by matilda rose
A short article about a soldiers book i recently purchased whilst carbooting.
|The pot-luck nature of thrifting, sifting through junk for tiny treasures, is perhaps what makes it such a rewarding experience. As they say, one man’s trash is another’s treasure, and what we choose to place value on can be very telling of our own personalities.
When amidst the heavy traffic of a car boot, my mother is most drawn to the jungle like tables, overflowing with greenery and potted persuasions of lilies and geraniums. The scented whiff of the stall draws keen green fingered individuals into its bowels, from one gardeners’ soil to another.
The, in my own opinion, chaotic, pool of soft toys and plastic figures would trap my nieces. Plain and unexciting to the older eye, to the less ignorant of us, the imagination simply spews. From Spiderman to naked barbies, material matter becomes priceless in tiny hands, unwilling to release their grip.
The more adventurous, and brave, might take a dive into the clothes bins. Overflowing with gems; hidden within caves of unimpressive essentials and stained blouses. Like diamonds within dark caverns, the eager eyed and sharper shopper might bag a bargain.
I, however, find myself sleepwalking towards the musty books, decrepit records and picture albums of lives well lived. I enjoy looking at the photos of faces no longer around to retell their stories, of lovers who hands no longer touch. Reading the words of mouths that no longer speak has a twisted sort of peace about it, a comfort, if you will. Browned, dated paper has a smell about it that will never not be homely, reminding us of an impermanence that we all exist in.
Most recently, I became submerged in a table guarded by an elderly gentlemen, with a collection of war time records. Hiding beneath books, was a small brown book. Upon inspection, it became clear that the book belonged to Stuart Valentine Hayward, an infantry soldier in 1944, enlisted at the start of world war 1. The book entailed his measurements, his training, and even his will. Well worn, and obviously long travelled, the book intrigued me, and for just £2 I took it home to further my research.
Before becoming enlisted, Stuart was a manual worker from Essex. Born in 1908, he was 36 when he joined the army. The tiny details in the book, which would have been considered insignificant at the time, absolutely captivated me. Stuart was 5ft 8 and 3/4, weighed 168lbs, with brown hair and brown eyes. Putting his face together in my mind felt as though I was meeting him for the first time, walking just a step in his shoes.
In 1941, he would marry Muriel Eva Hayward, and would move into his long-term residence in Chepstow. The exact address of the cottage was included, and with a quick google search, I was easily able to come across photos of the most picturesque countryside cottage, small and humble amongst hills and valleys. One can’t help but find themselves illustrating a story; him leaving for work in the early morning, tool box in hand, swinging the gate shut on his absence.
I became invested in the story of this individual, whoever he was, wherever he was. I felt as though it was my duty to find his descendants, the rightful possessors of this priceless item. Luckily, I was able to do just this. Social media is a magical tool, one I’ll never quite understand, but always be grateful to harness.
I connected with Stuart’s daughter, who’s page was flooded with photos of both Stuart and Muriel, both in their younger, and older days. Both had passed in the 80’s, but their stories lived on through their children, their photos, and their memories.
It’s intriguing to me how little items can become so lost, so entangled in the world of interested hands, and collector’s grip. Many of us feel a sentimental pull towards items like this. Whether it’s the nature of its lost importance, or the idea of all the miles its traveled, the laughs its heard, and the tears it’s felt. We never quite know what an item has seen through its lightless eyes , if only paper could talk, a and tell us its story.