the members of one particular family. Patricia's collection, consisting mainly of the Auerbach family’s photo albums and related items, dates from the late 19th century through to the mid-20th century, and the early 20th century material is of particular interest.
Arthur Auerbach (above) was born in London in 1862: his parents, Albert and Amelia, were German emigrants from Stuttgart. As young men, Arthur and his elder brother Julius went to South Africa to work for their uncle's import/export company, Dreyfus and Co. It was there, in King William's Town, that Arthur met and married Ellen Peters (born in Bristol in 1861); a daughter, Lucy (nicknamed Boo) was born in 1890, and a son, Albert, in 1894. In 1895, perhaps for a combination of personal and business reasons, they decided to return to the UK, and went to live in Ealing, West London, near Arthur's widowed mother, who passed away at the end of that year. Over the next few years two more children were born: Patricia's father, Harold, in 1897, and Violet, in 1903. Not long after Harold's birth, the family settled into a large house at 1 Carlton Road, Ealing: early photos show them at home, mostly in the front or back garden, where hoops set up for croquet can be seen, as well as one amusing snap of the paterfamilias in the morning room.
There are some atmospheric images of the front garden in the snow, as well as evidence of how rural-looking Ealing was in Edwardian days, with a long, tree-lined road, Longfield Avenue, seen in summer and winter. Summer holiday photos outside London show the family, together with friends, at various English seaside places, such as Scarborough and Saltburn, both on the North Yorkshire coast, but more often than not in Southwold, Suffolk, where the Auerbachs had a holiday home at 25 North Parade which they visited regularly over the years.
As the children grow up, there are photos of them in school uniform, practising cricket, relaxing at a local tennis club, Lucy in fancy dress, Violet with her dolls, and a good number of teachers, pupils and buildings at Marlborough College in Wiltshire, where Albert went to school and took part in Officers' Training Corps activities as early as 1910. Harold and Lucy were both artistic, and went on sketching holidays to Switzerland in around 1910.
Harold (who ten years later studied at the Slade School of Art) recorded visits to various Swiss locations in his sketchbook, while Lucy can be seen in a 'finishing school' group of young women, sketching outdoors with their tutor, George J Flemwell, some of whose Swiss scenery from that same period we also hold in the Library in the form of book illustrations.
After these scenes of seemingly idyllic Edwardian family life, it’s very sad to see signs of war approaching, with the two sons getting into uniform and going off to various places for training.
(Below) Harold (left) and Albert (right) in uniform posed in the garden with their mother, Ellen.
As mentioned, Albert was already involved in military training through his school, which probably made it all the easier for him to join the UOTC (University Officers' Training Corps) on 1 September 1914, the very first day of the war, as a private in the 20th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers. We see him with colleagues at training camps in Woodcote Park, Epsom, and relaxing in the grass during a route march from Clipstone Camp near Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. On 20 July 1915 he received his commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st London Regiment, Royal Fusiliers, and there are photos of him marching through a street in Peckham Rye, south-east London, at the head of a column of men. Later we see him overseas in Egypt and France.
Harold, for his part, was held back by a knee injury received during a rugby match at his prep school, Durston House in Ealing, which explains his presence in a bathchair in earlier holiday photos. Despite his Officers' Training Corps activities through St Paul's School, Hammersmith, he found it difficult to enlist at first, as confirmed by two letters, one from the Artists' Rifles in October 1915, the other from the London Rifle Brigade in September 1916, both declaring him unfit for service. But, like his elder brother, he was determined to serve, and he can be seen in Royal Engineers uniform in one or two photos.
He was eventually accepted by the Royal Flying Corps, and sent to Oxford for training in the spring of 1917; he received his graduation certificate, complete with ‘wings’ badge, in November 1917. He was then posted to the Western Front to work in air reconnaissance, using both observation balloons and aeroplanes. There are some detailed official aerial shots of locations in Belgium (Abele and Hollebeke) and Northern France (Villeselve and Clairmarais), dating from 1917 and 1918, showing the local landscape with bomb damage and trenches. Two particularly striking photos show the French town of Bailleul at different stages in 1918, before and after German bombing.
Harold picture far right (below)
While the two brothers were away fighting, mother Ellen and sister Lucy were making their own contributions to the war effort on the Home Front. There are photos of Ellen in her volunteer Red Cross nurse's uniform: she may well have been connected to one of Ealing's many war hospitals, helping with wounded and convalescent soldiers. Lucy was working at the War Office in London, but occasionally went off to the village of Madresfield, near Malvern in Worcestershire, to help with agricultural and dairy work, and perhaps to give herself a welcome rural break from the stresses of wartime London life. Lucy adored her brother Albert, and the two of them corresponded throughout his wartime absences.
Albert & his fiancée, Molly Bowie (above)
Albert's war took him to a variety of places. His first posting was to Gallipoli in November 1915, which seems to have begun in luxury, judging by a menu card from his voyage on board the RMS Olympic, used at the time as a troop transport ship. Once at Gallipoli, however, the real work began, and he was involved in the evacuation of Suvla Bay and Cape Helles. From there he went on to Egypt, then to France, until he was invalided home with shell shock and dysentery on 3 December 1916. He spent some time in hospital, and photos from this extended period of sick leave, for example with his fiancée Molly Bowie in Cheam, Surrey, give an indication of how much his illness had aged him. But eventually he returned to France on 20 June 1918, and here his luck ran out. He was killed by a shell at Bouchavesnes, Péronne, on the Somme, in the early morning of 1 September 1918, exactly four years to the day of his joining up. Albert was posthumously awarded the Military Cross, which was presented to his mother at Wellington Barracks, London, on 10 July 1919. His sister Lucy made her own personal pilgrimage to the Somme area in September 1920 to see where her brother had fought and died.
Despite the constant dangers of his air reconnaissance work, Harold survived the war, and in due course was awarded his Campaign Medal. The medal itself was missing for years, but Harold's daughter recently came across it, up for sale on an internet auction site – it had only just been listed there, after being discovered at the back of a drawer in a piece of furniture in Plymouth. It's a complete mystery how it came to be there, and a miracle that Patricia found the medal by googling at just the right time, before anyone else had had a chance to buy it. It's even possible that Harold, not wishing to be reminded of the war, had never even claimed his medal, as Patricia has no memories of seeing it in the family home. Two photographs of the medal have now been added to the collection on our website, to round off a fascinating, touching, and sometimes sobering tour of one family's experiences before, during and after the First World War.
To see more images from this fascinating collection, follow the link here:
© Gill Stoker/Mary Evans Picture Library