A bit of a different post this week. Many of my posts have featured my father’s photography, mainly London, but also some of the places he visited whilst cycling across the country in the late 1940s and early 1950s. A number of years ago, one of his friends told me that he always had his camera with him. This included his time on National Service.
The photos in today’s post are from 1947 and were taken at the Military Hospital in Chepstow, South Wales where he was stationed with the Royal Army Medical Corps.
They are the equivalent of the millions of mobile phone photos we take today. Simple photos documenting our everyday lives. I must admit to preferring this type of photo to the more carefully constructed, artistic photo, or even worse, a posed photo.
This type of photo documents what everyday life was like.
I have very few notes to go with these photos. The majority had not been printed, so after scanning, this is the first time they have been seen in 74 years. I have met just one of the people in the photos. I do not know the names of the rest. Who they were, where they came from, and what happened to them in the following 74 years.
If still alive, they would now be in their early nineties, rather than the fresh faced late teenagers in military uniform:
There was a note to the following photo which read “troop of 18 and 19 year old National Service recruits leaving for a p*** up” :
As well as the Military Hospital in Chepstow, there was also a local Army Training Centre and Chepstow Racecourse had been used to hold German Prisoners of War.
I have not yet been able to find the location of the Military Hospital. The following photo was taken from the entrance, looking into the site:
Today, we take millions of photos on mobile phones. These get saved on the phone, stored in Apple or Google’s cloud storage service, or used on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. I suspect an incredibly small percentage get printed.
I do wonder what will happen to all these photos in the years to come. Will someone in 74 years time be able to access your photos? Will Facebook, Instagram, and even Apple and Google still exist in 74 years time. Will descendants have access to the accounts of today’s users?
The fact that Facebook may not exist may seem fanciful, however, consider the technical, cultural and social changes between 1947 and 2021, as well as how many companies have lasted those 74 years.
All these photos have been scanned from 74 year old negatives. Recovering them is basically shining a light through them using a scanner. If the source material still exists there is nearly always a method of recovering the data, although this can be incredibly difficult given format changes (for example the BBC’s 1984-6 Doomsday project which created laserdiscs of material to produce a new “survey” of the country to mark the 900 year anniversary of the original Doomsday book. A significant amount of work was needed to access the data stored on these discs, following the end of production of laserdisc players, a technology, like Betamax that only lasted for a short time).
There seems to have been a reasonable amount of free time, as many of the photos show:
Cleaning and maintenance work appears to have been one of the duties at the hospital for National Service recruits:
Different uniforms for nursing staff:
Many of the photos are just messing around in uniform:
Including attention to a casualty:
The Military Hospital appears to have had a division between medical staff and those on National Service who were there in support roles. Guarding the hospital (although I doubt there were many problems at a hospital in south Wales after the war), driving military ambulances, general maintenance of the site and administration, which seems to have been one of the core tasks.
Thoughtful staring into the distance:
Ferry in the Bristol Channel:
Apparently, cleaning the pond was a penalty for some minor misdemeanor:
The pipe – adding an element of seriousness to the photo:
Group photo with the military ambulances behind:
Out and about – Chepstow Castle:
Looking to the future:
I do know that a number of those in the photos were from London, and for the majority, apart from short trips, National Service was their first time away from the city for a substantial period of time.
If still alive, the youngest would be in their early nineties, and they would have had a life time of experience since their time in Chepstow.
The photographer and his camera – how to take a selfie in 1947:
Whilst serving at Chepstow, there were a number of local trips and so far I have written about:
As well as the original negatives, these photos are now in digital form.
For all my photos and scans, I keep multiple copies on different devices at home, and use a paid for offsite backup service as the ultimate backup of several terabytes of photos and scans going back 75 years.
I have no idea whether the digital versions will still be available and viewable in 74 years time, however I suspect the negatives, safe in their boxes, will still be able to reveal their everyday view of the mid 20th Century.