Time Travel Does Exist!

It is possible to go back in time, whatever the scientists tell you. You can’t do it in a time machine but we can do it through the memories of old people.

Back in the early 1980’s I worked in a day centre for elderly people. Amongst the attenders were several people in their late 80’s and 90’s. One old lady from the East End of London used to work in a wet fish shop before the First World War run by a man called Alf Hitchcock.

A very young Alfred Hitchcock

His nephew was Alfred Hitchcock, the famous film director. At that time however, he hadn’t even started in that career. “He was such a good-looking young man” she told me “and very good with figures”. He used to come over to the shop every week and do the accounts. Then there was Emily Bird. She was 97 when I knew her, so old in fact that her son [who was 70] also attended the day centre. She told me that her father was skipper of the Cutty Sark [one of the last square-rigged tea-clippers]. Finally there was old Bill Smith.

The Cutty Sark

Bill was born in 1888 and joined the Hussars in 1906, because he loved horses. Inevitably he had to serve in the Great War [where he won the Miltary Medal] and was present during the British retreat from Mons, where thousands died in chaotic circumstances. He shook his head and said “it was terrible”, horses and men blown to pieces all around him. He miraculously survived and after his discharge in 1918 became a rubbish collector until his retirement.

The Retreat from Mons, 1914

These links with the past pale into insignificance in comparison with those of a social historian I read about some thirty years ago. He had a conversation with his Grandfather who’s own Grandfather had been present at the Battle of Austerlitz. That took place in 1805, during the Napoleonic war. I don’t have any personal stories that date back as far as the beginning of the 19th century but I was confronted with my own history some years ago when researching my mother’s family in a Somerset village.

The village of Draycott lies at the bottom of the Mendip hills, facing Sedgemore with Glastonbury hill peeking over the horizon. My Great Grandmother Annie Hollier left the village in the 1870’s to enter service and eventually ended up as a cook for Colonel and his wife in Elgin Crescent, Notting Hill. The family were farm labourers for the most part and her older brother William continued living in the village until his death in 1907.

 I am the youngest of my generation and all members of my mother’s family in the generationabove mine had died by the mid 1980’s, so it seemed that the only way I would be able to find out anything about my family would be through dry records found in church vesteries and the County Record Offices. 

It was getting dark as I was paging through the records of births, marriages and deaths still on display in Draycott parish church. Suddenly the door opened and a thin, elderly man entered. He was the Churchwarden, come to lock up the building for the night. “Doing some family research?”he ventured. I replied the affirmative. “What’s the family name?”. Hollier, I replied. “That would be Hunter Hollier’s family, then”…

I was staggered. My Great-great Uncles nickname was “Hunter” Hollier. He died in 1907 and as far as I was aware, the last member of the family to live in the village [his widow Sarah] had died in 1927, sixty-years previously. Aparently, this man’s father [a local farmer] had employed “Hunter” , a local character who had aquired his nickname due to his reputation as a poacher. We chatted for a while and he promised to introduce me to his older brother who might have personal memories of him. We did meet up the next day but unfortunately he could remember nothing more than the name, spoken of by their father.

It was a small thing, a sliver of my history kept alive in the mind of someone I had never met before. It reminded me however that Willam Hollier had been a real, living person who had grown up, married, grown old and died. I remember my mother saying that her father [Wesley Hollier Wright]  used to stay in Draycot as a child and had gone poaching with his favourite Uncle. What stories my Grandfather might have had to tell me but he died when I was only two-years old. A great shame.

After my Uncle died [the last survivor of his generation] in 1984, his daughter presented me with a small box of black and white photos that he had wanted me to have. “I don’t know who all these people are” she said and I puzzled over them for weeks. There was a family wedding but whos, we didn’t know. At the time it was taken everyone knew whos it was, so it wasn’t necessary to write it down. Then everybody died and no one knew…

”]

I eventually worked out it was the wedding of my Great Aunt Helen but who are all the other people in the picture? I can guess but I’m not 100% certain…

Here is a final picture. It is the wedding of my Grandparents in 1917. To the right of the bride is my Great Grandmother Annie Wright [nee.Hollier], sister of William “Hunter”Hollier.

The Wedding of my Grandparents. Annie Hollier is second from the right

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About stevehollier

Steve Hollier is the editor of AZ Magazine, an English language lifestyle magazine based in Baku, Azerbaijan. He began his career working for a firm of stockbrokers in the City of London then went on to attend the University of Essex where he was awarded an MA in Sociology in 1984. After a career in arts and cultural development work, he became a freelance arts consultant, writer and photographer.
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8 Responses to Time Travel Does Exist!

  1. Hugh Paxton says:

    A beautiful, haunting and evocative post, Steve. Enjoyed it tremendously. When I was in England recently I did an old oak chest excavation and found various old photos*, coins, medals, fragments of things and diaries. My Great Uncle Harold fought in the trenches and in all his writing he only mentions the war once. “It was bad today.” Just that. “It was bad today.”

    No complaining. No soul searching. No poetry (Thank Heavens!). Only jottings about his damson trees and family and thoughts about what was going on in England. I had the feeling that in some part of his mind he was still living there as the fruitless fighting roared and raged in Flanders. Harold was shot in the knee after several years of mud and horror and invalided home. I’m not sure if he continued his diaries. I couldn’t find any. But his damson orchard is still the finest in Lakeland. Or so say I!

    If he is a ghost that’s where he’ll be.

    Cheers!

    Hugh

    *Have your listened to The Pogues song about sitting by a 1916 war grave and talking to Willie Macbride, the dead soldier? I’m not sure what it’s called. “Forever 19”?

    “Well I hope you died well, and I hope you died clean,
    Or, Willie MacBride, was it slow and obscene?”

    Very sad, fierce and lyrical. Probably the best anti-war song ever composed. I’ve lost it (or more precisely it was stolen). If you can work that old Hollier ‘know everything magic’, I’d like to hear it again.

    • stevehollier says:

      Well, how do you do, Private William McBride,
      Do you mind if I sit down here by your graveside?
      And rest for awhile in the warm summer sun,
      I’ve been walking all day, and I’m nearly done.
      And I see by your gravestone you were only 19
      When you joined the glorious fallen in 1916,
      Well, I hope you died quick and I hope you died clean
      Or, Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene?

      Did they Beat the drum slowly, did the play the pipes lowly?
      Did the rifles fir o’er you as they lowered you down?
      Did the bugles sound The Last Post in chorus?
      Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

      And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind
      In some loyal heart is your memory enshrined?
      And, though you died back in 1916,
      To that loyal heart are you forever 19?
      Or are you a stranger without even a name,
      Forever enshrined behind some glass pane,
      In an old photograph, torn and tattered and stained,
      And fading to yellow in a brown leather frame?

      The sun’s shining down on these green fields of France;
      The warm wind blows gently, and the red poppies dance.
      The trenches have vanished long under the plow;
      No gas and no barbed wire, no guns firing now.
      But here in this graveyard that’s still No Man’s Land
      The countless white crosses in mute witness stand
      To man’s blind indifference to his fellow man.
      And a whole generation who were butchered and damned.

      And I can’t help but wonder, no Willie McBride,
      Do all those who lie here know why they died?
      Did you really believe them when they told you “The Cause?”
      Did you really believe that this war would end wars?
      Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame
      The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain,
      For Willie McBride, it all happened again,
      And again, and again, and again, and again.

  2. stevehollier says:

    Here is my personal favourite anti-war song:

    Dancing at Whitsun
    (words by John Austin Marshall)

    It’s fifty long springtimes since she was a bride,
    But still you may see her at each Whitsuntide
    In a dress of white linen with ribbons of green,
    As green as her memories of loving.

    The feet that were nimble tread carefully now,
    As gentle a measure as age will allow,
    Through groves of white blossoms, by fields of young corn,
    Where once she was pledged to her true-love.

    The fields they stand empty, the hedges grow (go) free–
    No young men to turn them or pastures go see (seed)
    They are gone where the forest of oak trees before
    Have gone, to be wasted in battle.

    Down from the green farmlands and from their loved ones
    Marched husbands and brothers and fathers and sons.
    There’s a fine roll of honor where the Maypole once stood,
    And the ladies go dancing at Whitsun.

    There’s a straight row of houses in these latter days
    All covering the downs where the sheep used to graze.
    There’s a field of red poppies (a gift from the Queen)
    But the ladies remember at Whitsun,
    And the ladies go dancing at Whitsun.

    on Bok, Trickett, Muir record. FSI- . Also Redpath Philo
    and Tim Hart and Maddy Prior on Summer Solstice

  3. Brilliant, Steve. An excellent post and with great follow-up comments.

  4. On the subject of marking photographs for future generations, an archivist at Bowes Museum advised the use of a 6B soft pencil. On no account should ball-points be used.
    We’ll have a look through our family album again.

    Thank you for the superb post.

  5. Pingback: Focus On The Photographer: Steve Hollier « Better Cumbria

  6. Pingback: A Salute To Steve Hollier | Azerbaijan Days

  7. Pingback: Our salute to Steve Hollier « Hugh Paxton's Blog

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