November 3rd 2018
Today my Grandad showed me some old photographs that he took when he was in the army. My Grandma has just broken her foot, so while my Mum looked after her and made dinner, my job was to keep Grandad busy and out of their way. And so, he started showing me a bunch of old photos that I’d never seen before.
I knew that my Grandad used to be really into photography — he used to always carry a camera at birthdays, and Christmases. It turns out he carried his camera everywhere he went in the army too. Apparently, he was the only person in the whole regiment who had a camera, so it would always be him that took the photos. In the main photo album he showed me, Grandad only appeared in one of the photos. He’s the guy on the right-hand side in the top photo below.
He’d literally take the camera everywhere. He was in the parachute regiment, and the top photo below was taken inside the hull of an aircraft they’re about to jump out of. He always jumped last so he could take photos of everyone. And then he’d wait around after he landed to take photos of the next group.
Seeing the photos was amazing, but hearing the stories was better. He talks a lot about his time in the army, and he really lights up when he does. Now he had photos of accompany his stories. I just don’t know how I’ve never seen them before.
Even though he’s now eighty-years-old, with mild Alzheimer’s, he could still tell me who everyone was in each photo, and he’d tell me something about them. Where they grew up. What their parents did for work. How long ago they died. Some of these people he hasn’t seen for sixty years.
Among the albums were some photos that he did not take, that came with stories that I’d definitely not heard before. He told me how “back in those days, before I was courting your Grandma, pretty girls would send photos of themselves to army lads, and write a message on the back”. There was a photo of a girl who is not my Grandma. She’d even colourised it, and scrawled “To John, With all my love, From Laura xxx”
I have no idea who Laura is. He barely did either. But apparently, that’s a thing that happened in the 50s.
One of my favourite photos from Grandad’s collection, however, was a rare photo of him. From 1957, it was a very early adoption of the “selfie” craze that would develop (pun intended) sixty years later.
With his camera pointed at a mirror, he snapped a portrait. His face obsured, and the background blown out by the light, the photo shows him as he was as an artist:
Until tomorrow, he was a guy that would rather be behind the camera than in front of it.